The foxglove flower may be a common backyard beauty, but that doesn’t mean it fades into the background. The unique shape, vivid colors, and sheer height of this flower demands attention, which is why it’s become so encumbered with symbolism and embedded in folklore.
Yep, the foxglove, or Digitalis, if you will, is a real head-turner, and not just for good reasons. This famously poisonous plant can cause a number of nasty symptoms when ingested, making our relationship with this purple neighbor a little, shall we say… complicated.
But this dark side only deepens our fascination with and respect for this flower, the same way one has to respect the beauty and perils of the ocean. So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the foxglove and what it means to humankind.
What Does The Foxglove Mean?
The foxglove flower is said to be associated with insincerity, so you should be very wary of the person that gives you one knowing full well what it is, but this flower isn’t all bad in the eyes of society.
It’s often said that the foxglove can both hurt and heal due to its use in certain medications, so, in many ways, it’s a reflection of the duality of life, the good and the bad, the ebb and flow, the sort of yin yang of existence.
Due to its mysterious name (which we’ll discuss in just a sec), the foxglove also has strong ties to magic and the unseen world beneath the veneer of human perception.
Etymological Meaning Of The Foxglove Flower
The term foxglove is one with a tangle of etymological roots. With strong ties to folklore, the name is said to be derived from folk’s gloves, the folk in question referring to puckish fairy folk, small, anthropomorphic, mythical creatures.
These sprightly spirits are just about as prevalent in folklore around the globe as the foxglove is in our yards.
Likely a corruption of the actual etymology, people believed that the name referred to the flower’s glove-like form and that foxes would don them in preparation for a thieve’s run through a chicken coop.
Another etymological thread can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon term, foxes-glew, which translates as “fairy music” which was the name of an ancient bell said to resemble the shape of the foxglove flower.
It was German physician and botanist, Leonhart Fuchs that first gave the foxglove its Latin name, Digitalis, which, as you might have guessed, is derived from the Latin word digitus, which refers to fingers. Talis, in Latin, means “distinguished” or “Excellent”, so one might assume that our friend, Leonhart, was quite enamored by this species of flower.
He based the name of this curious plant on the word, “fingerhut”, a word in German vernacular that translates literally as “finger hat”, which refers to thimbles.
Symbolism Of The Foxglove Flower
As we’ve already discussed, the primary symbolic meaning of the foxglove flower is insincerity. This may have to do with the fact that they can be used to both harm and heal, giving them an uncertain character — how do you know which is in play… the virtue or the iniquity?
However, the common foxglove is a lot more 3-dimensional in the world of allegory than we might first think.
Their stoic resilience and will to survive in a number of different climates mirrors human feelings of pride, strength, and energy, and the folkloric link to the fairies and wildlife has earned them an almost mystical totem status.
This magical tangent in symbolism extends further into the supernatural when we take into account the flower’s alternative name, witch’s gloves — another allusion to the tension between good and evil, as witches can use power for the benefit of others or, indeed, their downfall.
This polarity of forces also attaches notions of balance and harmony to the foxglove, and, as it’s seen as something of a mysterious outcast, it can also symbolize the marginalized and misunderstood within society.
Perhaps the most dominant positive affiliation the foxglove has with humankind is pride, and in Victorian floriography, would relay a rather self-deprecating message of devotion to someone, stating that you believe in their ambition far more than your own.
My particular favorite symbolic meaning behind this beautiful plant is that of creativity and intuition. Their ability to shoot up in gardens, fracturing manufactured landscapes without detracting from their beauty, but augmenting it, is a reminder to think outside the box, question established norms, and celebrate individuality.
Foxglove Flower Color Meanings
The most common form of foxglove has a vivid purple hue, a color long associated with royalty, splendor, and luxury. In modern times, these meanings have been merged into the overarching theme of success; however, it’s more likely someone will use a different species of purple flower to communicate these sentiments, one that is a little less… toxic.
Foxgloves can also bloom in a lovely pink shade, which, in the language of flowers, typically refers to love, grace, traditional femininity, and gentleness. However, the questionable symbology of foxgloves as a species often overwhelms some of the subtle implications of color.
You may also see brownish or golden foxgloves around, colors that signify warmth, practicality, stability, and dependability; however, people tend not to enjoy having brown flowers around, as they look sort of dead.
Peach, orange, and yellow foxgloves can also be found from time to time, colors that, ironically, suggest sincerity, gratitude, and sweetness.
Orange flowers also symbolize enthusiasm and goodwill, but sometimes it’s not what you say that counts, but how you say it, and perhaps communicating your enthusiasm with a poisonous plant isn’t ideal.
And finally, white foxgloves aren’t uncommon, either. Generally speaking, white flowers signify purity, innocence, absolution, and new life, which is why they’re often used in weddings, funerals, and as a gift for new parents, but, again, there are certainly more suitable white flowers to send to loved ones than foxgloves.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Foxglove Flower
Capable of thriving almost anywhere (besides particularly extreme climates), the foxglove reminds us to be courageous, adventurous, and brave. Stepping outside of our comfort zone is never easy, but when we face challenges head-on and give it our all, our vulnerability is frequently rewarded with success.
The bell-shaped blooms draw the mind to ponder the connection between invention and nature, and that music, although typically thought of as an engineered construct, is all just a choreographed fraction of auditory wilderness — music is the mapped-out garden of the ear!
Often growing to 6 feet, the “spike” of the foxgloves inspires confidence, and encourages us to share our greatness with the world rather than keep it hidden. The foxglove requests that we stand up tall, and announce our presence to the world.
The toxicity of foxgloves also reminds us that nobody is perfect, and despite having flaws and regrets, we should banish shame, and be proud of ourselves for overcoming hardships and getting to where we are in the present moment.
We should also take heed of the spotting on foxglove blooms. They tell us that blemishes are natural, and it’s our imperfections that make us unique and beautiful.
With a combination of healing and harmful properties, foxgloves imply that there is no pure evil or pure good in the world and that we’re all a mixed bag. We have the potential to do virtuous things and terrible things, and our lives are an intricate tapestry of both.
The poisonous side of the foxgloves also reminds us to be wary of beauty or pleasure. Something may appear enticing, but the consequences of bringing it into your life could be dire… it’s the whole don’t judge a book by its cover thing.
We could take this literally and apply the lesson to physical beauty, or we could see it in a more figurative light, that we should be tentative when it comes to things that we feel drawn to, such as drugs and alcohol.
Special Occasions For Foxglove Flowers
Foxgloves are rarely given as gifts for a couple of reasons. Firstly, their toxicity makes them a rather strange present; secondly, they’re incredibly common in the wild; and thirdly, they’re remarkably tall and require a lot of trimming to make them “vase-ready”.
These flowers do not correspond with any anniversary and are not traditionally given at funerals, birthdays, retirement parties, baby showers, or, well… on any occasion, really.
Foxglove Flower Cultural Significance
Beyond the folkloric associations we’ve already discussed, the foxglove has a number of cultural ties around the globe. In Roman times, for instance, the foxglove was deemed sacred to Flora, the goddess of flowering plants.
According to the myth, Flora touched a foxglove to Hera’s breast and stomach to impregnate her with Mars, the god of war.
The foxglove also plays an important role in Welsh myth. It is told Rhiwallon, the physician to a prince, saw a golden boat crest from the mist while walking beside a lake one evening. On the boat was a beautiful maiden, but before Rhiwallon could reach her, she sailed away, back into the mist.
Rhiwallon returned to the lake each evening hoping to catch another glimpse of the maiden in her golden vessel, but she could not be found, so he enlisted the help of a wise man who instructed him to offer the maiden cheese… yes, cheese.
As if she were a common field mouse, the cheese lured her back through the mist, she came ashore, accepted Rhiwallon’s offering, married him, and gave birth to his three sons (must have been some good cheese, right?)
When the youngest son grew into adulthood, she rowed back out into the mist one day and returned with a magic box. She told Rhiwallon that he must strike her three times to release her back into the mist forever. Refusing to hit her, Rhiwallon tapped her lightly three times on the shoulder.
A cloud of mist immediately shrouded his wife, and when it cleared, she had vanished, leaving in her place the magic box, and inside the box, the three sons found a list detailing the medicinal herbs they could harvest from the landscape, one of which was foxglove.
The sons then used this information to become famous physicians, helping people far and wide. Many believe this legend to be the first recorded instance of foxglove being used medicinally.
This endearing flower also plays a role in Scottish history, as its leaves were used to encircle babies’ cradles as protection from bewitchment, and in England, the leaves were put in children’s shoes for the same reason.
What’s more, foxgloves were commonly planted in the gardens of medieval Christian societies, as they were believed to symbolize the Virgin Mary.
Foxglove Flower Facts
- It’s said that foxgloves bob and judder even when there is no wind because they’re bowing to invisible fairy folk in passing.
- In folklore, the dew collected from foxglove blossoms could be used to cast spells that would aid in communicating with fairies.
- Foxgloves are an important source of pollen for bees.
- In 1981, there was speculation that foxgloves, in part, inspired Van Gogh’s “Yellow Period”, although no evidence has been found to substantiate those claims.
- The toxins in foxgloves can cause xanthopsia, a condition that affects perception of color, often giving things a jaundiced yellow hue.
Foxglove Flower Uses
- Historically, foxgloves were used to regulate the pulse.
- It was also used for treating epilepsy (but not anymore).
- Foxglove extract containing cardiac glycosides has been used to regulate heart rate.
What Is The Symbolism Of A Foxglove Flower Tattoo?
Foxgloves aren’t a very common choice for tattoos, but the few people that do have these mysterious plants inked on their bodies often see them as symbols of confidence and accomplishment.
Others who are more aware of foxgloves in folklore will have them inked to feel closer to their cultural roots, the natural world, or ideas of mysticism and the world hidden beneath the veil of human perception.
There you have it, folks — everything you could ever want to know about foxgloves. Often thought of in a negative light, they have a lot of good in them as well, and next time you see them bowing despite there being no wind, join in, and pay your respects to the fairy folk on their travels.
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