The earth is finally waking up here in the Northeast, and you are probably going to notice a lot of yellow flowers: forsythia, witch hazel, daffodils (not wild), dandelion and coltsfoot.
Many people when they come across coltsfoot assume they are dandelions. The flowers look very similar, but here is some information that will help you tell them apart (very important when using wild plants for food or medicine!)
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) actually flower slightly before dandelion in general, but there is so much overlap that that in itself isn’t a very helpful way to distinguish. What is interesting is that coltsfoot sends up its flowers BEFORE its leaves come out, while dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaves appear first. The leaves of the two plants are very different.
Dandelion flowers have a smooth stem, while coltsfoot flowers have scales on their flower stem.
Once the coltsfoot leaves appear, it is easy to see the difference. Coltsfoot leaves are rounded or heart shapes, while dandelion has a rosette of toothed leaves (”dandelion” is French for lion’s teeth).
Medicinally, they have very different uses.
Dandelion is known to be good for the liver. Some take it as a liver tonic in the spring. The flowers, leaves and roots are all used. In Chinese Medicine dandelion is known as Pu Gong Ying and clears “heat toxicity,” used to treat infections. In both eastern and western herbology, dandelion is known to help breastmilk supply.
Coltsfoot is used to treat cough, all kinds of cough. It’s botanical name: Tussilago reflects its medicinal usage, as “tussis” means cough in Latin. (Think of words like “pertussis” and “Robitussin.”) In Chinese Medicine, coltsfoot flowers are called Kuan Dong Hua, and are used similarly to treat cough. In Western botanical medicine both the leaves and flowers are used. Read my article Coltsfoot Cures Cough Naturally for more information.
Finally, take a look at this, can you tell me which it is?
It was a trick question! Look carefully, those are coltsfoot flowers growing among dandelion leaves. If you got it right, you get EXTRA CREDIT!!!
~ Melissa Sokulski, L.Ac.
Food Under Foot