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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

An Account of the Foxglove

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 01 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2189
  1. William O Goldthorp, retired consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, Cheshire
  1. wmogoldthorp{at}

    William Withering, discover of digitalis, began practising as a doctor in Stafford in 1767. It was a small practice, and he found time to study flowers, which were painted for him by Helena Cook, who became his wife. He soon moved to Birmingham, where his first book, A Botanical Arrangement, was published in 1776. It went through several editions and was still in print 101 years later.

    In 1775 Withering, whose father was an apothecary, was given a secret family recipe for the treatment of dropsy. Withering realised that the active ingredient was the foxglove. This he tried out on his patients over the years in different preparations …

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