The South African foxglove is no relation to the European foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), but is a member of the Pedaliaceae or sesame family of plants. It isn’t in fact a true foxglove, but as you can see from the pictures, looks very like one. It comes in a range of colours, from white through pink to mauve, and in its native South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, it flowers between November and May (it’s in the southern hemisphere). In the northern hemisphere it flowers in spring, and its seeds have ripened by the first autumn frosts. They can grow to heights of one and a half metres tall, so it’s easy to spot, and identify as the plant is covered with tiny hairs – even the three-lobed flowers (triloba).
  In Africa, around 80 per cent of the population use herbal medicine, especially in rural areas, and this wild foxglove is used for a variety of purposes. The tender young leaves can be eaten as long as they are boiled well, and are used like spinach, although they are considered “poor man’s food”. When crushed an unpleasant smell exudes from the leaves, but this dissipates in the cooking process.

  In medicine the leaf tisane or infusion is used to abort unwanted fetuses, to promote menstruation, for stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and irregular menses – clearly a woman’s plant, as black cohosh is.
  A decoction of the roots of this foxglove is used to treat sores. In some parts of Africa the plant is also used for fevers.
  Three new anthraquinones hand an steroid androgen have been identified byViresh Mohanlal et al. “Isolation and characterization of anthraquinone derivatives from Ceratotheca triloba (Bernh.) Hook.f.” in the Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol.5 (14) pp 3132-41
. The anthraquinones are similar in structure to a drug used in the treatment of prostate, and breast cancer and leukaemia, so there is hope that the South African foxglove can help in the fight against cancer.                                          
  The plant has antioxidant properties and may be helpful in lowering blood pressure, although more research is needed to see if this is supported by clinical evidence. It may also have the potential to treat diabetes mellitus according to a research paper “Screening of African traditional vegetables for their alpha-amylase inhibitory effect” Bharti Odav et al. July 2010, Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 4 (14) pp.1502-7. (It is classed as a leafy green vegetable here, although it is not widely eaten.)

  Clearly more research needs to be done on this false foxglove as it may prove extremely beneficial for us.


  1. very interesting. Glad you found some research on it, even if not conclusive If all SA plants really did what they are 'tradiitionally' supposed to the population would be seriously healthy.

  2. Thanks for the research mention. Usually practical info starts and ends with comments like "traditionally used for....". If plants really did what writers say, the SA population would be seriously healthy.

  3. It can be used as an insect repellent. Place stems on the Braai/BBQ after cooking and the fumes keep mozzies away!