Coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara
Coltsfoot has a bit of a different rhythm than most spring beauties around here and gives us some visual depth and relief from the varying shades of winter's predominant shades of grey. Love grey but so welcome other colors! It's a low-growing perennial with fleshy, woolly leaves and is a member of the Asteraceae (daisy) family, Coltsfoot produces a single golden-yellow flower head with no surrounding leaves. It's among some of first blooms in spring, before much greenery has jumped up. You'll find it among rocky moist places and rises only about 6-8 inches in height, though once the leaves emerge, it can get a bit taller. As the flowering stem dies, the hoof-shaped green leaves begin to appear. Yes, a different way than most plants.
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
"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
When researching Coltsfoot you will see many warnings due to the (pyrrolizidine alkaloid) compounds that give this plant its healing edge when things are serious in the respiratory system. It's usually worded something like this, "Despite serious safety concerns, people take Coltsfoot for lung problems such as bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough (pertussis). They also take it for upper respiratory tract complaints including sore mouth and throat, cough, and hoarseness." This compound is found in Comfrey leaf as well and you may be aware of all the concerns surrounding Comfrey? Ease your concerns and avoidance tactics with the stronger medicine plants and come learn the wise medicine ways. We need the stronger plants but we also need to know how to dose safely. Most of the bad media is from improper dosing. The same is true for improper dosing of acetaminophen, as you will go into an unstoppable liver failure with what many see as a safe medication when taken incorrectly. Here at ElderMoon School we covered Comfrey in depth to eliminate confusion and walk strong with our stronger medicines in our Monthly Herbalists Councils, open to all so do check them out, For now let's speak of wise ways with Coltsfoot.
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
Inhaling burning plants is nothing new to humans, You will find some people who enjoy blends that have Coltsfoot added, and some people waft the smoke in a home where there are colds and flus to help settle the lungs much the way White Sage and Mullein leaf are burned. A small amount of gently wafted smoke near someone who is sick provides antimicrobial and antispasmodic properties quickly and efficiently to the lungs. Seems counter-intuitive, yes, if your thinking of it like a cigarette. Rolling and smoking when sick is not the best or intended way. Think gentle wafting of the smudge-like burned smoke for quick assistance. While this is not my favorite way to work with Coltsfoot, I do have the leaf in smudging blends for clearing the air, particularly when airborne microbes are attempting to survive in my home.
Coltsfoot & Thyme Cough Syrup
May your explorations of Coltsfoot be rich and beautiful as we lean into our wild plants for walking strong these days. xo- Jen
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine