As far back as 2,000 years ago, Asians and Europeans were using coltsfoot as a cough suppressant for respiratory ailments, and both the dried flowers and the leaves are still used as a gentle expectorant and cough suppressant. They contain a substance called mucilage, which may be responsible for soothing the respiratory tract. Another ingredient of coltsfoot leaves is zinc, which may help heal injured skin tissue. Today coltsfoot is banned in Canada, but in the United States the Food and Drug Administration classifies it as an herb with "undefined safety." Coltsfoot contains an alkaloid that can seriously damage the liver; and a Japanese study concluded that the flower buds may be carcinogenic. Many practitioners in Europe and the United States, however, still use coltsfoot routinely on a short-term basis to treat coughs and other respiratory ailments.
Over the counter:
Available in tincture, capsules and in bulk.
Tea: 1 cup boiling water poured onto 1 to 3 tsp. dried flowers or leaves and steeped for 10 minutes. Consumed as hot as possible.
Compress: A pad soaked in a coltsfoot infusion for several minutes, wrung out, and then applied to the affected area.
Combinations: For coughs, coltsfoot is often combined with white horehound and mullein; for bronchitis, coltsfoot is mixed with garlic or echinacea.