The first known heart medicine was discovered in an English garden. In 1799, physician John Ferriar noted the effect of dried leaves of the common foxglove plant, digitalis purpurea, on heart action. But the credit for introducing digitalis into the practice of medicine goes to William Withering from Shropshire.

Still used in heart medications, digitalis slows the pulse and increases the force of heart contractions and the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat.

Dr. Erasmus Darwin, Grandfather of Charles Darwin, employed digitalis to good effect and sought to immortalize it in the following verses:


Bolster’d with down, amid a thousand wants,
Pale Dropsy rears his bloated form, and pants;
“Quench me ye cool pellucid rills,” he cries,
Wets his parch’d tongue and rolls his hollow eyes.
So bends tormented Tantalus to drink
While from his lips the refluent waters shrink;
Again the rising stream his bosom laves
And thirst consumes him mid circumfluent waves.
Divine Hygeia from the bending sky
Descending, listens to his piercing cry;
Assumes bright Digitalis dress and air;
Her ruby cheek, white neck and raven hair;
Four youths protect her from the circling throng,
And like the Nymph the Goddess steps along,
O’er him she waves her serpent wreathed wand,
Cheers with her voice and raises with her hand
Warms with rekindling bloom his visage wan,
And charms the shapeless monster into man.

(Gives a whole new meaning to the song “In an English Country Garden”)