A small perennial, on a creeping rhizome, 15-20 cm (6-8 in) in height. The bright-yellow, dandelion-like flowers, borne singly, appear before the rosette of toothed heart shaped leaves.
History and traditions
Known since the days of Discords and Pliny as an herb to relieve coughs, often taken in the form of a smoking mixture, it is still a basic ingredient of herbal tobaccos. The generic name comes from tussis, a cough (from which we get the word tussive), and agree, to take away. In the middle Ages it was sometimes known as Filius ante patrem (son before father), because the flowers appear before the leaves. Although still used in herbal medicine for cough remedies, recent tests have revealed that it contains low quantities of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are carcinogenic in high doses. (Also found in Symphytum officinale comfrey).
It is an invasive plant that needs no cultivation. Propagated from seed or by division. Parts used Leaves, flowers fresh or dried.
Coltsfoot is said to have tonic effects and contain mucilage, which is soothing to the mucous membranes. It is still recommended by herbalists to be taken in infusions for coughs and applied externally as a wash or compress, or as fresh leaves mixed in a paste of honey, for sores, ulcers, skin inflammation and insect bites.
Traditionally, leaves were added to springtime salads and soups.