Coltsfoot is a Compositae family plant to which dandelions and sunflowers also belong. The flower is similar in appearance to a dandelion and forms a similar fluffy white seed head. The toothed leaves are much different, however, and are shaped somewhat like rounded-off inverted heart shape or hoof.
These leaves are fuzzy, top and bottom when young, but only on the bottom when mature. The leaves and flowers do not usually appear at the same time, however. First, a shoot emerges, flowers in the spring, and the leaves follow. The yellow flowers only open on sunny days.
Other Names Coughwort, Hallfoot, Horsehoof, Fieldhove, Donnhove, Pas d’âne, Filius ante patrem, Tun Hoof, Ass’s foot, Bull’s foot, Butterbur, Farfara, Foal’s foot, Horse Foot, Winter heliotrope, Clayweed, Cleats, Farfara, Fieldhove, Foalswort, Hallfoot, Huki-Tanpopo, K’Uan Tung, Oksurukotu, Son-before-father, To Wu, Tusilago, British tobacco.
It grows just about any damp area where the soil has been disturbed and is a common weed in England and in parts of the Northern and Eastern US and Canada where it has naturalized.
Table of Contents
History and Folklore
The name Farfarus is an ancient name for the Poplar tree, which has similar leaves.
Tussilago means “cough dispeller”.
Theocritus’s Idyll 2 mentions coltsfoot in the context of a spell to bring back a wandering lover:
Coltsfoot is an Arcadian weed that maddens, on the hills, the young stallions and fleet-footed mares. Ah! even as these may I see Delphis; and to this house of mine, may he speed like a madman, leaving the bright palaestra.
Coltsfoot is a perennial. It should be grown in a damp area, preferably in clay soil in a full sun position. Will tolerate some shade, but not much. Coltsfoot is invasive and travels underground by rhizomes, so cultivating it may be frowned upon in some neighborhoods. You might be better off to keep it in a pot to keep it from escaping. Try planting in a large pot sunk into the flower bed.
Harvesting & Storage
The flowers should be collected when they bloom in early spring and the leaves after Midsummer.
Coltsfoot is one of the first spring flowers to emerge, often appearing as early as February. This and its bright sunny yellow flowers make it suitable for springtime rituals welcoming the return of the sun, such as Imbolc, Ostara and Beltane– depending on when they bloom that particular year! The long stems can be woven into wreaths.
Coltsfoot has been used as in love, tranquility and money spells and burned during divination rites. It is also burned in divinatory and healing incense.
Both flowers and leaves make an excellent cough remedy in conjunction with horehound, licorice, and marshmallow. You can make it into a syrup or tea. Steep 1-2 teaspoons of leaves or flowers in 1 cup boiling water. Drink no more than 3 cups daily. It can also be smoked by those with asthma, bronchitis and other lung problems, particularly those involving wet coughs.
Hot or cold coltsfoot tea compresses can be applied to swollen areas, and a cool such compress is soothing on the forehead or stomach when one has a fever.
A poultice of the leaves or flowers can be applied to eczema, sores, ulcers and insect bites.
The root is also useful for similar purposes, but it has higher levels of potentially toxic alkaloids and is not recommended to be used internally. All parts of coltsfoot contains these alkaloids, which can cause liver disease, but the leaves and flowers are considered safe for normally healthy adults to use in moderation. If you still aren’t better after a few days, switch off with mullein for awhile.
Do not use it while pregnant, trying to conceive or nursing. Do not give to children (that is, folks who are still growing).
Do not take more than 3 cups of coltsfoot tea per day, for three days. Do not take coltsfoot for more than 30 days out of the year.
Don’t combine coltsfoot with blood pressure medication.
People who are allergic to ragweed are also likely to be allergic to coltsfoot; proceed with caution.
People with a history of alcohol abuse or liver disease should not take coltsfoot. Do not combine coltsfoot with other potentially liver-damaging substances, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or comfrey.
Stop immediately if you ever feel nauseated while using this herb. It is not a “normal” side effect, but a sign that the coltsfoot is hurting your liver.
Flower buds, young flowers, and leaves can be added to salads or steamed as a vegetable. The flavor is similar to anise or licorice.
It is not recommended that you eat coltsfoot because of its potential toxicity in high doses, but it is a nice, sunny addition to the Ostara or Imbolc feast.
Do not confuse common coltsfoot with Western coltsfoot Petastites frigidus, which has much higher levels of potentially toxic alkaloids. This plant may not be used to substitute for the other under any circumstance.
Coltsfoot, like comfrey, has come under fire for containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can cause liver damage and there have even been suggestions that it be banned. That being said, Tylenol contains these same alkaloids. Therefore, I suggest you take the same precautions with coltsfoot (and comfrey) as you would with Tylenol. Don’t overdose.
Do not take tablets containing concentrated comfrey or coltsfoot. If you do use them internally, use them in their natural form or in tea and use the leaves, not the roots. If you begin to feel nauseated, stop using them. Don’t use them in combination with other PA containing substances. Pick your poison, don’t mix them. Please don’t use them for long periods of time. No more than a week. And don’t use them more than three times a day.
Some herbalists also suggest using milk thistle extract once you’ve completed a course of coltsfoot (or Tylenol/acetaminophen for that matter) as milk thistle is believed to help the liver heal after stress. And, of course, if you’ve ever had liver issues before, don’t use coltsfoot, comfrey or Tylenol.