Quiz

Plants and Trees With Real Health Benefits

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD

Disclosures

May 30, 2017

Foxglove

Until the end of the 18th century, no effective treatments for heart failure were available. A change came about in 1775, when a patient consulted the Scottish physician William Withering complaining of symptoms of severe congestive heart failure. After hearing the physician's dire prognosis, the discouraged patient sought help from a local gypsy, who administered a secret plant mixture. Rather than dying, the patient soon regained his health. Withering eventually discovered that the active ingredient in this herbal mixture came from the leaves of the foxglove plant (Digitalis purpurea). Withering observed that digitalis leaves, which stimulated both the kidneys and the heart, were an effective remedy for heart failure.[9] Digitalis has important side effects; the halos so prominent in Van Gogh's later paintings may be related to digitalis poisoning.[10] Because it interacts with many other drugs and needs careful monitoring, in recent years digitalis has largely been supplanted by newer options.

Figure 6. Image from istock

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