Of all the Latin names for plants and trees the one for coltsfoot has to be my favourite. The almost comical Tussilago farfara evokes for me the action of this little herb which is anti-tussive and often used to treat dry coughs. Another name given to it is Son before the Father which refers to the fact that the flowers arise before the leaves. If you don’t catch the flowers in time often all you’re left with is a pile of leaves which grow larger over the ensuing months. I associate this herb with wasteland and coastal areas. The leaves have whitish, web – like strands covering them when young and the colour could be described as being a dusty dark green due to the fact that they are invariably covered in a thick layer of grime or sand!
It is a medicinal little wonder, the mucilaginous properties of the herb soothe sore, irritated membranes, whilst it’s expectorant action helps break down and bring up the mucus which often gets a stuck in those intractable dry coughs. It also has an anti catarrhal action which is very helpful for those streaming head colds. In my childhood we were given coltsfoot and liquorice sticks to suck on whenever we had a cough. They were ridiculously high in sugar and probably didn’t contain much of either herb but they were a treat we looked forward to and probably even worth faking a cough for!
A word of caution though, coltsfoot does contain alkaloids that can harm the liver if taken excessively. For this reason it is a herb best to steer clear of when pregnant and not give to young children who may be more susceptible to the effects. However you can make a simple tea with the leaves and flowers and sweeten with honey. Drinking a couple of cups a day for the duration of the cough or cold is perfectly safe for older children and adults.