Skip to page content Skip to site menu

Yellow Foxglove

Image of Yellow Foxglove
This image of Small Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis lutea), a close cousin of D. grandiflora, comes from the first edition of De historia stirpium commentarii insigne. This book is available in the John R. Martin Rare Book Room in Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. 

Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis lutea)

Yellow Foxglove is a yellow-flowering herbaceous perennial in the Plantain Family. The genus name, Digitalis, means “finger,” these plants deriving their name from the tubular shape of their flowers. Yellow Foxglove, like all Digitalis species, contains potent cardiac glycosides. These are refined and used as medicines to treat cardiac conditions, but the plants themselves are very toxic. Historically, Europeans used Foxglove for several treatments, including to alleviate tuberculosis, dropsy, and epilepsy, to heal wounds, and possibly even to hide bad breath (Aronson, 1985; Kreis, 2017). Indigenous American peoples may have also used it after the plant was introduced to North America, although there is no record of what it was used for (Brooks, 1933). Along with its current use for treating certain cardiac conditions, Yellow Foxglove is also a potential source of cytotoxic (cancer-fighting) chemicals (Kreis, 2017; Kutluay, Makino, Inoue, & Saracoglu, 2019). 

Historical Use

Fuchs (1542), referring to Galen, wrote of Foxglove’s ability to clean, purify, and clear intravenous blockages, as well as the lungs. He also compares it favorably to Gentian, another plant with ample glycosides used to treat cardiac and digestive issues, as well as cancer and wounds.

This passage on the virtues of Foxglove comes from De historia stirpium commentarii insigne, a book produced by Leonhart Fuchs in 1542. He is credited with assigning the name Digitalis to this genus of plants. This book, one of the most celebrated herbals from the sixteenth century, features over 500 woodcut illustrations, all hand-colored. 

Latest Research


Aronson, J. K. (1985). An account of the foxglove and its medical uses, 1785-1985. London, New York: Oxford University Press. 

Brooks, H. (1933). The Medicine of the American Indian. Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, 19(1), 1-23.  

Kreis, W. (2017). The Foxgloves (Digitalis) Revisited. Planta Med, 83(12/13), 962-976.  

Kutluay, V. M., Makino, T., Inoue, M., & Saracoglu, I. (2019). New knowledge about old drugs; a cardenolide type glycoside with cytotoxic effect and unusual secondary metabolites from Digitalis grandiflora Miller. Fitoterapia, 134, 73-80. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2019.02.001