FOXGLOVE must be mentioned first in this connection. The drug from the dried leaves is very potent, and has the effect of reducing the frequency and force of the heart action, so it is given in special cases as a sedative (especially in heart disease). It was Dr William Withering (1741-1799), from Wellington, in Shropshire, who first introduced digitalin into general medical practice. He published “an account of the Foxglove and some of its medical uses” in 1788. It is said he got his information from a witch! LILYOF-THE-VALLEY provides a drug (convallotoxin) that has been used as a substitute for digitalin, which can act as a heart stimulant, thoiugh it is less powerful then digitalin. The root was used in Ireland for heart disease, and it was widely prescribed in Russian folk medicine. OLEANDER (Nerium oleander) has an active principle that operates in much the same way as digitalis, and is used in the treatment of heart conditions, particularly in Russia, where it is included in the official pharmacopeia. Another plant with a digitalin-like action is the American shrub WAHOO (Euonymus atropurpureus), and it became a popular heart treatment in domestic medicine. Another American plant, SENEGA SNAKEROOT, was used by the Meskwaki Indians for the condition. MISTLETOE may be a magical plant, with magical medicinal uses, but the strange thing is that some of them are perfectly genuine. It has been known since ancient times that it has a beneficial effect on the heart, and it also reduces blood pressure. One of the DAHLIAS (D pinnata) is used in China for heart disease. They make a broth from the tubers, and cook it with pork — that is the medicine.
Herbalists maintain that HAZEL nuts improve the condition of the heart, and prevent hardening of the arteries. ROSEMARY tea, made as an infusion of leaves and flowers, is recommended for weak hearts. Mrs Wiltshire called it a “supreme heart tonic”, and BROOM tops are a very old popular remedy for the problem, perfectly justified, too, apparently. WATERCRESS, eaten raw, is said in Ireland to be good for the condition. WOODRUFF, with a high coumarin content, and so an anti-coagulant, has been useful for drugs used in heart disease. CAMPHOR has been used in the Far East for heart disease for centuries. Herbalists are still using MARIGOLD flowers for heart disease; they benefit the arteries and veins. Gerard was recommending them for heart trouble four hundred years ago — “conserve made of the floures and sugar taken in the morning fasting, cureth the trembling of the heart”.