What is Coltsfoot?

Are you seeing dandelions in the spring? You may want to double check. Those yellow flowers you're seeing could be coltsfoot.

While its flowers are pretty, this plant is actually named after its leaves which resemble a horseshoe in cross section. Coltsfoot flowers pop up in early spring and are often found in poor, disturbed soils. (Which is why it grows next to my driveway!) The leaves don't appear until after the flowers have died back, so in the spring, the flowers show up with no apparent leaves. 

what is coltsfoot
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Coltsfoot is a native of Europe and has been naturalized in China and was introduced here by early settlers because of its medicinal values as an expectorant, cough suppressant and an anti-inflammatory. This species was so highly regarded as a medicinal plant that the flower was painted on apothecary shop signs in France. Use caution, however, because coltsfoot leaves and flowers do contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can damage the liver. Do not use if pregnant or nursing.

  • Perennial 
  • Four to eight inches high.
  • Leaves rounded, slightly lobed, toothed, base strongly heart-shaped.
  • Flowers appear before leaves.
  • Blooms March through April.
  • Flowers yellow with many rays, on a reddish-scaled stalk.

what is coltsfoot

If you come across a patch of Coltsfoot this spring, take a moment to admire it for its beauty and interesting history.
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