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Plant of the Month - Coltsfoot

Coughwort. Hallfoot. Horsehoof. Ass's Foot. Foalswort. Fieldhove. Bullsfoot. Donnhove. (French) Pas d'âne

Coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara. Photographed on the edge of shingle at Dunwich Heath, on the Suffolk Coast.

Common Coltsfoot is a herbaceous perennial seen in late April/May in the UK where its yellow heads are often mistaken for dandelions. However, this plant is more closely related to Groundsel but in common with dandilions, after pollination, it does produce fluffy seed heads. Coltsfoot gets its name from the leaves that are shaped like a cloven hoof.

This herb is indigenous to Europe and some parts of Asia and its latin name Tussilago is derived from the Latin tussere meaning "to cough" and the specific name farfara means to "go away".

This refers to the traditional use of the herb as a cure for coughs and an infusion of the flower heads in honey can be used to make a cough syrup.

Indigenous North Americans also burnt the leaves and used the ash as substitute for salt. However, with the high levels of potentially harmful alkaloids in all parts of the plant, I am not sure it’s something I would choose to season my food!

Coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara.

Coltsfoot is in the Asteraceae family and has flowers between 15-30mm in diameter, each one made up of numerous individual rays surrounding a central disk of florets. The flower stem is covered in fleshy scales and they hold the plant above the ground. From above, the leaves appear heart shaped and green but the underside is covered in fine hairs that give it a silver sheen.

Although not an endangered plant it isn’t one that I have seen often in the area around Cambridge where I live. Sadly, none of my photographs show the leaf structure as the plant puts up naked flower spikes prior to the leaves developing.

There are various videos on Tube showing how to identify the plant and outlining its use in herbal remedies. This video is a good introduction to our plant of the month.

Elaine Allison

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