A few days ago I went for a walk along the local coastline from Crosby Coastguard Station to the mouth of the River Alt. Despite it being mid-March there was still little sign of Spring. The only plant that was in flower was Coltsfoot giving a bit of colour amongst the dry grass.
Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, is a member of the daisy family and the flowers and young leaves are rich in mucilage. The flowers are out from February onwards but the leaves appear later in the year.
The flowering stem consists of a single peduncle with numerous reddish bracts and whitish hairs and a terminal composite yellow flower.
From ancient times both the leaves and flowers have been used as a remedy for coughs and sore throats. The scientific name Tussilago is derived from the Latin, tussis = cough.
It is used as a demulcent, expectorant and a tonic often given together with other herbs such as Horehound and Marshmallow which also posses pectoral qualities. It once formed the basis of British Herb Tobacco.
It was once listed in the British Pharmacopeia under Syrup of Coltsfoot but it is now rarely used in the UK as the plant contains an amorphous glucoside and liver toxic alkaloids.
It is still available in some herbal preparations or you could make your own.
A decoction is made with 1 OZ of leaves in a quart of water which is then boiled down to a pint. It is then sweetened with honey or liquorice. It is supposed to be good for both colds and asthma.
A Tincture can be made from the flowers and leaves. These are finely chopped, placed in a glass jar and covered with Vodka. After six weeks the plant matter is filtered off and the liquid saved as a tincture.
I would not recommend trying either of these. They are easy enough to make but the hard part is choosing the correct plant source. The flowers can be confused with dandelion and the leaves with Butterbur which contains a heart stimulant.
Better to stick with something from the Pharmacy.