Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Coltsfoot

1.  A cough medicine is still produced from coltsfoot in Anglesey.  Indeed, my sister, who lives on the Lleyn Peninsula, has a bottle of the stuff. a thick brown liquid, in her kitchen.  Sometime last year I saw a coltsfoot sweet for sale on a market stall at Ashbourne, but it didn’t taste particularly pleasant [Nottingham, May 2014].

2. [From my mother, b. 1915, Durham coal fields, 1950s] in early spring the coltsfoot was a plant of much interest as a ‘mirror’ could be made from the new leaf. The grey soft coating  could be peeled back to make a frame inside the new green of the glass. With the right questions pictures of the future could be seen; girls might look to see their future husbands. Although I think some of the chants and rhymes have gone as they were ‘secret’ to certain groups.[Appleshaw, Hampshire, January 2014].

Further memories of this practice would be appreciated.

3. I’m 87 and was born in Lancashire … One of her [my mother’s] favourites was when she gave me the vile sticks of sulphur to eat, actually given to me by an uncle, whose ‘treat’ I didn’t like to spurn, she knowing full well that I would refuse them if she gave them to me. Apparently she thought the sulphur ‘cleared the blood‘! Very, very occasionally as an alternative a stick of coltsfoot rock would be produced – I liked them (still do) though I don’t know if they were/are of any medicinal benefit [Street, Somerset, September 2012].

4. During World War II coltsfoot (Tussilago) was dried and used as a tobacco substitute. Smoling makes you cough. In days gone by coltsfoot was used as a cough cure and present day cough medicines sometimes take their name from the Latin above [Saddleworth, Greater Manchester, 1998].

5. Coltsfoot tea – very good for coughs [Portland, Dorset, March 1991].

6. In 1949 I was staying with a friend in London who provided lodgings for European students. One of these was visited by her parents from the Oslo area. They brought with them a bunch of coltsfoot flowers. These had never struck me as something to pick and they explained that they were eagerly (and traditionally) sought for as the first sign of spring [Manx Museum, Isle of Man, March 1990].

7. For bronchitis – simmer a handful of coltsfoot leaves in a quart of water and allow to cool. Take a small dose every two hours until relief is obtained. The mixture can be sweetened with honey and used as a gargle [Langtoft, Humberside, July 1985].

Images: Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth, March 2014; inset, Garnethill Park, Glasgow, September 2017.