Medical Attributes of Tussilago farfara - Coltsfoot

Mylinh Nguyen, Jennifer Ramil, and Faith Wydra
Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA

July 2005

Tussilago 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, 2003).

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, 2004). 

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 (Kopp, 1997).

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.

HealthNotes. “Coltsfoot.” 2004.  11 Jun 2005.

Hess, D. “Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)”. 2003. 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. Lifestyle: 12

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 Pediatr 154(2):112-6.

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,