Tag Archives: cough

Coltsfoot: A look-a-like not to be coughed at

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.

Link to Susun Weed’s video, showing how to identify, harvest and make Coltsfoot honey cough remedy.

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.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare, NL:Venkel)

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a Mediterranean hardy perennial herb which is easy to grow, particularly in relatively dry soil. It has been used since ancient times, being found amongst the burial effects of Pharaohs and being highly prized by ancient Romans.  Anglo Saxons revered it as one of the nine sacred herbs and believed it could ward off evil. The Ayurvedic health system sees Fennel as being perfectly balanced in terms of pitta, vata and kapha doshas. There are many different varieties and in many countries such as Greece it grows wild as a very successful “weed”.  Fennel makes a very unusual pot plant, if you have the vertical space. It can quickly grow up to 1.5m high with delicate feathery leaves, a bulbous base and large umbeliferous flower heads.  All parts of this herb are aromatic, tasting of anise, and can be very useful.  The “seeds” are actually fruit.  Fennel is often useful during breastfeeding but shouldn’t be used in quantity during pregnancy.

Uses of Fennel

  • Obesity – Pliny, herbalist of ancient Rome was very enthusiastic about Fennel’s ability to ease hunger during times of fasting and encouraged his contemporaries to eat Fennel and to drink Fennel tea in order to cure obesity.  Apparently chewing Fennel seeds to help weight loss is quite popular in modern day Greece.
  • Breast health – Fennel can help to increase milk production in nursing mothers and to soothe painful pre-menstrual breasts, due to its diuretic properties.
  • Menopausal symptoms – a useful tea for fluid retention and anxiety.  It has been found to have an oestrogen effect. If taken in excess it can cause the return of periods.
  • Digestion – Fennel may help when digestive problems are caused by anxiety or some form of tension. It helps relax the system, to gently release trapped gas and to make rich foods easier to digest. Colicy babies are often given a little cooled fennel tea to help with trapped gas, or the mother can pass on it’s helpful properties via her milk.  Infants should only be given a couple of teaspoons of cooled tea.
  • Cough – Inhalation of honey cured Fennel smoke may help to cure persistent coughs.  Crushed Fennel seeds can be gently heated on a hot plate or charcoal incense brickette, the fumes can help to loosen the chest and lungs.  It is quite easy to crush them with a pestle and mortar.  Alternatively a herbal smoking mix, containing honey cured Sage and Fennel can be burned to release the healing vapours of Fennel.  More details to follow.
  • Eyes – Some people find that fennel lotion, made from cool water as described below, makes is effective remedy for sore, tired eyes. It may be used to saturate cotton pads to use as a compress or as eye drops or an eye wash.  If you try this ensure that the tea is extremely fresh and contains no bits which could irritate the eye.  Drinking fennel tea is also thought to strengthen eyesight.
  • Breath freshener – Chewing fennel seeds, particularly after a rich meal, is a useful way to aid digestion.
  • Joint pain –  Massage with Fennel infused oil often helps to ease the pains of arthritis and rheumatism.
  • Anxiety or mild depression – Massage with Fennel infused oil or gently inhaling the smoke of burning crushed fennel seeds can lift the spirits and relax tension.

Fennel tea
This can be prepared using either chopped dry or fresh leaves or crushed seeds. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed seeds per cup of boiling water.  Crushing the seeds makes a much more potent tea. This can be done with a pestle and mortar, a manual coffee grinder or by gently bashing the seeds with something such as a rolling pin.  Allow to infuse for 15 minutes. If using leaves, infuse 2 – 3 teaspoons in a teapot of boiling water for 5 minutes.

Eye lotion
Boil a cup of water and allow to cool before infusing half a teaspoon of crushed seeds for one hour.  Strain carefully.  Can be used in an eye bath, as drops or to soak cotton pads.

Honey Cured Herbal Smoke Mix
Mix 1 tsp honey with 4 tsp water and add gradually to a 15g dried copped sage and 2 tsp of powdered fennel seeds.  Rub the liquid into the herbs until they are all slightly damp.  Lay out in a shallow dish and leave for a few days, turning occasionally, until the water has mostly evaporated and the herbs feel dry enough to burn.  Store the mix in an airtight container.

Thyme (NL:Tijm)

Evergreen hardy perennial Thyme (Thymus spp.) originates from the Mediterranean, has a great number of medicinal and culinary uses and is easily grown in containers, making it ideal for the Urban Herbologist.  It is a strong herb containing volatile oils and should be avoided by pregnant women and used sparingly by others.

Growing Thyme in Containers
There are a vast number of Thyme varieties, each having a slightly different scent, appearance and flower colour. Thymus vulgaris is the Common Garden Thyme. All Thyme varieties have relatively shallow woody roots and form a soil covering carpet.  A healthy plant can be easily “split” to give you many new plants for free.  Being a Mediterranean herb, it does well in poor soil and should be allowed to dry out between waterings.  Thyme will quite rapidly use up the nutrients in soil, so do re-pot every year or so to encourage healthy growth. The leaves of Thyme  develop a more intense flavour and scent when grown in strong sunlight although dark leaved varieties can thrive in fairly shady locations.

This year I am experimenting with Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus) grown in a container, around the base of a Lemon Verbena.  I bought one small pot of organic Lemon Thyme from my local garden centre and split the plant into four before re-potting.  Lemon Verbena is quite a tender deciduous shrub so drops its leaves in winter and needs to come inside to survive. Thyme is winter hardy but has the same watering requirements as Verbena so they should do well together.  I’m also hoping that Thyme’s shallow roots won’t out-compete the Verbena, when spring arrives.

Historical uses
Since ancient times Thyme has been prized for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.  It was used widely in combination with other herbs for; embalming, temple incense, nosegays to ward off disease, room purification and even to induce visions of fairies.  The Romans used it to add an aromatic flavour to cheese but generally ancient people used it medicinally.

Culinary uses
These days Thyme is best known as a culinary herb, it has a strong, pleasant flavour and reportedly has good antioxidant properties. Many stews, salads and sauces are enhanced by adding a little Thyme. Chicken and fish dishes are particularly well suited to it. Because of its strength I far prefer Thyme as a culinary herb, adding it to food more regularly when the cold and flu season is upon us.  If you like the taste of lambs liver, try cooking it with a simple sauce made from softened onion, garlic, chopped tomato and thyme.

Thyme remedies
Some people find Thyme tea a useful hangover remedy but it is more widely used as a throat gargle or mouthwash to help with sore throats or gum infections.  Thyme has expectorant properties so Thyme syrup or honey may be useful as a cough remedy.  However due to the strong volatile oils in this herb, it shouldn’t be used regularly as a tea, syrup or in any other concentrated form.

Thyme tea
To make tea from Thyme simply add a few fresh or dry sprigs to a 2 cup teapot (maximum 1/2 teaspoon of dried chopped Thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh chopped Thyme), fill with boiling water and leave to steep – but only for a short time.  Check the taste and appearance after just five minutes, that should be enough to release some oils and impart a good flavour.   If you cannot seed oil droplets on the surface of the tea then you may like to leave it to steep a little longer, perhaps another five minutes but be cautious with this herb.  It is strong and the volatile oils are unsafe in concentration or when used regularly.

Legal Disclaimer: The content of this website is not intended to replace conventional western medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat,cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a medical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material on this website is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Always check with your personal physician when you have a question pertaining to your health and healthcare.