(NaturalNews) In the spring, dandelion flowers cover yards and roadsides. Look more closely and you may find some of these yellow flowers are actually Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara.) Both these flowers have long traditions of healing, both in the East and West. Once you become familiar with differentiating Coltsfoot, you`ll have an excellent addition to a home herbal medicine chest: Coltsfoot is a safe, natural and effective treatment for coughs of all kinds.
At first glance there is a similarity between the flowers of Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). Both have bright yellow sunburst blooms which flower in early spring. They look similar in their puffball phase as well: when the yellow flowers turn into globes of downy seeds to be carried away by the wind, or the breath of a young child.
Look closely and you`ll see the leaves are very different: the dandelion forms a basal rosette of elongated, toothed leaves, while coltsfoot leaves are heart-shaped and come up singly, here and there nearby the flower stalks, which often come up in groups. Another key difference is that while dandelion stems are smooth, the coltsfoot flower stalk is scaled.
Coltsfoot is an anti-tussive, remedying all kinds of cough: from a chest cold to asthma and bronchitis. Its botanical name - Tussilago - refers to this usage. (Tuss, means cough - employed for the name of the cough medicine Robitussin, and the medical name for whooping cough is Pertussis.) Adding the species name of farfara helps one remember that Coltsfoot is an herb which makes the cough go far, far away.
In western botanical medicine, the leaves and flowers are used. The flowers can be gathered in early spring before they have fully opened, and dried in the shade. The leaves are best gathered to dry in spring and summer, though they can be used fresh anytime they are found, all the way through the fall. The leaves can be chopped and dried as well, and the dry leaves and flowers can later be steeped as a tea to cure coughs of all kind.
In the early spring, flowers and leaves can both be gathered and made into a tincture (see recipe below.) Coltsfoot is a safe herb with minimal toxicity.
In Chinese medicine coltsfoot flower is known as Kuan Dong Hua. The flower is dried and used to clear cough. Kuan Dong Hua will be mixed with other herbs depending on how the body is out of balance, thus also treating the root cause of the cough. Chinese herbal formulas are simmered into strong teas, called decoctions.
While out walking this spring, take a close look at the yellow blooms; they may not all be dandelions. You may find an expanding medicine chest in your own backyard.
In the spring, collect flowers and leaves of Coltsfoot.
Chop plant matter into small pieces.
Fill a glass jar with chopped coltsfoot.
Cover coltsfoot with 100 proof vodka if you can find it, 80 proof is ok as well.
Label jar with date, herb and medium (in this case, 100 or 80 proof vodka)
In six weeks, filter out plant matter, saving the liquid: this is the tincture.
Label again if in new bottle.
Standard dose is 2 - 4 ml, which is about 50 - 100 drops per day.
Bensky, Dan and Gamble, Andrew. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. Eastland Press. Seattle, WA. 1986
Hoffman, David. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. Barnes and Nobel Books. New York. 1996
Holmes, Peter. The Energetics of Western Herbs, Volume II. Snow Lotus Press. Boulder, CO. 1994
Peterson, Roger Tory and McKenny, Margaret. Peterson Field Guides, Wildflowers. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, Massachusetts. 1968.
About the author
Melissa Sokulski is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of the website Food Under Foot, a website devoted entirely to wild edible plants. The website offers plant descriptions, photographs, videos, recipes and more. Her new workbook, Wild Plant Ally, offers an exciting, hands-on way to learn about wild edible plants. Melissa also runs The Birch Center for Health in Pittsburgh, PA, providing the best in complementary health care: acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbal medicine.