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The Witches Cupboard

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)


Coltsfoot is common in roadsides, hedgerows, waste ground and stream banks and is one of the first plants to flower in Spring.

It produces its flowers before its leaves.  It is a perennial herb with yellow daisy like flowers and heart shaped polygonal leaves.  (It does look a lot like the summer flowing Butterbur to make sure you have the right plant).

Its Latin name Tussilago means ‘cough’ and farfara or flour refers to the white, cottony down on the underside of the leaves.

Both flowers and the leaves can be used medicinally, especially as a cough remedy.   Harvest the flowers in early spring and the leaves in summer.

The flowers and the leaves make a sweetish, aniseed flavour tea.  It is an especially good tea to drink for all kinds of cough and upper respiratory tract complaints.  The tea is very soothing and calming for a cough, and also helps moisten a dry irritating cough.

Coltsfoot leaves were also used by the Greeks and Romans as a smoking tobacco.  You can use the dried leaves to roll your own or smoke them in a pipe – although I am now sure how smoking would ease a cough, even if you are smoking Coltsfoot leaves but it is said to be good for asthma and bronchitis when you do so!  Apparently smoking coltsfoot leaves can also sometimes cause visions.

Coltsfoot combines well with mullein, working especially well on dry coughs and is good added to fennel tea.  Adding fennel makes it taste nicer and has an even more soothing effect.

Coltsfoot does contain small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, not all these alkaloids are toxic, and coltsfoot’s small amounts do not appear to be harmful in low doses.  But I would recommend taking it for no more than six weeks in total in a year.

The white down on the underside of the leaves can be made into tinder by boiling and drying and mixing with saltpetre.  The seed heads can also be used to stuff pillows, although to pick enough for a pillow would take a very long time indeed!

To make a coltsfoot and honey poultice:

Mix chopped coltsfoot leaves with enough honey to make a paste, apply to boils and sores that won’t heal.  Place a piece of gauze over the poultice and bandage in place.  Change for a fresh poultice every day until healed.

Coltsfoot syrup:

This will keep for months in the refrigerator.  A tablespoon taken 3 or 4 times a day is soothing for a hard, dry cough and helps to loosen it.

1 cup/50g fresh coltsfoot leaves

5 cups/1 litre water

6-8 tablespoons honey

Wash the leaves and pick away the stalks, drain and put the leaves and water in a saucepan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Cool a little, strain the liquid into a clean pan and add the honey, heat up and stir until the honey has melted, then boil steadily for 10 minutes. Skim very thoroughly, and pour through a fine strainer into a jug, leave until cool.  Pour the syrup into bottles, leaving behind any sediment in the jug.  Screw on bottle caps and store in the refrigerator.

Magickal Properties of Coltsfoot:

Gender: Feminine

Planet: Venus

Element: Water

Powers: Love, Visions, Peace, Tranquillity