This blog is not about dandelions, but a Look-Alike. We were out on a hike in Schenely Park in Pittsburgh yesterday and some of the kids on the hike saw these flowers and thought they were dandelions. I looked and saw some beautiful Coltsfoot in bloom!
Though the flowers are similar - yellow sun-like blossom - you’ll notice the leaves on coltsfoot are very different: coltsfoot has heart-shaped leaves as opposed to dandelion’s long, thin very toothed leaves.
There are some prominent differences in the flower as well, but if you just saw Coltsfoot flowering by itself, it might be a common mistake to make.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is useful in and of itself: more as an herb than a wild edible. The herb is a decongestant which resolves phelgm and relieves coughing, wheezing, bronchitis and asthma. The entire above-ground portion of the herb: flowers, leaves, stalk, are either dried and steeped as tea or made into a tincture by steeping in alcohol.
In Chinese medicine Coltsfoot flower is known as kuan dong hua and is used to stop cough (the dried flowers are made into a tea, often combined with other herbs.)
If you do see Coltsfoot around, though, now is the time to harvest it! Harvest the complete above-ground portion and set on non-metallic screens to dry, or hang upside-down in bunches. Or, chop the herb, fill a jar, and cover with 80 or 100 proof vodka. Steep for 6 weeks, then filter out the plant matter, saving the liquid: this is your tincture.
Coltsfoot is a mild herb with minimal toxicity, so the standard adult dose of the tincture is 2 - 4 ml/day, or about 50 drops. Children’s doses would be smaller.
Happy harvesting, and please let us know what you find and do!