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Tussilago Flowers Sorbet

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Coltsfoot has been used for thousands of years to heal cough. French chef Marc Veyrat uses its flowers to make a delicious sorbet.

The Romans called this precocious flower filius ante patrem - 'the son before the father' because its flowers appear months before the leaves. You'll find it all across the Western hemisphere. It is called many names, either based on the shape of its leaves (coltsfoot, horsehoof, bullsfoot, foals foot, horsefoot, hallfoot, fieldhove, donnhove) or on its strong antitussive properties (tussilago, coughwort). The scientific name is tussilago farfara.

In recent years its use has diminished in the many anti-cough medications that used it because of a certain alkaloid found in tussilago said to destroy liver cells. Apparently boiling the plant makes it safer but some countries forbid its use altogether. So I'll say it once - don't do this at home. Even if you find the right plant, you may still damage your liver for good and nobody will believe it came from herbal tea.

Top French chef Marc Veyrat, whom I've met once in his restaurant, is famous for using a large number of Alpine herbs and plants in his cuisine. In L'herbier gourmand, he wrote this recipe to make tussilago flowers sorbet. You cannot buy fresh tussilago flowers and need to collect them yourself as I did in late March in the Swiss mountains. Obviously if you don't know what you're doing you might end up making hemlock sorbet.

Here are the collected flowers back in my kitchen.

Coltsfoot Flowers Sorbet
Recipe by Marc Veyrat
30 fresh coltsfoot flowers (tussilago farfara)
125 gr sugar
400 gr mineral water (4 dl)
a drop of lemon juice
half an egg white

I use mineral water to make my sorbet but if you actually drink your tap water just use it for the sorbet.

Only the yellow petals serve in this recipe - discard the stem and leaves.

Rub the flower between your thumb and forefinger to remove the green leaves at the bottom of the flower ...

... and you will be left with the yellow petals.

Proceed with all 30 flowers.

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan and add a drop of lemon juice.

Add the flowers. Boiling is said to neutralize the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that eat your liver, but it will also destroy the volatile components of the flower's delicate smell. Choose how long you boil it but more than a few minutes will ruin the taste.

Turn off the fire and leave 20 minute to steep (photo).

Filter through a fine sieve and refrigerate.

Add half an egg white. As you churn the sorbet, the egg white will trap millions of tiny air bubbles and make your sorbet white as meringue. Amazing!

Churn until hard and serve.

Serve with a few tussilago flowers as a decor. Marc Veyrat makes a beautiful caramelized sugar grate and sticks flowers on sugar pikes, placing a scoop of sorbet in the middle.



  • #1
  • Comment by Niall Gordan
I don't know if you're interested in a non-food matter, but a Gaelic-speaking computer lecturer in Skye's college, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, drew my attention to your piece as the words "Filius Antre Patrem" appear in a Gaelic poem made as a small elegy for Rob Donn MacAoidh in the far Northern Highlands. Four lines of the 8-line verse read thus...Tha lusan aig a' ghairneilearnach fas sna h-uile fonnFilius Ante Patremse bharr as fhearr na bhonnThe gardener has a plantwhich does not grow in every soilFilius Ante Patremthe son exceeds the father (or literally "the flower is better than the root/base).Isn't this fascinating!Niall Gordan.
  • #2
  • Answered by fx
Thanks a lot for your learned contribution, this is indeed fascinating! A very chicken-and-egg mystery this flower.

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