This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Digitalis Pharm. Lond. & Paris. Digitalis purpurea Ph. Edinb. & Linn. Digitalis purpurea folio aspero C. B. Foxglove: a somewhat hairy plant; with oblong, acuminated, serrated leaves; and a thick, angular, hollow stalk, on which numerous purple tubulous flowers, re-sembled to the finger of a glove, hang downwards, in a row along one side, each on a short pedicle: the flower is 'followed by an oblong pointed capsule, full of small angular seeds. It is biennial; grows wild in woods and on heaths; and puts forth in June or July its elegant flowers, which often continue a month or longer. It is observable of this plant, that it grows only on gravelly soils; rarely or never on those where there are strata of calcareous earths or stones underneath.
The leaves of foxglove have a bitterish very nauseous taste; which they communicate both to watery and spirituous menstrua. They have been strongly recommended in epileptic difor-ders: Parkinson relates, that after two or three fits had been suffered every month for twenty-six years, a cure was obtained by taking twice a week a decoction made in ale, of two handfuls of foxglove leaves with four ounces of polypody of the oak. The operation of this medicine, or of the foxglove by itself is by stool and vomit; and appears, from the accounts given of it by authors, to be so violent, as to afford sufficient foundation for the present difuse of the plant (a).
(a) Bocrhaave judges it to be of a poisonous nature, and says it is so acrid as to exulcerate the mouth, fauces, oesophagus.
Externally, the leaves and flowers have been employed, with greater safety, and sometimes, as is said, with success, in cataplasms and unguents for ill-conditioned ulcers.
*This plant, about the year 1785, was brought greatly into the notice of the faculty. In the third volume of the Medical Transactions was printed, "An account of the successful use of foxglove in some dropsies, and in the pulmonary consumption, by Erasmus Darwin M. D." to this is subjoined an appendix, by Sir George Baker. A pamphlet was likewise about the same time published by Dr. Withering on the medical uses of the foxglove. From these and other later accounts it appears, that the Digitalis poffeffes uncommon powers as a diuretic, and a promoter of absorption from the cavities of the body. It is at the same time strongly sedative, causing a most remarkable, and sometimes alarming, retardation of the motion of the heart. A most distressing nausea and sickness is the usual forerunner or attendant of its diuretic action, which renders it necessary to suspend its use. The mode of exhibition which Dr. Darwin chiefly employed was that of a decoction, in the proportion of four ounces of the fresh leaves boiled in two pints of water to phagus and stomach. Hist. plant. Lugd. Bat. p. 308. & Bailer Stirp. Helvet. p. 617. Dr. Alston, on the other hand, ranks it among those indigenous vegetables, "which, "though now disregarded, are medicines of great virtue, "and scarcely inseriour to any that the Indies afford." Index medicamentorum simplicium, praefat. p. 5. For my own part, I have had no experience of this plant used as a medicine; and, in regard to the taste, little can be judged, from that quality, of the virtues of substances of this kind: the taste of the digitalis is strong and nauseous, but not near so acrid or pungent as that of many vegetables which are taken with great safety.
One, adding to the strained liquor, two ounces of vinous spirit. Of this, half an ounce was generally given early in the morning, and repeated every hour till sickness or some other disagreeable sensation was induced. This was in dropsical cases; but in consumptions and scrosulous ulcers, where a more gradual action was desired, half an ounce of the decoction was administered twice a day for some weeks. Dr. Withering seems to prefer the powder of the dried leaves; and of this, in dropsies, he confines himself to very small doses, such as from one to three grains twice a day. Sir George Baker has given a curious history of the use of this medicine, by which it appears that phy-sicians have at different times thought very variously concerning it; however, it seems now sufficiently proved to be capable of being rendered a safe, and in some cases, a very efficacious remedy. Accordingly, both colleges have in their last editions admitted it into their catalogues*