Historical Background

In "An Account of the Foxglove" William Withering related his experiences while in private practice more than 200 years ago. He traveled between two towns where he took care of the wealthy patients on a fee-forservice basis in one town and the poor people for free in the other. He encountered during one of his commutes a practitioner of the healing arts who was referred to as a witch. She provided care for people with obvious signs and symptoms of fluid overload who were diagnosed with dropsy (later called CHF). She gave these patients a group of herbs that contained digitalis, and it was Withering who identified Digitalis purpura as the active plant in this mixture. Unfortunately, he lacked any insight into potential mechanisms of action. Although Withering thought that digitalis worked by inducing emesis, he was actually describing digitalis toxic-ity and not the mechanism of action at all.

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