Petasites spp. – Coltsfoot

ColtsfootPetasites spp. (a.k.a. Tussilago spp.)

Petasites = pe-ta-see-teez, from Greek petasos (a hat), “Sun-hat”. Dioscorides used the name referring to the large leaves.

Identification: This perennial herb rises from a thick creeping rhizome, with large basal leaves. The flower stalk grows up to 30 cm tall in early spring, fruiting and dying usually before the leaves show. The flowers are purple, white or yellow, the stem reddish. The leaves are from thumb size to 30 cm.

Distribution & Habitat: Coltsfoot can be found on stream banks, in swamps and wet tundra. It ranges from Alaska to Washington and into Alberta.

Preparation & Uses: The young flowering stem is a tasty spring vegetable, steamed, or stir fried. The young leaves are edible but feel a little cottony in the mouth. The rootstock of P. frigidus was roasted by Siberian Eskimos and eaten.

The most common use for this herb is cough suppression. It is applied to cases of whooping cough, asthma, bronchial congestion and shortness of breath. It was a specific used (in the form of a smudge) by many Amerindian groups to cure problems caused by smoking too much. It has also been used for menstrual cramps.

Externally, a decoction or poultice was used for sores, insect bites and arthritic pain.