Tussilago farfara

Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Tussilago
Species: T. farfara

Synonyms and Common names: Fafara, Coughwort, Horsehoof, English tobacco, bull foot, foals foot, horsefoot, butterbur, Ass’s foot, hallfoot, fieldhove, donnhove.

An old name for Coltsfoot was Filius ante patrem (the son before the father) because the star-like, golden flowers appear and wither before the broad, sea-green leaves are produced.

Description and Habitat: Coltsfoot grows abundantly throughout England, especially along the sides of railway banks and in waste places, on poor hard soils, growing as well in the wet ground as in dry situations.

It has long-stalked, hoof-shaped leaves, about 4 inches across. Both sides of the leaf are covered, when young, with loose, white, felted woolly hairs, but those on the upper surface fall off as the leaf expands. This felt-like covering easily rubs off and before the introduction of matches, leaves were wrapped in a rag dipped in a solution of saltpetre and dried in the sun; these were considered to be excellent for making a fire.

Parts used: Leaves, flowers and roots.

Harvesting: The flowers are gathered before they reach full bloom, from the end of February to April, and are dried in the shade. The leaves are collected between May and July and are chopped and dried.

Constituents: Flowers - Mucilage, flavonoids (rutin and carotene), taraxanthin, arnidiol and faradiol, a little tannin, essential oil.

Leaves - mucilage, abundant tannin, glycosidal bitter principle, inulin, sitosterol, zinc

Actions: Relaxing expectorant, antitussive, demulcent, anticatarrhal and diuretic.

Indications: Acute Breathing Disorders, Bronchitis, Catarrh, Colds, Coughs, Demulcent (soother), Dry coughs, Expectorant, Inflammation, Irritations of the mouth and throat, Laryngitis, Pertussis, Sore Throat and Whooping cough.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: As part of its Latin name Tussilago implies, coltsfoot is reputed as an antitussive. The buds, flowers, and leaves of coltsfoot have been long used in traditional medicine for dry cough and throat irritation. The plant has found particular use in Chinese herbal medicine for the treatment of respiratory problems.

diseases, including cough, asthma, and acute and chronic bronchitis. It also is a component of numerous European commercial herbal preparations for the treatment of respiratory disorders. Coltsfoot preparations long have been used to soothe sore throats. The mucilage most likely is responsible for the demulcent effect of the plant. A mixture containing coltsfoot has been smoked for the management of coughs and wheezes, but the smoke is potentially irritating. The mucilage is destroyed by burning; smoking the plant or inhaling vapours of the leaves steeped in water would not be expected to provide any degree of symptomatic relief. Instead, the smoke may exacerbate existing respiratory conditions. However, one source mentions coltsfoot in the form of a medicinal cigarette to help relieve asthma. Coltsfoot, in a mixture of Chinese herbs, has been evaluated in cases of convalescent asthmatics and found useful in decreasing airway obstruction. Related conditions for which coltsfoot has been used include bronchitis, laryngitis, pertussis, influenza, and lung congestion. It is one of the most popular European remedies to treat chest ailments. All early references emphasise the usefulness of coltsfoot's mucilage for soothing throat and mouth irritation. Research reveals little or no clinical data on the anti-inflammatory action of coltsfoot. Because of its potential toxicity, coltsfoot is subject to legal restrictions in some countries.

Contraindications: Coltsfoot in excessive dosages can interfere with existing antihypertensive or cardiovascular therapy. Due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloid content, excessive or prolonged use of pure coltsfoot tea should be avoided. Do not use if you are pregnant or nursing. Coltsfoot is reputed to be an abortifacient.

Preparation and Dosage: Infusion: Pour boiling water over 1.5 to 2.5 grams of chopped coltsfoot, steep 5 to 20 minutes, then strain. Drink infusion several times a day including first thing in the morning and before bedtime.

Additional Comments and Folklore: The name coltsfoot refers to the shape of the leaves which are hoof-shaped. A replica of the leaf of this herb was often placed above the door of Parisian pharmacies to indicate the effectiveness of their medicine.

Smoking Coltsfoot for the relief of coughs and asthma was recommended by the Greek physician Dioscorides and even today it is an ingredient of many herbal cigarettes. The plant's botanical name means 'cough dispeller'. The plant flowers in early spring and the leaves only appear when the flowers have died down, giving rise to the plant's old name, filius ante patrem (son before father). In China, only the flowers, which are known as ‘kuan dong hua’, are used, specifically for chronic coughs with profuse phlegm, and to force rising lung ‘qi’ (energy) to descend.

Durham coalfields, the 1950s in early spring the coltsfoot was a plant of much interest as a ‘mirror’ could be made from the new leaf. The grey soft coating could be peeled back to make a glass.   With the right questions, pictures of the future could be seen; girls might look to see their future husbands.