Backyard Survival Herbs – You Need: Meet Coltsfoot

Long ago, was a plant known as Filius ante patrem, which means ‘the son before the father’ because its golden flowers appeared and withered before the leaves would ever be seen. With its tufted yellow heads and later-appearing, decoratively lobed, hoof-shaped leaves, coltsfoot was (and is today) a treat to the eyes and spirit when it exploded into color along the roadsides and pathways declaring that spring had come!

Apart from being the initial burst of color after a long monochrome winter, coltsfoot, or Tussilago farfara L.,as it is now classified (a distant relative of the sunflower) also provides essential healing properties that can serve you year-round. The term ‘tussilago’ in the name refers to its cough-dispelling properties and explains one of its alternate names, Coughwort.


The Europeans have long approved and popularly used it as a remedy for coughs, though, in Germany, a limit has been put upon coltsfoot usage of 4-6 weeks/year due to the liver-toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids present- definitely something of which to be aware. Often it is combined with mullein, marshmallow or white horehound for the treatment of coughs. I have read that early Americans wrapped those with whooping cough in blankets that had been soaked in an infusion of coltsfoot. Not sure how that would work…

As noted above, the flowers appear first and should be collected before they fully bloom and dried carefully out of sunlight. The leaves then appear and can be used fresh until they die in the fall, but before then, you can collect and chop some up before drying to store for winter.


 So How Does Coltsfoot Help Coughs?

Well, inherent in the plant are constituents that cause expectorant, antitussive,demulcent,anticatarrhal, pectoral tonic and diuretic actions. Let me explain each of those: expectorants support the body in getting rid of excess mucous in the respiratory system; antitussives suppress coughing; demulcents are rich in mucilaginous content which soothes irritated and inflamed tissue; anticatarrhals basically help your body get rid of snot buildup, wherever in the body that is happening; pectorals are general healers and strengtheners of the respiratory system; tonic herbs reinforce and strengthen the body’s systems, either individually as needed or overall; and a diuretic gets you urinating which can help eliminate toxins. (Just remember to rehydrate!) Some people have used a tea for the diuretic properties to help with cystitis, which requires the system to be thoroughly flushed to eliminate the bacteria causing the infection and restore balance to the bladder environment.

Now it also has emollient qualities, which make it a great herb to add to skin soothing, softening or protective preparations. It’s like the internal action as a demulcent, but externally. Fresh leaves can be crushed in your hands and then applied to abscesses, boils or festering ulcers.

A nice tea recipe for coughing would look like equal parts of coltsfoot leaf, white horehound or marshmallow leaf and flower and mullein leaf. (About a third cup dried or a half cup fresh herbs) Put your herbs in a nice teapot meant for infusing herbs or just into a glass jar. Then cover with boiling water and let steep a good half hour, even longer but not so long your tea is so strong you can’t drink it! 30-45 minutes is a good window. Then just sip on your tea as you have need throughout the day.


In olden times, the leaves were dried and smoked, sometimes along with the dried root to alleviate bronchial spasms. To me, this seems counterintuitive, but I include it just for the historical aspect. Pliny, a first century Roman naturalist, recommended the dried leaves and roots of Coltsfoot to be burnt -optimally on cypress charcoal, and the smoke drawn into the mouth through a reed and swallowed, as a remedy for an obstinate cough, the patient sipping a little wine between each inhalation. Mmmhmmm….I think I will stick to the tea, thank you anyway, Pliny!  To your health and enjoyment of God’s creations! ~Carin


Disclaimer: Of course we claim no responsibility for your experience with these herbs.  Everything we share is for information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional or medical advice. Do your own research!  Always consult a professional. Be wise. Consider always the chance of an allergic reaction. We are all unique in body chemistry.  We are NOT a medical professionals by any means, however we have saved our family a boatload of annoyance and money by being resourceful and using what is right at our feet – literally. See full disclaimer here.

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