Gardener's Guide: Information On Coltsfoot

Colts foot, Tussilago farfara, is a perennial plant found growing in wet, waste areas in the United States, Europe, and in the East Indies.

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, is a perennial plant found growing wild in wet areas of the United States, Europe, and in the East Indies. Coltsfoot leaves and flowers have been used in cough syrups and asthma teas for a very long time. Some common names for coltsfoot are coughwort, butterbur, horsefoot, and foals-foot. The ancient Romans called it tussilago, which means "Ëścough dispeller'.

Greeks and Romans used coltsfoot as a cough and asthma remedy, and it has been used as the main ingredient in cough syrups and asthma teas, in Europe and America, while the smoke of burning coltsfoot used to be inhaled to relieve bronchial congestion, until the discovery of antihistamines and other more effective medications. And in the past, people have snuffed the powdered leaves into their nostrils to relieve nasal congestion. Inhaling the vapors, while standing over a simmering pot of coltsfoot is also an old remedy to relieve congestion.

Coltsfoot is one of the earliest of the spring wildflowers, growing 4 to 20 inches high. The flowerheads, which bloom from as early as February through June, are yellow and dandelionlike. The stalks of the flower have brown-tipped scales, and the large leaves are broadly heart-shaped and toothed. The underside of the leaves have downy white hairs, and become aromatic after the flowers are in bloom.

The uses in coltsfoot are: astringent, demulcent, emollient, and expectorant. A time tried remedy for respiratory problems, coltsfoot can be used for coughs, colds, hoarseness, bronchitis, bronchial asthma, pleurisy, and as a throat catarrh. Coltsfoot is also effective for diarrhea, while the crushed leaves can be applied with good results for insect bites, inflammations, swellings, burns, erysipelas, leg ulcers, and phlebitis. Flowers should be collected as soon as they open, the leaves when they are full size.

To make an a cough syrup from coltsfoot, in a pint of water put one ounce of fresh coltsfoot leaves. Boil down until just 1 cup remains. Strain this mixture and add some honey to it. Bring to a boil, let cool, and put in a container that you can close up tight. Now you have an effective, old homemade cough remedy. Take one tablespoon at a time for a cough, several times a day.

Although coltsfoot grows abundantly in wild places, and is even considered a troublesome weed because of its tenacity, you can grow coltsfoot in the garden as a medicinal herb. Coltsfoot isn't bothered by poor soil, or wet or dry conditions. All it requires is full sun. And you can grow coltsfoot from either seed or root cuttings. Once it does get established, it spreads out and makes a good ground cover. The yellow flowers appear as early as February, and can be collected at that time. The leaves are usually collected in June or July. Coltsfoot can be spread out and dried, but when you use dry coltsfoot, you will decrease the amount.

The reason coltsfoot is effective is probably because it contains mucilage, a substance soothing to mucous membranes.

But there is also a warning with coltsfoot. Laboratory tests on rodents seem to indicate that coltsfoot taken in large doses, or even in small, regular doses, may cause cancer. Use moderation with it.

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