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These plants, funghi and insect illustrations
are part of my botanical oracle deck

Tussilago farfara | Coltsfoot

Botanical Overview of Coltsfoot

  • Scientific Name: Tussilago farfara

  • Common Names: Coltsfoot, Coughwort, Horsehoof, Bull’s Foot, Butterbur

  • Family: Asteraceae (Daisy family)

  • Description: Coltsfoot is a perennial herb that typically grows to about 10-30 cm in height. It is one of the first plants to flower in early spring, producing bright yellow, dandelion-like flowers before the leaves appear. These flowers are borne on scaly, leafless stems. After flowering, the plant develops large, heart-shaped leaves with a distinctive hoof-like shape, which are green on the upper side and covered with white, woolly hairs underneath. The leaves have a texture similar to felt and can grow up to 20 cm across. The plant's name, Coltsfoot, refers to the shape of its leaves, which resemble a colt’s foot.


tussilago farfara botanical illustration

Properties of Coltsfoot

  • Chemical Constituents: Contains mucilage, polysaccharides, tannins, flavonoids, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and essential oils. The mucilage and polysaccharides are primarily responsible for its soothing effects on the respiratory tract. However, pyrrolizidine alkaloids can be hepatotoxic and carcinogenic in large or prolonged doses.

  • Edibility: Coltsfoot leaves and flowers have been used historically in teas and as a vegetable, but due to the presence of toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, their consumption is now generally discouraged or limited to occasional use under expert guidance. Young leaves were traditionally cooked like spinach or used in soups, while the flowers were sometimes used in herbal teas.


Distribution and Habitat of Coltsfoot

  • Native Range: Europe and parts of Asia.

  • Preferred Habitat: Coltsfoot thrives in a variety of soils but prefers moist, clay-rich areas and thrives in disturbed grounds, such as riverbanks, roadsides, and waste places. It is often found in meadows, fields, and along streams. The plant is highly adaptable and can grow in poor soils, often colonizing areas with little competition. It spreads both by seed and through its extensive rhizome system, making it quite resilient and capable of forming dense patches.


Medicinal Properties and Uses of Coltsfoot

  • Traditional Uses: Coltsfoot has been used for centuries as a remedy for respiratory ailments. It was traditionally employed to treat coughs, colds, bronchitis, and asthma. The plant’s Latin name, "Tussilago," means "cough suppressant," reflecting its primary use in herbal medicine. Coltsfoot leaves and flowers were commonly made into syrups, teas, and poultices to soothe irritated mucous membranes and reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract. It was also used as a mild diuretic and to treat skin conditions such as ulcers and sores.

  • Modern Applications: Today, Coltsfoot is still valued for its demulcent and expectorant properties, particularly in herbal teas and cough syrups. However, its use is limited due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic to the liver. As a result, Coltsfoot preparations are usually recommended for short-term use and are often standardized to reduce alkaloid content. The plant is also used in topical applications to promote wound healing and reduce inflammation. Despite its benefits, modern use of Coltsfoot requires caution and professional guidance to avoid potential toxicity.


Magical Correspondences and Uses of Coltsfoot in Magical Practice

  • Element: Water, Air

  • Planet: Venus, Mercury

  • Magical Properties: Healing, love, and tranquility.

  • Uses: In magical practices, Coltsfoot is revered for its healing and soothing energies. It is often used in rituals and spells aimed at promoting health and recovery, particularly for respiratory issues. The plant's association with Venus imbues it with energies of love and harmony, making it suitable for rituals that seek to attract or strengthen love and to foster peace and reconciliation. Coltsfoot can be included in healing sachets, herbal baths, or incense blends to support physical and emotional healing. The leaves and flowers are also used to create charms and amulets for protection and to encourage good fortune. In folk magic, Coltsfoot was traditionally burned as an incense to cleanse and purify spaces, driving away negative influences and promoting tranquility. The plant's early spring bloom is seen as a symbol of renewal and hope, making it a powerful ally in spells and rituals of new beginnings and personal growth.


Folklore, Legends, and Mythology of Coltsfoot

  • Historical Context: Coltsfoot has a long history in both medicinal and magical traditions. Its early flowering in spring has made it a symbol of renewal and the promise of new life.

  • Folklore: In various European traditions, Coltsfoot was believed to have the power to ward off illness and protect against evil spirits. It was often planted near homes to safeguard the household and was used in protective charms. The plant was also associated with fertility and was sometimes used in love potions and rituals to attract new love or rekindle passion in existing relationships. In some cultures, seeing the first Coltsfoot bloom of the season was considered a sign of good luck and prosperity.

  • Mythology: While Coltsfoot does not have a prominent place in classical mythology, its properties and early spring bloom resonate with themes of healing and renewal. The plant's ability to thrive in disturbed and barren soils symbolizes resilience and the power of nature to restore balance. Its use in traditional medicine and protective magic reflects its enduring role as a guardian and healer in folklore and myth. Coltsfoot's bright, sun-like flowers were often seen as heralds of spring, bringing warmth and light after the long winter months.


Historical Literary Sources

  • "Culpeper’s Complete Herbal" by Nicholas Culpeper (1653): Provides detailed descriptions of Coltsfoot’s medicinal uses, especially for respiratory ailments, and its role in traditional European herbalism.

  • "De Materia Medica" by Dioscorides (1st century AD): An ancient text that includes references to the use of Coltsfoot in treating coughs and lung conditions.

  • "A Modern Herbal" by Maud Grieve (1931): Explores the historical and contemporary applications of Coltsfoot, with a focus on its use in folk medicine and magic.

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