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Coltsfoot, Another Respiratory Tonic


Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara. Another asteraceae family member, coltsfoot has antitussive, expectorant, astringent (due to tannins), sedative, demulcent, antispasmodic and diuretic properties. The genus name tussilago means “cough dispeller”, and indeed it is a general respiratory tonic. “Coltsfoot was so popular in medieval times that it was chosen as the emblem to identify the local apothecary” (Gladstar, 324).

Relating to the doctrine of signatures, Matthew Wood said that “Hairy or hirsute leaves and stems are a signature for the…hairs of the mucosa” and that “leaves that are thick from the content of mucilage (Slippery Elm, Coltsfoot) are good lung and mucosa remedies” (21). I first met coltsfoot while at Sage Mountain, often as a garden companion to another Old World respiratory remedy lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). It grew abundantly along the edges of the gardens, its broad, gray-green leaves spilling over into the lawn. The leaves are interesting to the touch, squishy and thick with a fine hairy layer that rolls off between your fingers.

Since coltsfoot is a soothing antispasmodic, it’s useful for chronic respiratory conditions for general coughs and bronchial congestion. More specifically, use coltsfoot for constant or chronic coughing with lots of phlegm that doesn’t want to come up. Sometimes the coughs are dry or spasmodic. Coltsfoot spills over into being used for asthma, emphysema, recovery from smoking and wheezing, not just for acute coughs (Tierra, 71).

Coltsfoot is quite mucilaginous, a cold infusion of the dried leave yields a tea for soothing a dry and irritated throat and airway. It makes a fairly pleasant tasting tea.  I use the tincture for it’s relaxing expectorant qualities. Mills says it is “a particular standby for children’s coughs, associated as these are with a nervous, spasmodic element” (481).


Gladstar, Rosemary. Family Herbal.

Mills, Simon. The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.

Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.

Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.

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