I found this cheerful looking Coltsfoot (NL: Klein hoefblad) plant in Frankendael a couple of days ago and thought it was time to look at some look-a-like plants which herbal foragers should be aware of.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which people often confuse it with, are both members of the same plant family (Asteraceae). Both herbs are useful but Dandelion is generally the plant which herbal foragers are after. It is such a well known bitter herb and has earned an enduring place in the sophisticated kitchens of many cultures. Coltsfoot flowers (if enough of them were to be gathered) can be used to make a traditional children’s cough remedy. However there are many who now avoid internal consumption of Coltsfoot, due to the discovery that it contains certain liver toxins called Pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
Many herbs contain small amounts of potentially harmful chemicals but when they are ingested as plant rather than separated chemical they tend to have a quite different effect on the body. One tip for herbal foragers, who are concerned by toxicity, is that generally flowers contain less volatile and active ingredients than other parts of a plant. Thus a flower remedy, made from Coltsfoot, should contain less alkaloids than one made from the leaves and roots.
How to differentiate Coltsfoot from Dandelion:
1. The solid & scaley Coltsfoot stem is quite different to the smooth & hollow stem of Dandelion.
2. Both being members of the Asteraceae family, their flowers are similar but Coltsfoot flowers bloom on stems before the leaves have grown. With Dandelion, the obvious, downward toothed leaves develop well before the flowers appear.