Arctic sweet coltsfoot – Petasites frigidus

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Photo of blooming arctic sweet coltsfoot in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Arctic sweet coltsfoot

Petasites frigidus

Common Names:

Arctic sweet coltsfoot
Arctic sweet-colt’s-foot
Frigid coltsfoot

Genus: Petasites (butterbur)
Family: Asteraceae / Compositae (Aster Family)
Order: Asterales

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Some evidence points to the presence of a toxin, diester pyrrolizidine alkaloids in Petasites frigidus. However, I have not found any documentation of illnesses due to its consumption. There are many documented uses of arctic sweet coltsfoot for use as a food. Most references are to the leaves being used as a green for salads. The young leaves and flowering stems are also used as a salad or made into sauerkraut. The leaves have also been used to cover berries or rhubarb to prevent mold or used to make buckets to hold berries. The leaves have also been dried and burned to be used as a salt substitute. Medicinally, the plant has been used by native tribes to make a congestion remedy by infusion, to create a wash for sore eyes, or use a decoction of the root for itch. I have not found any peer-reviewed studies of the plant for use for medicinal uses.

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Petasites frigidus is a perennial that grows from a highly branched, creeping rhizome. The stems grow between 10-40 cm (4-16 in) tall, although the mature plants are often at least 30 cm (12 in) tall. The stem is typically a thick stalk. The basal leaves are large and rise directly from the root and are round or oval in shape and lobed, sometimes deeply. The leaves often develop after the flowers. The underside of the leaves are often hairy and grayish. The inflorescence is a staminate head of 2-50 tubular flowers with many white to pinkish ray florets and fewer, sometimes pale yellowish disk florets.

There are at least 4 accepted varieties of Petasites frigidus:

Arrowleaf sweet coltsfoot – Petasites frigidus var. sagittatus
Arctic sweet coltsfoot – Petasites frigidus var. palmatus
Petasites frigidus var. vitifolius
Arctic sweet coltsfoot – Petasites frigidus var. frigidus
A detailed description of the difference between these varieties can be found on Flora of North America.

Distribution and Habitat

Arctic sweet coltsfoot is widely distributed across Canada and the northern US including Alaska as well as northern Europe and northern Asia. It is mostly found in moist soils, frequently in streambeds and bogs


RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (Plants)
SubkingdomTracheobionta (Vascular plants)
SuperdivisionSpermatophyta (Seed plants)
DivisionMagnoliophyta (Flowering plants)
ClassMagnoliopsida (Dicotyledons)
FamilyAsteraceae ⁄ Compositae (Aster family)
GenusPetasites Mill. (butterbur)
SpeciesPetasites frigidus (L.) Fr. (arctic sweet coltsfoot)


Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 70

Petasites frigidus (search), Native American Ethnobotony Database

Petasites frigidus  (L.) Fr., ITIS Database

Petasites frigidus (L.) Fr., arctic sweet coltsfoot, USDA Database

1. Petasites frigidus (Linnaeus) Fries, Summa Veg. Scand. 182. 1845., Flora of North America (

Petasites frigidus – (L.)Fries., Plants for A Future

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