Tonight’s Forage Friday deals with a plant that is considered UNSAFE due to hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids ( also known as PAs) which are mostly found in the roots like the PAs in comfrey. According to the US government PAs can damage the liver and cause cancer. Therefore, all of the information covered in this article is presented as trivia and not a recommendation for the treatment of any health issues.
The old mountaineer slowly walked along the dirt road with his eyes fixed on the ditches. Each time he spotted a cluster broad leaves the right size and shape he knelt down and placed a few leaves in his coffee can. Once his can was full he took his time laying the leaves out on trays made from recovered hardware cloth in the dry autumn sun. A second sheet of hardware cloth was placed on top to keep the breeze from claiming his hard work. It didn’t really take long for the constant breeze and sun to do their job while the mountain man checked his traps and drew from the well and completed the rest of his morning chores. He returned to the coltsfoot leaves drying in the wind and checked to make sure that the dew had all been removed by nature. Satisfied that they were dry he returned the can and placed it hot coals. Soon smoke rose up out of can and with no time at all the large leaves were chared black. He removed them from the can and immediately after his homemade ball mill reduced them a powder which went into a small Mason on the breakfast table. The black salt would be a wonderful addition to his next meal.
Among my grandfather’s depression stories was the concept of black salt. A finely ground charcoal made from the leaves of coltsfoot. The tradition of this type of salt goes back to the old days of the first mountain men. It’s a European tradition and a European native plant. I don’t know for sure who discovered that burning it made it salty but there it is. In a situation such as the great depression salt is a Commodity that could be in short supply. Even though West Virginia is home to one of first salt mines in the new world we can’t dig it out of any old hole in the ground and in the days before an interstate highway system transportation was a real problem in the steep Appalachian Mountains. So a little thing like being able to get salt from plants that grew wild often made a difference in the quality of life for our ancestors.
The other traditional use for coltsfoot is medical. The plant was actually smoked like tobacco for improving lung health. And was capable of soothing a cough in that way. The flowers were gathered in early spring and used in various teas and syrups for the same purpose. However, because of the possibility of liver cancer and other diseases said to caused coltsfoot its not really one that I can recommend outside of trivia.
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