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Coltsfoot: An Ancient Chinese Herbal

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Spring Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(1) page(s): 23


Buds, leaves, and flowers of Tussilago farfara have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for at least two thousand years mostly for coughs, asthma, and other respiratory conditions. This is used in other countries, even though not all their medical personnel think positively about this herbal.

As do many other Chinese herbals, coltsfoot has many English names including Bull's Foot, Coughwort, Foal's Foot, Horse Foot or Horse Hoof, Ass Foot, Heliotrope, and Coltsfoot. The leaves are washed and macerated, used as a poultice on the chest or a compress on other inflamed areas and sores. The flowers are used, too, as are flower buds and not just as an antitussive, but also as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, expectorant, sedative, diuretic, and as a tonic or for burns.

This perennial grows about ten inches tall, and it can have two types of leaves. All are wooly, the larger ones reddish. Many grow from the rootstock; they can be heart-shaped, kidney-shaped, or egg-shaped, with other shapes growing from their stems. Often they have ten or more small alternate leaves and a yellow flower head with other flower heads or buds found when the rootstocks are dug up before the flowers come out of the ground.

Much has been written about coltsfoot, especially by Dr. Albert Leung. He specializes in botanical plant medicine, did his undergraduate work and earned a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy from National Taiwan University; then received a Masters and Doctorate in Pharmacognosy from the University of Michigan. To learn more than this article shares, look for many of his articles at www.earthpower.com

Coltsfoot was described in the Shen Nong Herbal, which said it tastes pungent, is warming, has invigorating properties, said to be soothing, particularly to the lungs. An alcoholic extract is used in China for the treatment of wheezing, however some patients became nauseous and a few can not sleep after taking it. Some men mix the flowers with honey and smoke them in their pipes. Others mix five parts of the flowers with one part of honey pre-dissolved with a little boiling water, then fry this mixture until it is no longer sticky to the touch. They consume or smoke this, too. Still others mix equal parts of the flowers with lily buds and grind them into a powder, then mix this with honey and make marble-size balls to chew on. They do so once a day and down it with ginger tea. This particular recipe remedy was used as early as the 13th century. More recently coltsfoot is made into a tea and consumed that way.

This aster-family plant superficially resembles the dandelion but appears earlier in the Spring than does the dandelion. Be sure to tell them apart because coltsfoot can have harmful effects for the very young. Herbal doctors warn not to administer any to infants or nursing mothers. Why not? This plant can cause liver problems including cancer of the liver due to its alkaloid components.

For those who take coltsfoot as a tea, several natural remedy websites say to mix one to two full teaspoons of its dried leaves or dried flowers with one cup of boiling water, steep this for ten minutes, strain out all plant parts, and drink it three times a day. These recipes come with warnings that say never to give it to children under two years of age, not to give it to pregnant or nursing mothers, and not to give any to alcoholics or anyone with liver disease.

The Brits have a traditional lozenge recipe, provided below, and call it 'classic' saying it soothes the throat. They used to smoke the leaves for the same results, but that is on the decline. While they seem to continue using it, be aware that the Germans have totally banned this herb for internal use.
Coltsfoot: A Throat-soothing Herbal Candy
Ingredients:
15 cups coltsfoot leaves without any stems
1 pound granulated sugar
2 cups corn syrup
3 Tablespoons butter
pinch of baking soda
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
Preparation:
1. Rinse the coltsfoot leaves well, then put into a large pot with 5 cups of cold water.
2. Bring them to the boil and boil for three minutes, then add the sugar, corn syrup, and the butter and cook until this sugar mixture reaches the ‘hard boil stage’ or when one drop in cold water turns hard. At that point, remove from the heat, add the baking soda, put it into an electric mixer and beat until it starts to get stiff.
3. Oil an eight or nine inch square pan, pour in the firm sugar mixture, and allow to harden.
4. Break the hardened material into sucking candy size pieces and use them as throat lozenges. Use about than four or five a day.

                                                                                                                                                       
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