By: Christine Best
One of the earliest flowers to appear are the dandelion-like coltsfoot flowers. These yellow -rayed flowers on their short, stubby stalks with their characteristic bracts are unusual in that they appear before the leaves. They love growing in nutrient poor waste ground and will quickly establish themselves where their seeds settle or through underground runners.
The flowers have been used to make wine in the past although you would need a large patch of coltsfoot to provide enough flowers for this. Medicinally both the flowers and the leaves are used. I usually pick and dry the flowers in March and then wait until the leaves have appeared. I then mix the dried flowers with the fresh leaves to make into a syrup.
Medicinally coltsfoot improves digestion, helping to soothe an irritated digestive tract; it enhances the immune system, making it useful in infections; soothes the bladder in cystitis and urethritis and a poultice applied externally will help heal eczema, ulcers, sores, bites and other skin inflammations. Its main use, though, has to be in helping relieve congested chest infections. It acts as a soothing expectorant, helping to clear out catarrh making it useful for colds, coughs, bronchitis, and asthma and can also help as part of a treatment plan for chronic emphysema, and silicosis. It has high levels of zinc which promotes tissue repair which is why it is often used where the respiratory system is damaged through infection or smoking.
The dried leaves are often smoked as a tobacco substitute.
Coltsfoot does contain certain alkaloids that make it unsuitable for long-term use especially if there is any history of liver disease. It is also best to avoid using it if pregnant or breast-feeding.
To make a syrup of coltsfoot, use the flowers, leaves or a mix of the two and poor over enough boiling water to cover. Simmer gently for 30 minutes before straining off. Measure the liquid and add 500g sugar for each ½ litre of liquid and stir until dissolved. Pour into a sterilized bottle and label. Use 1-2 tsp of syrup in a glass of hot water.
Please ensure that you have correctly identified any wild plants before picking and please pick responsibly so as not to deplete wild stock. If you are taking any prescribed medications, are pregnant or breast-feeding, please consult a qualified herbalist before using herbal remedies.
Christine Best is a fully qualified Medical Herbalist practicing at her clinic in Kilflynn. You may contact her at 086 1939217 or through her website at www.kerryherbalist.com