In 1775, Dr. William Withering, an English physician, discovered the efficacy of ingesting ground dried leaves of Digitalis purpurea for the treatment of severe congestive heart failure. He attributed its efficacy to a diuretic effect and published his findings in l785 based on his clinical observations over a 10-year period. In his paper, he recommended safe doses and warned of undesirable side effects from overdose, including death from cardiac arrest. The pharmacological mechanisms of the cardiac glycosides in regulating the heart rate and rhythm and the strengthening of the heart muscle were discovered later.
The German ophthalmologist and botanist, Ernst Fuchs, is responsible for giving foxglove its Latin name in the Linneal binomial system of the naming plants. To him and others before him, each blossom resembled a thimble. He arrived at digitalis as follows: “digitus, i L. finger; alis, L. suffix meaning pertaining to the qualities or characteristics of a —–; Digitalis.a Latin adjectival noun meaning pertaining to the characteristics or qualities of a finger.”
The thimble resemblance of the blossoms is also responsible for the English common name foxglove, which means “gloves for little folks,” and the common German name der Fingerhut translates into English as the finger hat (a thimble).