Thursday, March 18, 2010
Here Comes the Coltsfoot!
Ta da! The Coltsfoot is up! It's as if the sun had called for his little sister to rise and shine. And up she popped, so sunny and bright, the very first flower of the spring. (Not counting Skunk Cabbage, which actually melts the snow with its self-generated heat in order to bloom during winter.)
We are so weary of winter and hungry for flowers, we forgive pretty Coltsfoot for not being native, and we always rejoice when we find her, poking up from among the dead dry leaves of winter. The floral year has begun. Time for me to start a new wildflower journal. Looking back at last year's journal, I note that Coltsfoot is blooming this year a full week ahead of last year.
Coltsfoot probably came to these shores with the early Europeans, who found all kinds of medicinal uses for this plant. Its Latin name, Tussilago farfara, suggests what one of those uses was (think of Robitussin). You can make a cough syrup by steeping the plant in water, adding sugar, and boiling it down to a syrup consistency. You probably shouldn't do that, though. Recent research has found certain alkaloids in this plant can cause cancer. So just let it be. It will bloom for some weeks before the large hoof-shaped leaves that give it its common name grow up to overshadow the flowers.