Sunday, 21 April 2013

Coltsfoot flowers - a healing waterside herb

We spotted these lovelies on a Spring Detox Foraging Walk yesterday by the Water of Leith, near Stockbridge, Edinburgh.

Beautiful coltsfoot flower heads (Tussilago farfara flos). The latin tussis ago means "I drive out a cough". These were once commonly called 'Son before the Father' because of their peculiarity of the flower appearing before the colt's foot shaped leaves. 

Dry the flower heads to make a soothing cough tea, or use fresh or dried to make remedies... In fact, the whole flower and stem can be used as a wild edible in your cooking.

They like to grow near water so often found by streams and rivers throughout most of the UK. Their affinity for water reminds me of their property of balancing out damp, wet mucous in the respiratory system. 

You may hear scare stories about avoiding coltsfoot due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver failure (as in comfrey), but you would need to consume an inhuman amount of the stuff to have a detrimental effect (as in comfrey)

If you are having it to soothe the occasional cough or using the fresh flowers to garnish the odd salad, you will be just fine!

Having said that, if you are sensitive or allergic to the daisy family then do avoid this plant as it is a member of this group (includes many popular herbs: dandelion, yarrow, chamomile, burdock, artemesias etc.)! 

And if you do have a compromised liver, just to be on the safe side, perhaps opt for one of the many alternative cough soother herbs, such as marshmallow, licorice, wild cherry bark, hyssop and so on.

Always remember to forage flowers sustainably and check the local regs (eg. permission for farmer's land and SSSIs - Sites of Special Scientific Interest). 

Miles Irving, author of "The Forager Handbook", recommends for annual flowers to take no more than a fifth of what is to be found in any given place. I prefer to limit my picking to a lot less than ten percent. 

Flowering trees, shrubs and perennials however are less affected by over harvesting, so you can pick a bit more abundantly from those.

Coltsfoot Cough Tea

Take 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried coltsfoot flower per cup hot boiled water. Infuse for 10min. Strain & drink with honey to sweeten if desired. Take 3-4 cups daily until symptoms clear. 

(For chronic coughs, please visit your local herbalist to get checked out!)

Happy coltsfoot flower foraging!

Fiona :)


  1. lovely photo and good information, I especially like that you offer alternative options too, always good to know - thanks

  2. Well presented ideas that we can all put into practice easily. Thank you!