The Tussilago genus and the Tussilago farfara Linnaeus species

Remark The words or terms in red (actually dark orange) in the text are defined in a glossary.


avr_14_05n.gthmb can't be loaded. Tussilago farfara is the only species in the genus Tussilago. It is widespread over Eurasia and Northern Africa and was introduced into Northern America. It is ruderal plant, i.e. growing in weed places, namely, waste lands, embankments, ravines, ditches, sides of roads, etc.; it prefers humid places and loam.

The species belongs to the Asteraceae family.

Name

In Latin, tussis means cough and ago from the verb agere means I push outside (in one of its many meaning, since agere is more or less the equivalent of to do). This reflects a common use of the plant and it was probably brought in North America by early settlers for medicinal reasons.

As for the species name, plenty of references say: “The specific name of the plant is derived from Farfarus, an ancient name of the White Poplar, the leaves of which present some resemblance in form and color to those of this plant.” But in the most classical of the Latin to French dictionary, the Dictionnaire Illustré Latin Français by Félix Gaffiot, at the entry farfarus, Mr. Gaffiot cites the word as used by Pliny the Elder (23-79) in his Naturalis Historia, book 24, paragraph 35, and by Plautus (c. 254-184 BC) in the line 478 of his comedy Poenulus; he then translates it as tussilage, one of the French names of Tussilago. So, choose whichever explanation you like, (and I prefer the second one and I don't have the time, in order to settle the matter, to check what Mr. Gaffiot said).

Common names

Some of the vernacular names of Tussilago farfara are: Assfoot, British Tobacco, Bull's-foot, Cleats, Colt-herb, Coltsfoot, Dove-dock, Dummyweed, Clayweed, Sowfoot, Foalfoot, Ginger, Gingerroot, Hoofs, Horsefoot and Horsehoof.

Some of the French vernacular names are: Pas-d'âne, Tussilage, Tussilage Pas-d'âne, Pas de baudet, Pied de cheval, Pas de cheval, Herbe aux pattes, Taconnet and Pocheton.

Identification

draw.jpg can't be loaded. Tussilago farfara is trivial to identify when in bloom; the flower heads are somewhat similar to those of the dandelions but with slender and more numerous ray florets. Blooms first appear in early spring and continue into mid spring; it is quite often the first plant to bloom; in my area, 25 km North of Montréal, I have seen a few in bloom at the end of March (on a slope, facing south) and there was still plenty of snow just around; the last snow banks had not yet melted. Flower heads have even been known to push through snow.

Description

Tussilago farfara is a perennial herb which spreads mainly through underground rhizomes. During the summer, food is stored in the rhizomes for the following year's early spring growth. The plant has no main stem.

Leaves

Flower heads

Fructification

Habitat

Frequently on alkaline clays, in roadsides, trail sides, fields wasteland, often as a pioneer. The plant prefer damp soils and full sunlight.

Distribution

Tussilago farfara is found: map_na.jpg can't be loaded.

The map, from Flora of North America shows the US States and Canadian provinces where Tussilago farfara can be found.

Remarks

Flower buds and young flowers, raw or cooked, are edible. With a pleasant aniseed flavour they add a distinctive aromatic flavour to salads. Young leaves, raw or cooked, are also edible. They can be used in salads, added to soups, or cooked as a vegetable. The leaves have a bitter taste unless they are washed after being boiled. An aromatic tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves and flowers. It is said to have a liquorice-like flavour. The dried and burnt leaves are used as a salt substitute. The slender rootstock can be candied in sugar syrup.

Tussilago farfara has a long history of medicinal use, mainly as a treatment for respiratory ailments such as coughs, hoarseness, and bronchitis. It is also used as a poultice (fresh mashed leaves) for difficult to heal sores.

Both the flowers and leaves are used, but these parts are harvested separately due to the staggered appearance of flowers and leaves. Modern herbalists either prepare an infusion (like tea) or a syrup that is taken orally for respiratory problems. However, most herbalists are moving away from the use of Tussilago farfara due to recent findings that it contains highly carcinogenic pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Gallery

The photos of the gallery were taken either with one of the following: The title in the window shows the date when the picture was taken, i.e. jan_30_06... would mean that the photo was taken on the 30th of January, the 06 is for the 6th picture taken that day.

The month, day and picture number might be followed by a letter:

and if there is no letter it's obviously the Minolta.

Click on the thumbnails to get larger view. The original photos are usually in TIFF format, the photos shown are generally in JPEG format, usually of dimension one half (surface one quarter) for loading time reduction.

Plants

A carpet of Tussilago farfara.

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Leaves

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Flower heads

The picture on the left, in the first row, shows two flower head stalks just budding.
The second picture, in the second row, illustrates the flower stalk and the bracts of the flower head.

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Fruits, seeds

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