Coltsfoot, or Tussilago farfara, is a perennial plant known for its bright yellow flowers and medicinal use, particularly for respiratory issues. Often appearing early in spring, it has a tradition in herbal remedies for soothing coughs and irritation. While offering some benefits, it carries risks because of toxic components. Its use, especially when smoked, should be cautious and ideally guided by a healthcare professional.

Common name(s): Coughwort, foal's foot, horse hoof, bull's foot.
Scientific name: Tussilago farfara


Life Cycle

coltsfoot, fluff, finished blooming

Known for its early spring bright yellow flowers, traditional use in respiratory ailments, and potential hepatotoxicity due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids.


Europe, parts of western and central Asia, and northwestern Africa.

Natural Habitat

Coltsfoot is commonly found in damp and waste places, along stream banks, and in fields and forest clearings.


Prefers full or partial sunlight, moist soil conditions, and can tolerate a variety of soil types, including loamy or clay soils.

Traditional Usage

Coltsfoot has a rich tradition in herbal medicine for its purported benefits in treating respiratory issues. This herb has been valued for its therapeutic effects on conditions like:

  • Sore throats
  • Chronic coughs
  • Respiratory ailments

The name “coltsfoot” suggests its historical connection to cough relief, stemming from the Latin for “cough” (tussis) and “act on” (ago)2 3. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional for guidance on the use of coltsfoot due to potential health risks2.

Historical Usage

Used since ancient Greek and Roman times primarily for respiratory conditions like coughs.

Common Usage

Currently employed to alleviate respiratory discomfort and as a component in herbal tea blends.


Coltsfoot has been traditionally valued for its health benefits, particularly related to respiratory conditions. Here are the general effects of this herb:

  • Soothes Irritated Mucous Membranes: One of the primary effects of coltsfoot is its ability to relieve discomfort in mucous membranes, which line the respiratory tract.
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties: The active compounds within coltsfoot, like flavonoids and sesquiterpenes, provide anti-inflammatory benefits, which can be helpful in reducing swelling and irritation.
  • Expectorant Action: Coltsfoot aids in clearing the respiratory pathways by promoting the expulsion of phlegm, making it easier to breathe when dealing with congestion or a productive cough.

Using coltsfoot in therapeutic applications has been common due to these effects. However, it is essential to be mindful of the potential risk for liver toxicity caused by specific alkaloids present in the plant2. It’s advised to consult a healthcare professional for proper guidance when using this herb.

coltsfoot, march, early bloomer

Bright yellow coltsfoot flowers are traditionally used for their soothing properties on coughs and respiratory issues.

Effects when smoking

The effects of smoking coltsfoot are primarily related to its use in traditional medicine for respiratory conditions. When smoked, coltsfoot is believed to provide:

  • A soothing effect on the respiratory system, which may help to calm coughing and irritation.
  • Support for mucous membrane health due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Assistance in the expulsion of phlegm, aiding those with congestion.

It’s important to note that the benefits of smoking coltsfoot are based on historical use and there is limited modern scientific research to confirm these effects[^2]. Additionally, the risks of smoking should not be overlooked. Inhalation of any combusted plant material can pose risks to lung health, and coltsfoot contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which may cause liver damage and have carcinogenic potential[^2].

Given these potential risks, it is advisable to seek the guidance of a healthcare professional before using coltsfoot, especially when considering smoking it as a herbal remedy. Moreover, due to the lack of established dosage guidelines, caution is recommended to avoid negative health outcomes associated with its use[^2].

Flavor Profile

Earthy, slightly sweet flavor with a mild herbal note.

Edible Parts

Leaves and flowers

Effects when Smoked

Said to soothe the respiratory system, potentially alleviating coughing, but with limited supporting data and inhalation risks.

User Experiences

User experiences with coltsfoot are mixed, with some noting relief from respiratory symptoms while others express concern over its safety.

Medicinal Benefits

Coltsfoot has been traditionally prized for its ability to soothe the respiratory system. When smoked or otherwise ingested, it may offer several medicinal benefits due to its active compounds:

  • Soothing irritated mucous membranes, which can alleviate symptoms like sore throats
  • Acting as an anti-inflammatory, possibly reducing swelling and irritation in the respiratory passages
  • Helping in the expulsion of phlegm, which can relieve coughing

While these potential benefits seem promising, it’s imperative to use coltsfoot with awareness of the risks. Its use should be carefully considered and monitored by a healthcare professional due to concerns about the hepatotoxicity of certain compounds found in the herb2.

History and Folklore

Coltsfoot has been harnessed for its medicinal benefits since antiquity. The herb finds its roots in the practices of ancient Greece and Rome, where it was primarily used to alleviate coughs and other respiratory disorders. This application is reflected in the herb’s very name, which translates from Latin as ‘act on cough.’
Its peculiar flowering pattern, where bright yellow blooms emerge before the foliage—coined as “son before the father”—hints at its longstanding observational significance and use in traditional medicine.2 3

coltsfoot, blossom with butterfly, spring

Coltsfoot, esteemed since ancient times for cough relief, blooms before its leaves in a unique 'son before the father' pattern, revealing its deep roots in historical medicine.

Side Effects and Contraindications

Side Effects and Contraindications of Coltsfoot:

  • Extended use or high doses of coltsfoot may lead to liver damage; this risk stems from pyrrolizidine alkaloids present in the plant, which have hepatotoxic and carcinogenic properties2.
  • Because of these alkaloids, coltsfoot consumption could increase the risk of severe liver problems, such as veno-occlusive disease, which affects blood flow within the liver2.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid coltsfoot due to its potential to harm the fetus or infant2.
  • Individuals with liver disease or those taking medications that affect the liver are also advised to steer clear of coltsfoot2.

Given these concerns, it is paramount to consult a healthcare professional before using coltsfoot, particularly in medicinal forms or as a smoking herb.

Legal Status

The legality of coltsfoot is subject to regional regulations. In certain areas, the herb may be sold with restrictions or may not be available for purchase due to concerns surrounding its toxic components. Safety issues associated with the herb’s pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which have been linked to liver damage and carcinogenic effects, have led to its controlled status in some jurisdictions.
Before using or purchasing coltsfoot, it’s essential to check the local laws to ensure compliance.


1. MISIN. “Coltsfoot: Tussilago farfara – Asteraceae (Aster).”,
2. Verywell Health. “Coltsfoot: Uses, Side Effects, Risks, and More.”,
3. Wikipedia. “Tussilago.”,
4. US Forest Service. “Tussilago farfara.”,