One of the earliest colorful spring flowers in our area is often mistaken for Dandelion. Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is an alien wildflower that sends up blossoms long before it sends up leaves. Because they are in the same family – composites – and because they are yellow, folks often point and say, “Dandelion.”
Don’t let it fool you. Dandelions bloom from the center of a bunch of leaves. Also, check the stems… Dandelion has a hollow smooth (or sometimes slightly fuzzy) stem. Coltsfoot has an interesting scaly stem.
Both Dandelions and Coltsfoot make good Wishing Flowers when they go to seed. Just pick one, close your eyes and make a wish, then blow the seeds. Your wish will be carried by the wind into the universe and surely it will come true.
The latin name Tussilago means cough dispeller and this plant is often used to create cough syrup and cough drops. The fresh leaves collected in May or June are boiled in water, then strained. The liquid is sweetened with sugar and cooked until the right consistency. Dried leaves can be made into tea. They can also be smoked to alleviate a dry cough and open the lungs… Hmm… So “they” say. Has anyone tried it?
If you’re thinking of trying it, be aware that I found one warning against mistaking Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) leaves for Coltsfoot. The source didn’t say why… In fact, another source claims that Butterbur may help prevent migraines, but that’s a story for another day. Butterbur leaves are similar to Coltsfoot, but the flowers have no rays, come in clusters and may be any color from cream to pink with white anthers.
And one more use for Coltfoot… if the leaves are burned to a black ash and sprinkled on food, they can fool your tongue into thinking you’ve sprinkled salt.