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Stamps in cardiology: foxglove
  1. Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology,
  2. The George Washington University Medical Center,
  3. 2150 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,
  4. Washington, DC 20037, USA

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Sir,—The beautifully illustrated “Stamps in cardiology” on digitalis1 was fascinating. Ever since my medical school days, I have been wondering about the reason behind the plant’s common name—the foxglove. While it was easy to understand the Latin digitus in allusion to the finger-like blossoms of the plant; none of the professors around the world where I travelled to lecture could give me an explanation for foxglove.

Not long ago I read from Medical meanings by Haubrich2 that “digitalis was proposed as the Latinised name for the plant in the 16th century by a German botanist, Leonard Fuchs (1501–66). Fuchs is German for ‘fox’. Apparently, he chose digitalis, a Latin way of saying ‘pertaining to the finger’, because the common German name for the plant is Fingerhut, which means, literally, ‘a finger hat’ or thimble’.”

I much prefer the explanation offered by Davies and Hollman—the fairies gave the flowers to foxes to wear on their feet so they could move in magic silence towards hens or away from men.1Perhaps some of your learned readers might know of other explanations.