Old dead father before son

11th January 2013

Old wilted Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara

Came across these these, the wilted, dying leaves of last years Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara. It quite late to find them still around, even in this sorry condition, a result of the relatively mild winter so far. My experience of Coltsfoot is that it’s quite random in where it grows, you will find quite a good patch of it but then nothing nearby even if the habitat looks the same. Generally look for it on stream banks, roadsides, cliffs, rocky areas and waste ground. It will generally be found in the same place year after year.

In a couple of months the first sign we’ll see of it will be the Dandelion like composite flowers, appearing in clusters on thick, scaly stalks. These give rise to one of its country names “son before the father” as the flowers appear before the leaves emerge. The flowers have a distinct liquorice flavour and work well as flower fritters and they can also be dried and used as a flavouring or as a tea.
The angular, fleshy leaves when the appear can also be used as a green vegetable,there is a very good recipe in Roger Phillips “Wild Food” for Coltsfoot Cream where it is combined with sesame seeds. The can also be dipped in batter and fried as a fritter.

The plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which cause small amounts of damage to the liver, small amounts every now and then your body can cope with so don’t eat too much too often and it is advised not to eat during pregnancy or give to children.

Like yesterday’s plant, Coltsfood is used in herbal medicine. It has a long established history of being used for coughs, asthma, bronchitis and other lung complaints using either/or the leaves, flowers or roots as a infusion. The first part of its latin name actually translates roughly as “cough dispeller”. The dried leaves have even been smoked by some to ease certain lung conditions,the jury’s out on whether this works or not! Either way it has been used as smoking herb since roman times.

Another curious use for this plant is decscribed in a couple of books which states that if the dried leaves are burn’t the resulting ash can be sprinkled onto food as a substitute for salt. What they have failed to realise is that although Coltsfoot has been introduced to the eastern seaboard of north america, there is actually a different plant found in north america called Sweet Coltsfoot Petasites frigidus, and it was this that has been used as a salt substitute not Tussilaga farfara (to which it is related). Some how the use has been transferred across without anyone going to the effort of actually trying it…..so don’t believe everything you read in books!

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