The first wildflowers to bloom in Nova Scotia every spring are often mistaken for dandelions. Coltsfoot has small yellow flowers that will appear along the roadside and in moist waste areas as early as March. Their appearance usually coincides with first sightings of robins and pussywillows.
Non-natives, they were introduced to North America from Europe and are presently widespread across the Eastern Seaboard. In Europe, their image has sometimes been used as a logo for apothecaries (pharmacies). The blooms, stems and leaves have been regarded for millennia as a helpful medicinal herb.
Coltsfoot blooms appear long before the leaves. Once the blooms die away, large hoof-shaped leaves emerge. Dried leaves from last season can be seen in the image below. In summer, the leaves are usually a dark green with a velvety white underside.
Like dandelions, coltsfoot blooms close at night and on overcast days. Their closure often acts as a bioindicator for predicting rain.
Dried coltsfoot leaves have been smoked as a tobacco for relief of asthma and bronchial infections. As a cough remedy, they’ve also been steeped as a tea. Recent scientific research indicates that coltsfoot causes toxicity in the livers of rats. Whether it’s considered a remedy or a poison is likely dependent on dosage.
Downy coltsfoot blooms that have gone to seed are used by goldfinches as a lining for their nests.