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William Withering was a Scottish physician in Staffordshire in the 18th Century. In 1775, one of his patients came to him with swollen neck veins, shortness of breath and swollen ankles. Dr. Withering correctly diagnosed that he was in heart failure and since, he had no effective treatment, he told his patient that he was going to die.

The patient didn't like that diagnosis and felt that he needed a second opinion. So he went to a local gypsy who prescribed a secret herbal remedy which cured him. He was able to breathe without struggling for air, and his ankles became normal size and stopped hurting him. The patient then discussed his miraculous cure with Dr. Withering who became so excited that he immediately ran out and searched for the gypsy. When he found her, he agreed to pay the gypsy for her secret remedy. She handed him a purple foxglove plant, also known as digitalis purpurea.

Dr. Withering had used the digitalis extract from that plant previously in an ointment to heal open wounds. He then did some experiments on animals and learned that digitalis, the extract from the foxglove plant, makes the heart muscle contract with more force, to bring people out of heart failure in which the heart muscle is too weak to pump blood through the body. In 1776, he published his findings and patients came to him from all over England to have their heart problems treated. He became very wealthy and bought Edgbaston Hall in Birmingham, which is now the famous Edgbaston Golf Club. He was also the first person in Birmingham to own a water closet.

Journal of Medicinal Food, Winter 2001

Checked 8/31/05

May 21st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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