Does fairy magic really exist? It seems like a strange question to ask modern audiences, but historically, many cultures from around the world believed in the magical properties of certain herbs—such as that of the foxglove. Foxglove is said to have the power to summon fairies, and according to modern medicine, may have the power to mend hearts.
The oldest record of fairies in England dates back to the 13th century, but their origins are connected to a collective folk belief throughout Europe. They were considered to be magical, gifted with the possibility to enchant and even curse those who cross them. Some believe they’re fallen angels. Beings that are displaced—not good enough for heaven or for hell.
But nowadays, fairies are for children, characters in tales of happily ever after and make-believe. They’ve even made their way into modern adult society. A quick Pinterest search will reveal countless ways to make your own fairy house. And these can be elaborate, artful, and beautiful. All for the sake of fun, right?
But it wasn’t so long ago—in the scope of history—that fairies weren’t fun.
They were… feared.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the heavy truths our ancestors felt were important enough to pass down from generation to generation. These small, misunderstood creatures were evil, and we should beware.
But does any remnant of that distant past still exist today?
There are certain herbs that serve as a reminder of the fairy folk’s power. Like the foxglove, for example. Though the origin of the name is uncertain, it’s believed to have derived from the “folksglove.” “Folks” being a term used interchangeably with “fairy.” But because acknowledging fairies could be dangerous, it was changed to foxglove.
For centuries foxgloves were used for a variety of ailments that range from killing fleas, healing skin issues, to curing colds. A slow poisoning…
But what happens when the poison is too great for the body to handle?
In 2005, a botanist committed suicide by eating foxgloves. When too much is ingested, the plant can cause severe nausea, vomiting, and even death, slowing the heartbeat until it…
Fairy magic still exists. In the guise of modern medicine. Today, the digoxin found in foxglove is used in a variety of heart medications.
Foxglove and its fairy connection have a fascinating and mysterious history. One I’d like to explore through story.
Borrowing from the folklore surrounding foxglove and Tam Lin, this story is reminiscent of fairy tales told long ago to warn women of the dangers of summoning fairies.
Some of you may be familiar with the Scottish legend of Tam Lin. In most versions, Tam Lin steals the virginity of a maiden. Any girl who passes through the forest of Carterhaugh and plucks a double rose will see Tam Lin appear. After her encounter with Tam Lin, the maiden then returns home and is pregnant.
Tam tells the maiden that he once was a human, but he’s been captured by the Queen of Fairies. Every seven years, the fairies give a ritualistic tithe to Hell, and he fears that he’s next. He beseeches the maiden to help him. She’s to pull him down from a white horse while he’s riding a with the elven knights on Halloween. She’s to catch him when he falls and not let go—no matter what. He tells that the fairies will try to make her drop him by turning him into every sort of beast imaginable. He swears, though, that he will do her no harm. He then tells her that once he finally turns into a burning coal, she is to throw him into a well, and he’ll reappear as a man. She must then hide him.
The maiden wins her knight.
It was believed that dew collected from foxgloves could be used to communicate with fairies. In Scottish tradition, foxgloves were strewn around babies’ cradles for protection against witchery. But others believe picking a foxglove is said to bring bad luck because they’re among the fairies’ favorites.
As if the association with foxglove and fairies isn’t dark enough, in North England, foxglove flowers in the house are said to allow the Devil himself to enter.
Even the Romans had mythology about foxgloves. Flora, the goddess of flowers and the season of Spring, showed Hera, the wife of Zeus, how to impregnate herself with no need of a man by touching a foxglove to her belly and breasts.
An old saying about foxgloves goes, “It can raise the dead, and it can kill the living.”
Long believed to be associated with witchcraft and fairy magic, this beautiful flower has the darkest of pasts. Its sins stretching far and long.
There’s another old lesson about them that bears repeating…
It’s said that the reason foxgloves sway even when there’s no wind is that they’re bowing to a fairy as it passes.
There’s no denying that modern culture, especially here in the States, is far less superstitious than in days of old, but I can’t help but wonder if some truth exists in all these stories. They have, after all, been around for centuries. Even if we don’t believe in fairies and their magic, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
It may be best to take a cautious approach. As my grandmother often said, “I’m not superstitious, but I don’t want to take any chances.”