Coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara
Yes, there's some good strong medicine here but did you know there's edible parts? Coltsfoot flowers can be eaten and tossed into salads to add a wonderful aromatic flavor and color. These nibbles help us get in rhythm with the season as we march forth to our busier time of year. Shy away from road side harvesting for all the obvious reasons of nasty runoff. While it grows roadside frequently, the best way to seek it is to consider rocky stream bed edges. When I lived in Phoenica, NY we had none on our side of the Esopus creek but you would find me wading across the stream, always cold and sometimes waist deep, with a basket held on top of my head to gather from a massive patch directly across the water. I couldn't resist their waving little faces in the sun, even with painful water temperatures! Definitely makes one hardy.
Medicinal Parts & Preparations
- Make an Infused Honey: fill a jar with the flowers and add honey to make a remedy to help calm a cough and ease a fiery throat. Steep for 4 weeks, stirring occasionally, strain and take by the spoonful. (*psst... make now for the fall as this is the only time to get flowers)
- Make a Fresh Coltsfoot Flower Tincture: fill a jar with slightly backed flowers. You can chop them if you want, to increase surface area to the alcohol, but its not necessary. Add 100 proof Vodka or alcohol you like to tincture with. Cover the flowers completely, cap and date/label. Shake from time to time and strain squeezing well through muslin cloth. Re-bottle and label you "Homemade Coltsfoot Tincture' (*)
- Make a Simple Coltsfoot Elixir: there are many ways to make elixirs but my favorite is 2/3 finished tincture and 1/3 honey. Some love maple syrup and others love a 1:1 ratio. You get to decide.
- Eat the Flowers: yes they are edible for salads, garnishes, and such. Enjoy!
- Harvest Fresh Leaves: return to your harvest spot for leaf harvest a few weeks after the flowers have gone to seed, then add to your fresh flower tincture to boost it even more with leaf too.
- Harvest and Dry Leaves: Harvest more leaf for drying and store well in glass in a cool, dark place labeled with the date. These can be brewed for infusions or turned into a homemade cough syrups (see recipe below).
- Make an Herbal Vinegar: made must like an alcohol tincture, fill a jar with the flowers, chopped or not, and then fill with apple cider vinegar. Cover with parchment paper if you have a metal lid due to vinegar's reactions with metal that will spoil it all. Shake occasionally and strain in 4 weeks, label and date and keep in a cool dark place. This keeps for a year to take by the tablespoonful in warm or cool water or tea for dosing.
- Make a Coltsfoot Oxymel: Simply add 2/3 of your Coltsfoot vinegar to 1/3 honey into a bottle for dosing, shake and label with the date, and take by the tablespoonful for dosing.
- Make some kick-ass Coltsfoot & Thyme Cough Syrup: (recipe below)
- Make a Coltsfoot Flower Essence: if you've learn this easy skill then you know just what to do and now's the time to do it. Green Hope Farm offers the essence made already for us if you wish to purchase it with this to guide us:
"Recovery from orthopedic injury, and to increase flexibility.
Coltsfoot offers a road map for repair and recovery from any orthopedic injury or challenge as it holds much helpful information about our bones, muscles and the realm of movement in our physical bodies. It also helps us with flexibility in the physical body as well as in our attitude towards all change. Coltsfoot also helps us more easily revise and expand our definition of reality as new truths come to us." - Green Hope Farm
Watch for 'Common Name' Confusion: The common name is Coltsfoot, latin name Tussilago farfara, and these pics will help you seek the right plant. There is also a 'Coltsfoot' known as Western Coltsfoot or Butterbur, latin name Petasites palmatus which looks very different and is a completely different plant. Just a heads up to clear any confusion if you're searching the web for information and live where both grow.
Dosing is Everything
First thing to remember, Coltsfoot is not a tonic designed for long term dosing. We take this plant for acute health situation of the lungs, as mentioned and quoted correctly above. This means we take an infusion, tincture, or syrup/elixir for a couple of weeks to get through an acute situation with the respiratory system. You would not take this regularly for chronic lungs issues, such as COPD, asthma, sarcoidosis of the lungs, lung cancer, and emphysema, to name a few. So let's choose one to break this down a bit. Let's look at the epidemic we have around asthma. Listed above as a condition to take Coltsfoot, it would be wise to take for a few weeks for an acute flareup of the chronic condition. So think of it this way, such as with hyper-reactivity of the lungs (which looks like increased asthmatic episodes) in response to a flu. This happens for my son. I know when a virus has landed in his body because the asthma symptoms flare sometimes two days prior to any other symptoms and I start to treat for the flu preemptively. Should it come and settle deeper into his lungs then I treat directly with Coltsfoot a week or two. Make sense?
Here's another example: If someone has sarcoidosis of the lungs (an inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs in the body, but mostly the lungs and lymph glands), then they would take Coltsfoot for a few weeks for an acute flareup or complication that started because they have an underlying chronic condition. Let's say they got pneumonia. The Coltsfoots is meant to address the acute situation of pneumonia with strong medicine for short term dosing. The person with the chronic lung condition can take other tonifying respiratory plants on a long term basis to address the underlying chronic condition and this tactic strengthens their resistance over all.
Much of the lousy media around certain plants happens when people are desperate for a cure of a chronic condition, think "Hey, it's a plant so it has to be safe no matter what.", and then diagnose, dose and treat themselves incorrectly with a medicine plant that traditionally treats acute conditions.
Does this makes sense? Do send questions so we can dispel the lousy media and walk with solid wise choices for when we are sick by knowing the strong medicine plants well, along with safe dosing.
Dosing with Coltsfoot is Simple:
For Adults take the Infusion 1 cup 3-4x/day; Tincture 1/4-1/2 teaspoon 3-4x/day; Honeys, Syrups, Elixirs, Vinegars, and Oxymels are taken by the tablespoonful every 2-4 hours or as needed. These doses can be taken for up to 2-3 weeks but most will many will barely need two weeks of treatment for lung ailments of the acute type like respiratory flu or cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, and chelation of something inhaled that is noxious leaving congestion and coughing. Whooping cough (pertussis) will need a full three weeks as it tends to be quite persistent. Then switch to others such as Mulein leaf and Elecampane root for longer treatment. Do not exceed three weeks with Coltsfoot on these doses. Always consider other therapies, lifestyle changes, and diet to support respiratory health.
I have given Coltsfoot to all three of my children, as well as guided mothers and fathers in my community for decades now on when and how to take this plant so please ignore the exaggerated warnings - 'never give to children' that are made by people who do not know this plant well. Consider the child's weight and reduce the dose accordingly and give to children older than one that need respiratory help. It is safe for short term dosing as described. Children under one, I love to treat with Chamomile always. Bathe them in it and watch miracles happen!
Coltsfoot is also found in many well made herbal cough drops so once a child is able to manage a cough drop they can have these too.
Coltsfoot Smoke Blends
Coltsfoot & Thyme Cough Syrup
- a handful of fresh thyme sprigs (or buy organic, dry leaves here 1 tablespoon)
- 3 tablespoons dried coltsfoot leaf (or 2 tablespoons of this with 1 tablespoon of elderberries if you have)
- 2-3 thin slices of ginger root - organic
- 1 pint of water (2 cups)
- ½ cup honey - raw local unpasteurized
- ½ lemon/organic chopped into wedges and squeezed to release juices a bit - I like to muddle them with the top end of big wooden spoon in the jar that will house the final syrup.
- Place the chopped lemon in the pint jar and cover with the honey. The honey will macerate the lemons and draw out liquids which taste so delicious!
- Meanwhile, toss the thyme, coltsfoot and ginger into a saucepan and cover them with the water.
- Bring the water to a gentle simmer and reduce it to half, about a cup of strong tea.
- When the tea is reduced and cooled to a touchable warmth, strain the sprigs and leaves out, add it into the pint jar, cap and shake well to mix, label and date it.
- Spoon around the lemons and take by the tablespoonful of syrup as needed or every 2-4 hours until the lungs show signs of relief, then every 4-6 hours
- Store your homemade cough syrup in the refrigerator for about a month. It will get a little bitter over time from the lemon pith. Good! This supports the liver for better digestion during illness downtime.
May your explorations of Coltsfoot be rich and beautiful as we lean into our wild plants for walking strong these days. xo- Jen