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Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Known botanically as Tussilago farfara of the composite family, coltsfoot is a common herb found in many parts of the world. It is generally considered to be a native of Eurasia and now also grows wild in North America and nontropical regions of China, where it is known as kuan dong hua. It is also cultivated in many of the temperate and northern Chinese provinces.

Coltsfoot is a perennial herb, 10 to 25 cm. (4-10 in.) high, with two types of leaves. The larger leaves rise from the creeping rootstock, and measure 7-15 cm. (2.8 to 5.9 in.) long and 8-16 cm (3.1 to 6.3 in.) across, with long petioles (leafstalks) that are 8-20 cm. (3.1 to 7.9 in.) long. These leaves are heart- or egg-shaped and are held up by their long leafstalks. The leaf veins and leafstalks of those near the base of the plant are reddish and contain woolly hair. The flowering stem is also wooly, 5-20 cm. (2 to 7.9 in.) high, has ten or more small scalelike alternate leaves and a yellow flower head. Unlike most herbs, coltsfoot flowers before sending up leaves. In China, it flowers in February or March and fruits in April.

For Chinese medicinal use, the flower heads are dug up before they emerge from the ground, in late October to late December. The buds are collected, rid of flowering stems and dirt, and dried in the shade.

Cotsfoot flowers contain steroids (e.g., faradiol), glycosides (e.g., rutin and hyperin), wax, volatile oil, tannins, taraxanthin, and other biologically active compounds.

The flowers and leaves of coltsfoot have been used in Western folk medicine for centuries to treat numerous respiratory conditions (e.g., coughs, colds, bronchitis, bronchial asthma, and hoarseness), diarrhea, insect bites, inflammations, and burns.

In recent years, Chinese scientists have found a decoction of coltsfoot flowers to have antitussive (anti-cough), expectorant, and some anti-asthmatic effects in experimental animals such as mice, cats, and rabbits.

Coltsfoot has been used in Chinese medicine for at least two thousand years, and is described in the Shennong Herbal. Traditionally, it is considered to taste pungent and to have warming, invigorating properties and to soothe the lungs, disperse phlegm, and stop coughs. It is used mainly in treating various lung or respiratory conditions, including coughs of long duration, difficulties in swallowing, and asthma. The usual daily internal dose is 1.6-9 g. (0.06 to 0.32 oz.), taken in the form of a decoction, powder, or pills.

In the past few decades, clinical use of extracts of coltsfoot flowers has been reported in Chinese medical and pharmaceutical journals.

A report from a journal of Chinese medicine from Shanghai describes the use of an alcoholic extract of coltsfoot in the treatment of wheezing. Each of 36 patients was given orally 5 ml.. of the extract (equivalent to 6 g. of the dried flowers) three times a day. After taking this medicine, 19 of the patients responded - eight within two days. However, this preparation produced side effects that included nausea and insomnia.

In a report from another regional journal, an injection prepared from the coltsfoot flowers and earthworms (also a standard Chinese medicine) was used in treating tracheitis (chronic inflammation of the trachea). Of 68 patients treated for 10 days continuously, all except four showed marked improvement or the disappearance of such symptoms as cough and wheezing. At the same time, appetite and sleep are also improved. This preparation also significantly lowered patients' blood pressure.

Among several recipes recorded in classical herbals, only two appear to be relatively simple. They are described below.

To treat wheezing, cough, or blood in sputum, equal amounts of coltsfoot flowers and lily bulbs (Lilium species, a standard Chinese medicine) are ground to a fine powder, and mixed with honey to make pills the size of marbles. One pill a day is taken. The pill can be chewed and swallowed with ginger tea or it can be left in the mouth and allowed to dissolve slowly by itself. The latter method is said to give better results. This recipe is from a classical herbal of the mid 13th century. Essentially the same recipe is found in a modern herbal manual, except that a more precise dosage is given there: 9 g. (0.3 oz) of pills are taken with boiled water twice daily.

In the same practical herbal manual, treatment of chronic traecheitis with incessant cough simply calls for placing honey-treated coltsfoot flowers in a pipe and smoking it. The honey-treated flowers are prepared by mixing five parts of flowers with one part of honey predissolved in a small amount of boiling water. The mixture is then fried until it is no longer sticky to the touch.

Availability: Coltsfoot grows in most of eastern North America, in clay-like soil and near streams. The dried flower buds of coltsfoot are available from Chinese herb shops.

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using coltsfoot as well as over 45 other herbs. Learn more about coltsfoot and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

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