Welcome back to another SurThrival Thursday from Cheat Mountain. This week I’m very excited to begin featuring spring ephemerals! I’m referring to small plants that appear in the spring before the trees have leafed out, these plants usually flower and seed and sometimes die back completely by the time the canopy has filled in .The first ones you’re likely to see are the dainty yellow flowers of coltsfoot. These flowers resemble those of the dandelion, but differ in several ways. While the flower itself is similar, the stalk is scaly and gray-green in contrast to dandelion’s smooth, bright green stalk. In addition, the early coltsfoot flowers rise out of the bare ground before any leaves appear while dandelion flowers grow from a rosette of basal leaves. Once the flowers of coltsfoot whither, the leaves spring from the ground as if a whole separate plant; they have a rough horse-shoe shape perforated by shallow angular teeth on the edges. Coltsfoot prefers poor soil and often grows in clusters on road sides and on the edge of tree cover.
This plant is exciting not only because it provides a much missed smattering of color after winter’s monotony, it’s imbued with several medicinal uses as well as being a nutritious edible! Now, as my past students will know, this plant is not my favorite thing to eat, however both its flowers and leaves are edible. The flowers are my preferred snack, they have a mild flavor and after so long a winter without forage, I am always excited to eat them once again. The leaves are another story; picked young, these greens are palatable but later in the summer I find them distasteful. Regardless of taste, this plant is reliable, easy to find and identify, and provides food from February through several frosts in the fall. In this way calling coltsfoot a spring ephemeral is a misnomer, only its flowers are fleeting harbingers of spring.
Medicinally coltsfoot is best known as a demulcent and expectorant; essentially this herb is most commonly used for respiratory ailments. It is often made into an infusion, a syrup, or a tincture. Traditionally people of many different cultures burned coltsfoot for the purported benefits of its smoke on the lungs.
Its multipurpose make coltsfoot an excellent plant to keep on your surthrival list. So next time you take a walk outside, keep an eye out for these beautiful little yellow flowers, and consider this plant a newfound friend. Stay tuned for more surthrival posts and consider attending our summer classes up here on Cheat Mountain!!