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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

25 March, 2014

Colts-foot: Its not the cough that carries you off its the coffin they carry you off in

March is all about looking for signs of spring as far as I am concerned. After those long bleak winter months with little of interest to see, the anticipation of spring bursting upon us in April just seems too long to wait and so March is full of expectation. Actually there is not always that much sign of life in March so little hints of spring lift the spirit and what signs there are are more visible because of lack of competition from other species. So it is with colt's-foot (Tussilago farfara); the bright yellow flowers
standing out in the surrounding dullness.
Colt's-foot is a member of the daisy family and is related to the dandelion types of compositeae. Indeed, its bright yellow-rayed flower may often be dismissed as a dandelion but it is worth a closer look. It grows on bare patches of ground where the earth may be quite thin and it can be seen frequently on the tracks of old railway lines for this very reason. It flowers in March and is soon over. In keeping with its family ties those yellow flowers will quickly turn to fluffy seed heads to be dispersed by the March winds and then all signs of the plant will be gone for another year until it pops back up again to remind us that spring will not be long coming.
Colt's-foot is so called because of the shape of its leaves although I think you need quite a vivid imagination to make the connection! In researching this I was surprised to find that colt's-foot was used as a herbal remedy for coughs and in some places it is called coughwort. Now coughwort does need a great deal of corruption to become colt's-foot does it? Before you rush out and pick some to cure that nagging cough you should be aware of this warning that appears on the Internet: 
"Colt's-foot is considered UNSAFE. It contains chemicals called hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can damage the liver or cause cancer."
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