Tussilago farfara ~ Coltsfoot

Medicinal Wild Plants of Sligo

 From the corner of my eye I see a glint of yellow brightness. A quick glance over my shoulder and the winter weather is forgotten by the appearance of the golden flowers of the Tussilago farfara (Coltsfoot). Spring is almost here and this seasonal herb radiates the benefit and warmth of the sun – dispelling coughs and the effects of the dark cold days of winter.

 Tussilago’s vibrant flowers are always the first of Spring in the sand dunes of the beaches of north Sligo. Easily recognised from it’s unusual woolly purplish stems and lack of leaves! The leaves only appear after flowering has finished explaining the plants old name; The Son Before The Father. The plants common name helps us identify it while it’s botanical name hints to it’s medicinal use. Coltsfoot describes the plants leaves which can be covered in a downy white cobweb like layer. Whilst the botanical name Tussilago derives from tussive which refers to coughing. Traditionally the leaves were smoked to relieve asthma and can still be found in herbal tobacco mixes.

 In herbal medicine we use both the flowers and the leaves. So this is a herb to keep an eye on as you will be returning to it come summer to harvest leaves too. Both parts have soothing, anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal and anti-tussive actions making Tussilago farfara ideal for respiratory conditions. I use this plant for irritating coughs with phlegm, painful bronchitis – acute or chronic, asthma and emphysema. Herbs are quite versatile and you can make a varirty of remedies from the same plant that suit the patient or the particular symptoms of the condition. Herbal remedies work best when taken regularily so simply make a large pot of strong tea from fresh Tussilago leaves to get the medicinal daily dose of 3-4 cups into you. Take a handful of leaves per cup of water and leave the tea to infuse for 10mins before drinking. Fresh is best and as this plant grows in abundance and produces leaves all summer using it as a tea is a great option to benefit from it’s anti-spasmodic, expectorant and anti-tussive effects. I also make tincture from the leaves for use in herbal formulas. This gives you a stronger extraction of the plants chemical constituents.

 The flowers are slightly sweeter than the leaves and make great cough syrups for children. Herbal syrups are a lovely way to soothe a sore throat or persistant cough and are very easily made at home. Syrups can be made from honey, sugar or a glyerine water mix. As sugar disrupts the immune system I prefer to use honey or glycerine. For the purpose of making a Tussilago flower syrup I find honey the best.


Tussilago farfara Syrup

A couple of handfuls of fresh flowers

Honey – local raw runny honey is best


Fill a jar with your Tussilago flowers and cover in honey. Leave the jar on a sunny windowsill for 3 weeks to allow the honey to extract the constituents form the flowers. This is called a cold infusion using the warmth of the sun rather than heating the ingredients on the stove. As heat destroys the medicinal properties of honey is a always best to make a honey syrup this way. Strain into glass bottles using a piece of muslin cloth and store in a cool dark place. Dose: 3-4 tsp per day.

When gathering any plant from the wild be sure not to over harvest. Remember other animals and insects may be relying on this plant as a scource of food or medicine. To ensure the continued growth of the plant never take all the flowers or fruits and only ever take 1/3 or less of the plants leaves. Tussilago farfara does spread like wild fire using it’s Dandilion like parachutes to disperse it’s seeds. If you do decide to grow your own stash of Tussilago in your garden be aware of this cheeky trait!