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Coltsfoot Tussilago Farfara - Foraging Wildflowers & Weeds in Newfoundland

Foraging Wildflowers & Weeds in Newfoundland
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Foraging Wildflowers & Weeds in Newfoundland

Coltsfoot is an interesting plant, often times confused for dandelions because of their sunny yellow flowers. They are one of the earliest plants to flower in spring. The noticeable differences between coltsfoot & dandelion is the lack of spring leaves and the alien-like thick flower stem with numerous reddish scales. This low growing perennial plant has large heart-shaped leaves with a velvety underside that emerge late spring to early summer after the flower has gone to seed.

Coltsfoot, a member of the aster family, is a perennial with large basal leaves and scaly, purplish stems. The yellow flowers that are about one inch in diameter appear in early spring and are followed by the emergence of leaves later in the season. Leaves have long stems, are broadly heart shaped, with shallow lobes and a coarsely toothed margin. Leaf undersides are velvety and white.

Growing Coltsfoot
Coltsfoot is a hardy perennial and will grow in almost any condition. Ideal growing conditions are moist clay soils, open disturbed areas and cool shady locations, but the plants can also grow in full sun and other types of soil. The large unique leaves are not as susceptible to insect attacks like many other large-leaved garden plants and are a hardy alternative for growing as an ornamental ground cover and to add interest in the garden. Plants have an extensive root system and are used to stabilize banks for erosion control. Because it's native to Europe, and is extremely hardy spreading by both creeping rhizomes and seeds, cutting off the flower heads before they go to seed is a good idea, also be sure to dig up any that stray and plant them in areas that won't spread to neighboring properties. They will work very well for container gardening.

Coltsfoot is an early food source for bees , hoverflies, house flies and beetles.

Edible Uses
Coltsfoot leaves and flowers are said to be edible. With a pleasant anise taste, they can be tossed into salads to add an aromatic flavor. Flowers can be added to honey to make a cough remedy or to sweeten tea. Dried flowers can be added to dishes such as pancakes and fritters. Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, they can be used in salads and added to soups. An aromatic tea can be made from the fresh or dried leaves and flowers, it has a licorice-like flavor. Dried and burnt leaves have been used as a salt substitute.

Medicinal Uses
Early European settlers brought coltsfoot to use as a herbal remedy. It is said to ease asthma attacks and treat other lung and throat ailments. The genus name Tussilago means cough dispeller. It was used as a pulmonary tonic and curative against emphysema, chronic bronchitis and whooping cough. It is said to be more effective when used in combination with licorice, thyme and wild cherry. A bitter, tonic and diaphoretic preparation can be obtained from the root. Coltsfoot has been used as a replacement for tobacco. A poultice of the flowers has a soothing effect on a range of skin disorders including eczema, ulcers, sores, bites and inflammations.

The plant contains traces of liver-affecting alkaloids and is potentially toxic in large doses. The flowering stems contain higher levels of alkaloids but are largely destroyed when the plant is boiled to make a decoction.

Harvesting Coltsfoot
Harvest flowers and stems at the peak of blooming in early spring.
The leaves are harvested later in the spring when fully grown.
The best ones to pick are the ones that have black spots on them, because the oils are surfacing on top.

Other Uses
The large velvety leaves make excellent emergency toilet paper.
Because of the soft down on the underside, the leaves have been used as a stuffing material.
Leaves & flowers can be dried for crafts & arrangements.
The leaves are a valuable addition to the compost or to make compost tea to feed your garden plants, coltsfoot fertilizer is high in nitrogen and potassium which stimulates leafy growth and promotes stronger plants.


So when you think you see a dandelion in early spring, take a closer look - it just may be coltsfoot a beautiful large-leaved perennial with unique characteristics and many benefits.

My favorite online sources for plant information:
Plants For A Future (PFAF)
USDA Database

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