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Medicinal plants to forage in March

  • Kathie Bishop
    Kathie Bishop

    Consulting vaginal health herbalist and plant worker, Kathie Bishop MNIMH is the founder of Into the Wylde, an award winning natural, organic and vegan intimate lubricant brand, as well as helping people with their vaginal health at The Wylde Herbalist. She is the author of It’s Your Power Portal: Take Control of Your Vaginal Health with Herbal and Holistic Care, published by Aeon in April 2022, and is the recipient of the Innovation in Practice Award from The National Institute of Medical Herbalists in 2021, and finalist in The Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards 2024 for her work with women’s health.

    She truly believes that the world needs more feminine power, creativity, leadership, and it is her hope that through healing our, and society’s, relationship with the vagina, whose name is so often dared not spoken, we can have a greater impact for good in the work we create, do and embody.

  • 8:52 reading time (ish)
  • Foraging

Coltsfoot, nettle, cleavers and guelder rose — Kathie Bishop’s choice herbs to forage as we come into spring.

Medicinal plants to forage in March

March in the UK is really the beginning of Spring proper, the beginning of the month marking the start of meteorological Spring and around 20th seeing the vernal equinox, when both day and night are of equal length once again — a time of balance. New shoots and growth are undeniable. Vital energy rises from the earth, and we see the shift towards the aerial parts of medicinal herbs, holding much potential for the growing year ahead. Spring cleaning is the name of the game in March.

Foraging is an ancient way to connect both with how our ancestors lived, the plants themselves and their healing, as well as the world around us. Whenever we forage, it is best to do so in a safe and ethical way, so please don’t set off before you’ve read and digested our article A Guide to Safe and Sustainable Foraging, also remembering to pick ‘above dog height’!

With that in mind, medical herbalist Kathie Bishop shares some of her favourite medicinal plants to harvest in the March wilds in the UK.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

The bright, sunny, easily-identifiable flowers of the lung-restorative herb coltsfoot, bloom in early Spring, before the leaves come, making March the perfect month for foraging the distinctive coltsfoot.  Liking clay soil and sloping banks with recently churned earth (1), building sites might be the perfect place to find it, if you can access it safely and without trespassing!

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Although already alluded to, the latin binomial name for what we call coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, gives us a hint for one of its primary uses. ‘Tuss’ refers to coughing, and Tussilago literally means ‘to drive away coughing’. Coltsfoot is what’s known as a trophorestorative of the lungs. Priest and Priest, in their seminal work Herbal Medication (2) define trophorestoratives as mildly relaxing and gently stimulating herbs specific to restoring the tissue and function of the mentioned organ, being suitable for long-term use for this job.

This means that coltsfoot is an ideal herb for prolonged use with bronchitis and other chesty, lung-based conditions with cough.

Coltsfoot is also an expectorant, meaning that it helps bring up and clear mucous from the lungs and airways. The flowers are great for irritant coughs and the leaves for phlegmy coughs (1).

On this point, it is worth adding a caution here when foraging, to stress the importance of correct identification. It can be easily mistaken for closely related, but poisonous, Butterbur (Petasites spp.), as it has similar leaves (1).

It is important to note that coltsfoot contains trace amounts of a class of photochemical called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which have proven to be controversial due to hepatotoxicity concerns and have received a lot of bad press in recent years as a consequence (1). For safety, it’s best to consult with a qualified herbal practitioner before taking coltsfoot internally, especially if you are or may be pregnant, breastfeeding, have a known liver condition, if the herb is to be prescribed for children or an extended duration.

While we needn’t be frightened or avoidant of a herb due to information that raises our awareness of potential risks, it serves as a good reminder that herbs can be potent and should always be used with respect and, very importantly, knowledge.

Coltsfoot also contains mucilage tannins, triterpenes and flavonoids (3).

If you are cleared to proceed, Coltsfoot flowers and or leaves can be used as an infusion, tincture or made into a syrup. As an infusion it can be taken as 1 teaspoon of dried herb to a cup of water 1–1½ cups a day (3). Combines well with elecampane (1).

Kathie Bishop

Consulting vaginal health herbalist and plant worker, Kathie Bishop MNIMH is the founder of Into the Wylde, an award winning natural, organic and vegan intimate lubricant brand, as well as helping... Read more

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