One of the first flowers in Spring (looking like a leafless Dandelion by the roadsides), Coltsfoot is a member of the Aster family, the Compositae. Its wide leaves resemble a large hoofprint, hence the name. It grows wild in great abundance, but it may be difficult to find a suitable spot for harvesting, since it prefers roadsides and ‘waste’ places. Look for it in the gravelly soil of dried streambeds. We harvest the leaves starting in late June / early July, although the flowers can also be used.
Elemental associations: Water
Phytochemistry: Mucilage, tannin, glycosides, inulin, pyrollizidine alkaloids
Actions: Expectorant, anti-catarrhal, demulcent
Specific systems: Respiratory
There has been some controversy regarding the use of Coltsfoot because of its alkaloid content. The pyrollizidines (also present in Comfrey and Chaparral) have been shown to cause liver damage if taken in moderately high concentrations for long periods of time. That said, I think it is perfectly safe to use this herb for its stated indications, which tend to be of short duration anyway! Don’t drink Coltsfoot tea daily for five years. But don’t avoid it if you’ve got a bad cough, either.
Its primary indication is for congestive conditions of the respiratory system, usually involving the entire respiratory system, and especially if there is any cough (its Latin name, Tussilago, means ‘cough-dispelling’). It is soothing to the dry throat, expectorating for the lungs, and helps thin mucus secretions in the sinuses. What a great herb for colds!
Coltsfoot has also been used in herbal smoking blends. It has some mild visioning powers, but mostly is much gentler on the lungs than tobacco, helping in useful expectoration.
Indications: Cough, lung and sinus congestion, colds
Contraindications: Long-term use
Preparation/Dosage: The tea is made by infusing the dried leaves, using 3 TBS per quart of water. The tincture is made from the wilted leaves (dried 24 hours), usually at 40% alcohol, 1:4 to 1:5. Take ¼ to ½ tsp. every hour until symptoms subside.