Coltsfoot is a herbaceous plant belonging in the Asteraceae or Sunflower Family. These plants are used for several medicinal purposes; however, it contains toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can be harmful for human health. These small plants are found all over the world. They are considered to be an invasive species in some regions. Other names for these medicinalplants include Tash Plant, Butterbur, Bullsfoot, Coughwort and Colt Herb.
Coltsfoot Scientific Name
The scientific name for these plants is Tussilago farfara.
Coltsfoot Plant Description
These plants look quite attractive with bright yellow flowers that resemble dandelions. These flowers are often confused with dandelions when seen from a distance.
Height: These plants can grow anywhere between 5 inches and 15 inches in height.
Stem: Several stems can develop from a single root crown. These grayish-green stout and hairy stems are covered in purplish-red scaly bracts. The Stems are 2 to 5 inches tall at the time of flowering growing between 10 inches and 15 inches when the seeds mature. Leaves grow from small vegetative growth of stem also covered in wooly hair.
Leaves: These plants have broad heart or hoof shaped leaves growing in the rosette form. The cross section of a Coltsfoot leaf resembles the hoof of a colt. These leaves grow only after the flower heads are mature and the seeds are set. The size of these bright green or bluish-green leaves ranges between 2 and 7 inches. They have shallow lobes with slightly toothed edge. Young leaves are completely covered in wooly hair while matured leaves have smooth upper surface and hairy lower surface.
Flowers: Each flower stem grows one attractive flower head. Like other flowers from the Sunflower Family, the yellow flower heads of these plants consist of a disk flower and petal-like narrow ray flowers.
Fruits: The flower heads mature and turn into balls of tufted seeds. These cylindrical reddish-brown or yellow seeds grow 1/8-inch in length resembling the dandelion seeds.
Roots: These small plants have thick white rhizomes growing fast and spreading over a very large area.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) Distribution
These plants are native to different regions of Europe and Asia. They can also be found in several locations in North and South America where they were introduced by early settlers. These small weedy plants grow in wastelands and along roadsides.
Coltsfoot Plant Growing Condition
These hardy perennial plants can survive in different soil conditions and climates.
Soil: They grow well in almost all types of soils; however they prefer acidic clay soils.
Soil pH Requirements: The soil pH range should ideally be between 4.5 and 6 for the seeds to germinate while the plants grow well in soils with the pH ranging between 5.5 and 8.
Sunlight: These plants can grow both in direct sunlight and under light shade.
Water Requirements: Regular watering is necessary for their proper growth.
Climate: They prefer cool and damp climates.
Temperature: Temperatures ranging between 50 °F and 75 °F are ideal for the proper growth of these perennial plants.
Growing Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
These plants can be grown easily from seeds. The seeds should be planted in a large open place to allow the roots of these plants to spread in a wide area.
The Coltsfoot seeds germinate sometime between late spring and early summer. The ideal temperature for these seeds to germinate ranges from 41 to 86 °F. Their taproot develops shortly after germination.
Watering should be done regularly and properly. However, it is not advisable to water them every day. The best way is to water these plants deeply and thoroughly once or twice every week. Proper watering is more important during lack of natural rainfall.
One can use an all purpose fertilizer for these herbal plants. Fertilization helps the plants grow a stronger root system.
These plants flower during early spring. The Coltsfoot flowers should be collected during late winter between early morning and early afternoon. It is ideal to collect these flower heads while they are completely open. The fully developed green leaves can be harvested throughout summer. One can also harvest whole Coltsfoot plants by pulling them out of the soil.
Coltsfoot Herb Uses
It was once considered to be a very useful medicinal plant; however, the fact that it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids has raised some health concerns. These plants are still used for some medicinal purposes despite the fact that it is toxic. It is widely used for treating various respiratory disorders.
- Many diseases and disorders like cough, asthma and bronchitis can be treated by smoking this herb.
- The flowers of these medicinal plants are used for several skin conditions.
- This herb is also used for flavoring the popular confectionary Coltsfoot Rock. This medicinal sweet is used for relieving coughs and sore throat.
Coltsfoot Toxicity and Side Effects
These plants have been discovered to be toxic as they contain some tumorigenic pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are very harmful for the liver. Due to this reason it better to avoid consuming this herb in any form. Coltsfoot tea made from this herb is still quite popular as herbal tea. However, an infant is known to have developed severe liver problems because of this tea. In another case this tea caused death of an infant because the mother had drank Coltsfoot tea during her pregnancy. Due to these reasons consuming Coltsfoot leaf extract as well as the tea are considered to be unsafe.
Coltsfoot Interesting Facts
Here are some interesting facts about this herbal plant:
- The word “tussilago” in the scientific name Tussilago farfara means “cough suppressant”. It refers to the fact that these medicinal plants are beneficial for treating cough.
- These plants are called the Coltsfoot because their leaves resemble the print of the hoof of a colt.
- These plants flower even before the dandelion plants.
- The flowers of these plants already mature and dry before the leaves develop.
- These plants were previously known as “Filius ante patrem” which means “the son before the father” because the flowers of these perennial plants bloom even before the leaves develop.
- These flowers are a great favorite with pollinating insects like the bees.
Here are some images of these attractive yellow flowered plants:
Coltsfoot plants have been used as medicinal plant for a long period of time. The toxic properties of these plants have affected their popularity. However, they are still counted among important medicinal plants.