Medical Attributes of Tussilago farfara - Coltsfoot
Nguyen, Jennifer Ramil, and Faith Wydra
farfara, commonly known as coltsfoot, is a perennial herb that
spreads from a branched rhizome. The basal leaves appear after the
flowers have wilted and are roughly heart shaped, irregularly lobed
with a toothed margin. In the early spring, coltsfoot grows to 5-20 cm
tall and produces yellow floral heads reminiscent of dandelion (Hess,
Tussilago farfara is known by
many other common names such as Ass's Foot, Bullsfoot, Clayweed,
Cleats, Colt's-foot, Coughwort, Donnhove, Farfara, Fieldhove,
Foalswort, Hallfoot, Horsehoof, Huki-Tanpopo, K'Uan Tung, Oksurukotu,
Son-before-father, To Wu, and Tusilago (Diet and Health, 2004).
Coltsfoot is a member of the Asteraceae (Aster family) and is native to
Eurasia. It grows in damp soils and disturbed areas. Though not native
to the United States, coltsfoot can be found growing from Tennessee and
North Carolina and continues north into Canada (Diet and Health,
According to Meseyton (2004), coltsfoot has been used for thousands of
years as an herbal remedy in ancient Chinese medicine. It was primarily
used as a cough suppressant. One recipe for a cough syrup involved
mixing coltsfoot with brown sugar and water and boiling until it was
half the original volume. A spoonful was consumed three or four times a
day for two or three days to treat colds and headaches. To relieve
other respiratory ailments such as shortness of breath, asthma and
bronchitis, old folk recipes called for inhaling the vapors of fresh or
dried coltsfoot leaves or flowers boiled in water (Meseyton, 2004).
Today, a Chinese herbal cough syrup called Nin Jiom has coltsfoot and
dandelions as its main ingredients (Meseyton, 2004). It is also made
into herbal teas using unopened flowers and leaves and is found in
commercial cough preparations (Hess, 2003).
Many chemicals can be found in coltsfoot, including four phenolic acids
and six flavonoids. The phenolic acids included ferulic,
p-hydroxybenzoic, caffeic, and caffeotartric acids. The flavonoids
consisted of quercetin, kaempferol, quercetin-3-arabinoside,
kaempferol-3-flucosides, kaempferol-3-arabonsides and quercetin
glucoside (Didry et al, 1980). In 1999, a new bisobolene epoxide was
isolated from the flowers buds of coltsfoot. The chemical was found to
inhibit nitric oxide synthesis in lipopolysaccharide-activated
macrophages (Ryu, 1999). Oplopanone, an extract from T. farfara, has been found to be a
cardiovascular and respiratory stimulant. It has been found that
this compound when given intravenously has been shown to give a
suppressor effect when tested on anesthetized dogs (Hirono, 1976).
The leaf extracts and phenolic components of coltsfoot was found to be
effective against several gram negative bacteria displaying an
anti-microbial effect (Didry, 1982; Kokoska et al, 2002). Coltsfoot has
also been reported to display anti-inflammatory actions. It inhibits
the arachidonic acid metabolism and nitric oxide (NO) production in
lipopolysaccharide-activated macrophages. Ethyl acetate fractions of
Coltsfoot also showed to inhibit neuronal damage induced by arachidonic
acid. With more research, coltsfoot may be useful for the management of
neurodegenerative disorders associated with inflammation,
excitotoxicity, and oxidative stress (Cho et al, 2005). Coltsfoot has
also been found to be a natural avenue to assist with smoking cessation
(Meletis & Wagner, 2002).
According to the Division of Clinical and Administrative Pharmacy of
the University of Iowa, Tussilago
farfara is classified as unsafe (Klepser, 1999). The
carcinogenic activity of coltsfoot was tested with rats and the group
with the most exposure to coltsfoot developed the a high occurance of
hemangioendothelial sarcoma in the liver. The study hypothesized that
the carcinogencity of coltsfoot was probably due to senkirkine, a
hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid (Hirono, 1976). According to
HealthNotes, much higher levels of this pyrrolizidine alkoloid are more
abundant in the root than in the leaves or flowers (HealthNotes 2004).
Information produced by the Department of Paediatrics of the University
of Innsbruck in Austria indicates that young infants consuming
pyrrolizidine alkaloids similar to that found in coltsfoot can contract
veno-occlusive disease (Sperl et al, 1995). Fortunately, a program in
Germany is seeking to cultivate pyrrolizidine alkaloid-free coltsfoot
by plant selection and the use of modern in-vitro culturing methods
In conclusion, coltsfoot has been used in ancient Chinese herbal
medicine for treatment of coughing and other respiratory ailments.
Recent research shows anti-inflammatory activity, however, studies show
that the use of coltsfoot as an herbal remedy has adverse effects, such
as liver damage. As of the latest studies there were no well-known drug
interactions with coltsfoot.
Cho, J. et al. 2005. Neuroprotective
and antioxidant effects of the ethyl acetate fraction prepared from Tussilago farfara L.
Biological Pharmaceutical Bulletin 28(3): 455-60.
Didry, N. 1982. Components and activity of Tussilago farfara. Annales
Pharmaceutiques Francaises (France) 40:75-80.
Didry, N, M. Pinkas, & M. Torck. 1980. Phenolic components from Tussilago farfara. Annales
Pharmaceutiques Francaises (France) 38:237-241.
Diet and Health Notes. “Coltsfoot-Tussilago
farfara.” 2004. http://www.diet-and-health.net/Naturopathy/Coltsfoot.html
HealthNotes. “Coltsfoot.” 2004.
11 Jun 2005.
Hess, D. “Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)”.
11 Jun 2005.
Hirono, I, H. Mori, and C.C. Culvenor. 1976. Carcinogenic activity of
coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara
l. Gann 67(1):125-129.
Klepser, T.B. & M.E. Klepser. 1999. Unsafe and potentially safe
herbal therapies. American J Health Syst Pharm 56(2):125-41.
Kokoska, L. et al. 2002. Screening of some Siberian medicinal plants of
antimicrobial activity. J Ethnopharmacol 82(1):51-53.
Kopp, B. et al. 1997. Pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA)-free coltsfoot
leaves. Part 1. In vitro cultivation and selection culture. Deutsche
Apotheker-Zeitung (Germany) 137:44-47.
Meletis, C.D. & E. Wagner. 2002. Natural avenues to smoking
cessation. Natural Pharmacy USA 6:12-14.
Meseyton, T. 2004. Coltsfoot used to treat colds and bronchitis.
Ryu, J.H., Y.S. Jeong, & D.H. Sohn. 1999. A new bisobolene epoxide
from Tussilago farfara, and
inhibition of nitric oxide synthesis in LPS-activated macrophages. J
Natural Products 62(10):1437-8.
Sperl, W., et al. 1995. Reversible hepatic veno-occlusive disease in an
infant after consumption of pyrollizidine-containing herbal tea. Eur J
This paper was developed as part of the BIO 368 - Medical Botany
course offered at Wilkes University during the summer of 2005. Course
instructor was Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D.
The information contained herein is based on published sources, and
is made available for academic purposes only. No warrantees,
expressed or implied, are made about the medical usefulness or
dangers associated with the plant species in question.
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This page posted and maintained by Kenneth M.
Klemow, Ph.D., Biology Department,
Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre,
PA 18766. (570) 408-4758,