Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Coltsfoot - Herb of the Week

Pliny the Older, the Roman herbalist, considered this odd plant one of the best herbal remedies for coughs, so I felt s we received more than 2 feet of snow this week it was a perfect time to highlight, 
       Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara as Herb of the Week.

This hardy perennial reaches 3 to 12 inches tall with small white spreading roots and toothed dark green leaves having a gray underside.  Small yellow flowers appear in the Spring and only after these flowers go to seed will the plant develop leaves.  
courtesy of wikipedia
In fact its scientific name comes from the Latin word tussilago which means cough plant.  Nicholas Culpeper detailed how using cloths dipped in Coltsfoot water could be used to relieve piles. Even Native Americans used this abundant herb for treating coughs and congestion.  One unique treatment was to soak blankets in the Coltsfoot the hot liquid to wrap around the patient.

Medieval monks created a catalog of herbs and flowers in the form of a calendar.  They chose January 27 as the day for Coltsfoot. the common name Coltsfoot comes from the shape of the leaf which loots like the hoof of a horse.

To Grow

This plant is naturalized in the US, but is originally native only to Europe.  Grows well in zones 4 to 6, it prefers full sun.  This is an easy grower that can easily become invasive.  Sow directly in spring and take root cuttings in spring and fall.  In fall you can divide existing plants. It has a tendency to overrun an area and is not a favorite fro most in a perennial garden.  It is however great in a landscape, especially along creek or stream banks and in natural habitat gardens.  It will thrive in almost any soil and prefers full sunlight. 

To Use

Historically the fresh leaves were used in a salad, and the young leaves could be sautéed as a side dish of greens or fried in a batter. Use dried leaves are include in herbal tobaccos.  The fluffy seed heads were collected and used as mattress stuffing by Highlanders.  The leaves are so strong and hold thier shape they could be used as a substitute for paper (well maybe more like a post it note).  The fuzz was rubbed off the bottom of the leaves and wrapped in cloth tipped in salt peter to be used as a fire starter too.  Those same leaves were used to make a green dye.  Recently I found several recipes using it in a hair growth formula. You might want to check out this post On Curly Nikki.

Coltsfoot leaves
All parts of coltsfoot contain a mucilage, which is good for coughs and bronchitis.  Decoct leaves for colds, flu and asthma.  A strong tea made from by boiling the leaves was given to coughing and wheezing patients.  The tea was strained and sweetened with honey or licorice.  I found an old recipe of equal parts of coltsfoot, horehound and anise seed makes an effective bronchitis treatment.  Lozenges made from Coltsfoot can be used as cough drops.

The principal active ingredient in coltsfoot is a throat-soothing mucilage.  Its reputation is deserved. However studies on the flowers that appear before the leaves showed they cause cancerous tumors in rats.  As a result of these studies, coltsfoot leaves are considered unsafe too.  However you can still use Coltsfoot for an herbal dye to create green-yellow and in herb-based fertilizers because it adds sulfur and potassium to the soil.  For more info on making natural dyes, check out this article.



Cough up Remedy
1 ounce coltsfoot
1 ounce fennel
1 ounce speedwell
½ ounce  violet root
Mix the ingredients. 3 tablespoons put in 4 cups of boiling water and cover. After 2 hours, strain, sweeten and every two hour take a tablespoon full.

Sore Throat and Hoarseness Remedy
1 ½ ounces coltsfoot leaf
2 ounces marshmallow root
1 ounce licorice root
½ ounce violet root

Mix the ingredients and store in a jar. Add 3 tablespoons to 4 cups of boiling water and cover for 10-15 minutes. Strain, and boil the liquid again. Sweeten and drink two cups per day.

To make this more flavorful add 2 ounces of chamomile flowers.


  1. Thank you for the very interesting recipes! I featured them on today's round-up


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