encyclopedia

Coltsfoot

Scientific Names:    

Tussilago farfara L. [Fam. Asteraceae]    
     

Forms:    

Dried leaves, flower, and root; juices extracted from coltsfoot plant.    
     

Traditional Usage:    

– Acute Breathing Disorders
– Bronchitis
– Catarrh
– Colds
– Coughs
– Demulcent (soother)
– Dry coughs
– Expectorant
– Inflammation
– Irritations of the mouth and throat
– Laryngitis
– Pertussis
– Sore Throat
– Whooping cough     
     
    
Overview:    

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara L. [Fam. Asteraceae], also known as coughwort, is a perennial herb from Italy, the Balkins and Eastern Europe. Coltsfoot flower and leaf tea has a pleasant aroma and a sweet taste. The aqueous extract of coltsfoot is one of Europe's most popular cough remedies. The dried leaves were traditionally smoked for coughs and asthma; the smoke is believed to impede impulses of parasympathetic nerves and act as an antihistamine. The leaves are found in many teas, extracts, and cough syrups and work by covering the mucous tissues with a thick layer of mucilage that dulls irritants and calms coughs. Research shows that the mucilage soothes inflamed mucous membranes and the leaves also have antispasmodic activity. Both the leaf and flower tea were used in folk remedies as a demulcent (soother) and expectorant for sore throats, coughs and lung congestion. The German Commission E monograph recommends coltsfoot tea for treating acute catarrh (thick or immovable mucous) of the respiratory tract with coughing and hoarseness and for treating acute or mild inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. Traditionally it has been given for bronchitis, dry coughs, acute breathing disorders, and sore throat. While coltsfoot is an effective treatment for these conditions, there is evidence to suggest that excessive or extensive use may result in liver damage. German health regulatory officials note that although several pyrrolizidine alkaloids are known to have hepatotoxic, genotoxic and/or carcinogenic effects, there is no danger of acute poisoning when coltsfoot tea is used as prescribed, particularly as the concentration of these alkaloids in a tea is very low. Nevertheless, people should be warned against using the tea for a prolonged period of time. New research suggests that pyrrolizidine alkaloids may form toxic quinoids within the body that are dangerous with over-exposure.    
     
    
Active Ingredients:    

Coltsfoot contains: 7-10% mucilage and inulin as well as 5% tannins (up to 17% according to one source) and small amounts of flavonoids, various plant acids, triterpenes, and sterols. Trace amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, e.g. 0.015% senkirkine, senecionine (minor) (unsaturated) and tussilagine (saturated). Other constituents include: bitter glycosides, choline, paraffin (fatty acid), phytosterols including sitosterol, stigmasterol and taraxasterol), triterpene (amyrin), tussilagone (sesquiterpene) and volatile oil.    
    
     
Suggested Amount:    

Tea: Pour boiling water over 1.5 to 2.5 grams of chopped coltsfoot, steep 5 to 20 minutes, then strain. Drink infusion several times a day including first thing in the morning and before bedtime. 1 Teaspoon = 1 gram. 1 Tablespoon = 3 to 4 grams Warning: Do not exceed 10 g of the tea per day and no more than 1 mg of pyrrolizidine alkaloids with a 1,2-unsaturated necine reside, including their N-oxides.    
   
     
Drug Interactions:    

Coltsfoot in excessive dosages can interfere with existing antihypertensive or cardiovascular therapy.    
     
    
Contraindications:    

Coltsfoot in excessive dosages can interfere with existing antihypertensive or cardiovascular therapy. Due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloid content, excessive or prolonged use of pure coltsfoot tea should be avoided. Do not use if you are pregnant or nursing. Coltsfoot is reputed to be an abortifacient.    
     
    
Side Effects:    

Do not exceed recommended dose. Coltsfoot should not be taken over long periods of time due to the hepatotoxic, genotoxic, and cancerogenic effects of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Excessive use may cause cancer and liver damage. Coltsfoot has also been reported to be phototoxic in animal tests.    
     
    
References:    

Foster S, and Duke JA. 1990. Colt's Foot in Medicinal Plants. Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, NY, Pp. 130.
 
Johnson BM, Bolton JL, van Breemen RB. 2001. Screening botanical extracts for quinoid metabolites. Chem Res Toxicol. 2001 Nov; 14(11): 1546-51.
 
Klepser TB, Klepser ME. 1999. Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies. Am J Health Syst Pharm 1999 Jan 15; 56(2): 125-38.
 
Sperl W, Stuppner H, Gassner I, Judmaier W, Dietze O, Vogel W. 1995. Reversible hepatic veno-occlusive disease in an infant after consumption of pyrrolizidine-containing herbal tea. Eur J Pediatr 1995 Feb; 154(2): 112-6.
 
Wichtl M (ed). 1994. Farfarae folium – Coltsfoot. In Herbal Drugs and Phyto-pharmaceuticals. (English translation by Norman Grainger Bisset). CRC Press, Stuttgart, pp. 197-199.