Let the little colt go bare

Turns out this is the second line of an old (if unknown to me) nursery rhyme, following “Shoe the horse, shoe the mare.” All right.

I suppose I could be writing about a pony in my backyard. That could be more appealing than another odious weed but this alas! shall only be on the coltsfoot, a.k.a. Tussolago farfara. I rather fancy that name.

Last month I wrote about the snowdrop, a lovely little plant that appears every time there’s a break in the snow, so prematurely in fact that I can’t really call it a harbinger of spring. The coltsfoot definitely is.

In fact when its yellow petals appear I generally welcome the plant as the first sign of anything beyond our normal gray and white. It pleasingly attests to a resurrection which of course has already been brewing beneath the surface of our frozen earth.

Resembling a stunted leafless dandelion, the thick stems pop up quickly, the leaves to follow more reluctantly once promised that their debut isn’t premature. Those leaves, once they do appear, look quite circular with a bite taken out where the stem attaches. I read they resemble a colt’s foot in cross section, something I have obviously not seen.

Whatever joy this early bloomer brings is rapidly dispelled when thoughts seriously return to the garden for it will be happy to pop up here and there and, well, just about everywhere.

Those pretty little dandelion-like heads turn to white fluff as does the other. Seeds, right? You bet though, honestly, I’ve found few plants I can with certainty say came from their seeds. It isn’t necessary for, you see, this beauty is growing monster roots as we acclaim the bright yellow posy. White and strong, about as thick as my ballpoint pen, they spread out in all directions for several feet. I can attack each for quite a distance and somehow never get it all. For each one dug up last year, four or five new ones are ready to appear this year. In fact, I can call my garden “weeded” but know those familiar leaves will be back within a month.

I read that this tendency can and mark that “CAN” be useful for coltsfoot can cover banks where erosion is feared. (So can crown vetch, another aggressive pest in the garden.)

It is interesting to note its official name comes from the Latin “tussis” meaning “a cough” for many consider this a cure for asthma or bronchitis as well as our everyday cough. Through the ages it has been considered so effective that many apothecary shops and pharmacies use the flower design in their advertising while French druggists have even been known to paint a depiction of the leaf (which is quite attractive) on their front doors. (Better there than in my garden.)

The Internet is full of suggestions and recipes for cough syrup and drops as well as the tea which seems to use a combination of the flower and the leaf. That can also be used to soothe burns and bites.

Before you overrun my garden seeking this miraculous elixir, another source cautions that coltsfoot tea has been shown to cause liver damage in youngsters, even an infant who died because its mother drank the tea while pregnant. It is suggested you could rather use the fluff from the underside of the leaves as a stuffing for mattresses.

Now there’s a project!

Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com