What is Coltsfoot?
Also known as coughwort, and horsehoof, coltsfoot is an herb known scientifically as Tussilago farfara. Coltsfoot belongs to the daisy family and has traditionally been used mainly to treat respiratory conditions. The benefits of coltsfoot include treating asthma, bronchitis, influenza, laryngitis and lung congestion but also extend to skin and hair care.
History of Use
As may be implied from its Latin name, coltsfoot is reputed to have antitussive properties. Many parts of the plant have historically been used in medicine including its flowers, buds and leaves. It has mainly been used to treat throat irritation, dry coughs and a host of respiratory complaints. Traditional Chinese practitioners in particular have used the herb for asthma, coughs, laryngitis and bronchitis.
Coltsfoot is also an ingredient in various herbal remedies to treat respiratory conditions. It sounds a bit counterintuitive but the herb has even been smoked historically to deal with wheezing and coughing. It is difficult to recommend using it in this way since smoke is potentially highly irritating to the respiratory system.
Apart from its medicinal uses, coltsfoot seeds have been used to stuff pillows and mattresses. Extracts of the herb have also been used to flavor candy. However, it is as a medicinal herb that coltsfoot is best known with nearly all references indicating its effectiveness as a remedy for throat pain and irritation.
Coltsfoot is originally a native of Europe but these days is found more widely around the globe including sandy areas in much of North America. It is a perennial herb that grows to around 30 centimeters in height and has distinctive woolly leaves. During the early part of the Spring, the plant begins to flower.
It produces a single stem with one golden colored flower which blooms for a few months until around June. The stem then dies which is when the leaves begin to appear. As well as being harvested around Europe – especially in the Balkan areas, coltsfoot has also played a major role in traditional Chinese medicine throughout the ages.
Coltsfoot – Medicinal Compounds
The reason that coltsfoot has such a long history of use in medicine is the presence of various medicinal compounds. The herb contains a mucilage compounds, tannins, carotenoids, flavonoids and terpene alcohols. According to studies, the herb contains mucilage at a concentration of around 8% while it also yields certain sugars such as fructose, glucose and galactose.
Studies have also isolated a sesquiterpene called tussilagone from the plant. According to studies, coltsfoot also contains various acids including caffeic acid, ferulic acid, tannic acid, malic acid and tartaric acid.
Benefits of Coltsfoot
1) For Sore Throats
One of the main uses both historically and in the present day of coltsfoot is to treat sore throats. It is considered effective because of the mucilage content of the herb which gives it a powerful demulcent effect. Burning the herb or inhaling its vapors steeped in boiling water is not recommended because the mucilage is expected to be destroyed by the heat.
However, there is a single source that mentions that coltsfoot can be used in a medicinal cigarette form to help relieve the symptoms of asthma. (1) This report was published back in the mid 1970s and there have been no follow up studies to verify its findings.
As well as being used for sore throats, coltsfoot has also been used to deal with various related conditions including bronchitis, influenza, laryngitis, lung congestion and whooping cough. In many parts of Europe, coltsfoot is among the most popular herbal remedies for various chest and respiration ailments.
2) Anti-inflammatory Benefits
Coltsfoot is widely used to relieve inflammation both internally and externally. Several studies have indicated that the herb contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids and polysaccharides giving the herb potential applications against asthma and other inflammatory conditions.
3) For the Skin
As well as its anti-inflammatory abilities, coltsfoot also contains natural antioxidant properties which may help protect the skin and reverse the damage done by environmental free radicals. It can be applied topically to your skin and is an ingredient in a number of commercial cosmetic products.
According to many users, coltsfoot can work miracles on the skin, helping to rejuvenate the complexion and reducing the visibility of age marks and wrinkles.
4) For The Hair
Coltsfoot contains a rich variety of natural compounds that are suitable for treating the hair. The herb can be added to shampoos or conditioners to help treat dandruff or simply to add strength and sheen to the hair. You could also try making your own home made coltsfoot hair preparation by following the recipe below.
Coltsfoot can help regulate sebum production and also improve elasticity in the scalp. It is purported to stimulate the skin’s production of collagen making it the ideal hair and scalp treatment.
DIY Coltsfoot Hair Recipe
- Put a teaspoon or so of dried coltsfoot in a large Pyrex jug.
- Boil around half a liter of water and pour it over the herb.
- Allow the mixture to steep well for at least 15 minutes.
- After the mixture has cooled sufficiently, strain out the coltsfoot and allow the liquid to cool further.
- Jump into the shower, wash your hair normally and the use the coltsfoot tea as your final rinse by pouring it all over your scalp and hair.
- Alternatively, put your tea in a spray bottle and use it each day as a hair spritz. Store your spray bottle in a cool, dry part of the house.
5) Other Uses
There are several other potential uses for coltsfoot though we are relying mainly on anecdotal reports and traditional use. There is little in the way of scientific evidence to verify its effectiveness for the following purposes.
Coltsfoot tinctures are sometimes used to treat duodenal complaints like colitis. When used internally it may help bolster the immune system and help to treat allergies. It is purported to have antimicrobial properties and is sometimes used to treat urinary tract infections like cystitis. It is also used in a vaginal douche to help clear up vaginal infections.
How to Use Coltsfoot
Coltsfoot is available in capsule and tincture form and is commonly enjoyed as a herbal tea or decoction.
Add a tablespoon of your dried flowers and leaves to a mug of boiled water. Allow the tea to steep for at least 10 minutes. Strain the herb away and drink it up two or three times each day.
Add around an ounce of your dried coltsfoot flowers and leaves to a liter of water then boil. Allow your mixture to evaporate gradually until you are left with about a pint of liquid. You can add the liquid to a poultice or dip cotton balls into the decoction then apply them to your chest to help with breathing issues.
A warm compress made with the decoction can also help relieve skin inflammation and help heal minor wounds or burns.
Many health food stores and online sites sell coltsfoot in capsule form. Check the recommended dose and precautions before starting to use the herb.
Precautions and Side Effects
- Coltsfoot contains a number of alkaloids which may be toxic to the liver if it is taken in large doses or for a prolonged period of time.
- It is not recommended that you take coltsfoot for more than a month in each 12 month period.
- Long term use of the herb may also increase blood pressure. It should be avoided by people with hypertension and cardiac disease.
- Coltsfoot should be avoided by young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. There are documented abortifacient effects from using the herb.
(1) Hirono I, et al. Gann . 1976;67(1):125-9