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Herbs & Botanicals

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Tussilago (kuan dong hua)

What is tussilago? What is it used for?

Also known as coltsfoot (because of the shape of its leaves), the tussilago is a low-lying, perennial herb that belongs to the Asteraceae family. It derives its name from the Latin "tussis," meaning "cough," as it has been used for centuries to treat this condition.

Native to Europe, the tussilago also grows in the United States and Canada, and has been used in herbal medicine in Europe for centuries. Recently, it has begun to be used in traditional Chinese medicine as well.

While the leaves are used by some practitioners, in China, many herbalists and Chinese medicine practitioners prefer to use tussilago flower. The flowers are usually harvested in the late fall, just after the plant begins to bloom. Tussilago flower contains flavonoids, mucilage, tannins, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, vitamin C, and zinc. The mucilage has anti-inflammatory and immunostimulant properties, while the flavonoids are antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory in nature.

The most common use for tussilago is as a cough remedy, including coughs associated with colds and flu. It also helps to break up phlegm and congestion, and may be used by some practitioners to relieve the symptoms of asthma. In addition, tussilago can be applied externally to treat skin rashes and inflammation.

How much tussilago should I take?

The amount of tussilago to be taken depends on the condition being treated. As a tincture, some practitioners recommend 1 milliliter taken twice per day. It can also be administered as a syrup. In traditional Chinese medicine, the recommend dosage is 1.5-9 grams per day, decocted in water.

What forms of tussilago are available?

Dried tussilago flowers are available to be used in decoctions or applied externally as poultices. Tussilago is also available as a powder, pill, capsule, tincture, and syrup.

What can happen if I take too much tussilago? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

The pyrrolizidine alkaloids contained in tussilago may be potentially toxic, especially if taken in large doses. The alkaloids are largely destroyed when the play is boiled to make a decoction. Nevertheless, tussilago should be taken with caution. The American Herbal Products Association has given tussilago class 2B, 2C and 2D ratings, meaning that the herb should not be consumed by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, nor should it be consumed for extended periods of time. In addition, the German Commission E has recommended that, based on the risk associated with pyrrolizidine alkaloids and a lack of evidence for its effectiveness, a therapeutic application of tussilago cannot be justified.

As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions associated with tussilago. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking tussilago or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Blumenthal M, Busse R, Goldberg A, et al. (eds.) The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, p. 324
  • Chen JK, Chen TT. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2004, pp. 729-730.
  • Frohne D, Pfander HJ. Giftplanzen - Ein Handbuch fur Apotheker, Toxikologen und Biolegen, 4 Aufl. Stuttgart: Wiss Verlagsges, 1997.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, pp. 209-211.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, pp. 117-118.

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