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Herbs for Toddlers and Young Children

Everyday Meal Medicine 

A friend asked me the other day, “What herbs does Cedar take?” and I had to look over at my son and his semi-permanent elderberry grin and admit, “Honestly, I can’t even remember. Too many to list!” That’s one way to know you’ve done your job successfully incorporating herbs into your kitchen routines - when you don’t even think about it (or necessarily remember doing it, mom-brain!). When it doesn’t feel like too much effort to stick some dried slices of reishi mushrooms into your rice or soup broth and when it doesn’t seem too wild to stir some fire cider into your greens. When integrating herbs into your everyday meals is as organic a gesture as the herbs themselves.

But when it comes to the unpredictable and often insanity-provoking appetites of these little humans, being sneaky can be a key. Not that I advocate sneakiness at large, but sometimes when faced with pickiness versus basic nutrition, you have to play the game. I'm sneaky with greens: I add ramp and nettle salt to my dishes before serving (better yet: stir it up first so the minute green specks won’t get picked out so easily). I cook my greens in a little fire cider (hello minerals!) and then puree them into macaroni and cheese and we read Green Eggs and Ham together. Everyone wins. 

Do we get sick? Absolutely. Everyday, we’re around a gaggle of other play-hard, nap-hard toddlers and kids of all ages with various colors of snot coming out of their noses at any given time. We don’t limit our fun intake as much as we boost up our dietary and herbal protocols. We don’t always limit our exposure to illnesses or other sick kiddos because sickness is how that young immune system is learning. If illness is the great teacher, it certainly doesn’t spare the littles.

But as parents, we have such a diverse arsenal of herbal medicines available to us that using them at every turn is one way that we can best show our babes to appreciate the natural world which has so much to give. For me, involving herbs so regularly in our primary healthcare is a way I can authentically show my son what an interconnected relationship we have with mother earth. The health of the planet and our own well-being are intricately bound. 

My three year old may have a few days worth of dirt under his nails and have eaten a few bugs in his time, but his microbiome is on point. One of his first words, right up there with ‘out’ and ‘book’, was ‘herbies’. He’s been sucking on the glass droppers of tincture bottles since he was about 6 months old.

While one of these days I’m going to have to teach him that if he wants to share tinctures with anyone, he’s going to have to learn to drop it into his mouth like I do rather than sucking on the dropper, we haven’t gotten there quite yet. For now, I’m quite content that I can get herbs into him without too drawn out of a battle. I’ll save that for the liver cakes we’re having for dinner. Only *kind of* kidding. 

Let's walk through some basic information about safely and effectively incorporating herbs into our everyday routines with our kids, using herbs for immune system regulation, digestive health, the nervous system, and skin health. 

Our Everyday Well-Being Regimen

Minimizing chances for illness in this age-range is just as important as having the herbs on hand to deal with viral or bacterial gunk. Before focusing on immediate immune boosters, it’s easier and more effective to incorporate immuno-modulating foods and herbs into your daily routine. Always go back to the most basic of principles and remember that food IS medicine.

We don’t stick strictly to any one diet, though most of what we prepare is modified paleo-ish, and I make sure to incorporate nutrient-dense broths and bone broths into many of our dishes. Not a soup goes by without me adding reishi slices, the great immunomodulator, to it, along with whatever other medicinal mushrooms I have on hand, including shiitake, chaga, turkey tail, and maitake. While these don’t change the flavor of the broth much, other than to deepen and complicate it, they do pack a nutritious punch and as a bonus: it’s pretty much impossible to pick the broth out of something.  

Most of our weekday breakfasts involve oatmeal of some kind, which is a fabulous canvas within which to incorporate lots of herbs. When I’m preparing the oatmeal the night before to soak overnight (Sally Fallon/Nourishing Traditions/Weston A. Price Foundation style), I add water, whey, some combination of chia seeds, hemp hearts, coconut shreds, slippery elm bark powder and a few squirts of Mushroom Elixir and astragalus. Bland-tasting astragalus is my number one must-have for gentle, nourishing, daily immune support. 

My son didn’t have water on its own until he was over a year old, not by my choice but because I offered him a choice of herbal infusions or water and he chose the more interesting (color appeal!) infusions, sipping down ounces of nettles and oatstraw before uttering his first word. Now that he’s three-and-a-half and aware of all the options of beverages in the universe, it’s a little different, but having that nutritive baseline of bio-available vitamins and trace minerals is critical. If you’re drinking an herbal infusion or tea yourself, offer some to your child. They may just surprise you and acquire a taste for it. Oatstraw, in particular, is sweet, bland and contains the planet’s highest source of magnesium. It’s probably the most kid-friendly, universally appealing of the nourishing herbal infusions. Make preparing it together a fun family habit: weighing it, boiling the water, and steeping it overnight. 

Of course there is so much more to the art of healthy meals, including fermented foods and probiotics, occasional supplementation and fermented cod liver oil, but the gist of it is making a baseline foundation of whole foods nutrition: real fruits and veggies (organic if possible), cooking with good fats, good quality - local if possible - meats and dairy if you choose, and minimal processed foods.

Your kiddo may not be amenable to the idea of taking spoonfuls of fire cider like shots (mine is half the time) but if they are, power to them. Ours is a little sweet and a little tart (from the sumac berries) and altogether not very spicy, as we only use very mild locally grown serrano peppers. But it contains a good dose of garlic, onions, horseradish, and other medicinals. Cook with it, add a little to soups and stews, or make a salad dressing or dip with it. 

Upping the Wellness Game: Acute Symptoms

When acute issues strike, or even when your child is thrown into a new environment like going back to school or heading out of town to a different climate, more immediate immune herbs may be appropriate. I always start with echinacea and elderberry - or I simply use our Immune Blend, a trio of echinacea, elderberry, and usnea - in generous doses and go from there. I don’t need to tell you about the huge amounts of studies done on the benefits of elderberry for kids - you can read those for yourself. Suffice it to say that elderberry is an herbalist's gold and the sworn enemy of viruses near and far. I like to use Elderberry Elixir (with honey) as a daily remedy and Elderberry Extract I save for when an illness is actually present or looming. 

Garlic Elixir is the blend that if I turn my back for even a second, Cedar will down the bottle immediately and then grin at me with garlic breath, “More, please, mom!” No kidding. We all know the massive benefits of garlic, but it’s not always easy to get it in. Our Garlic Elixir is made simply from raw, local organically grown garlic, local raw honey, and raw apple cider vinegar, steeped in small batches for at least 8 weeks. The taste is pretty delicious, not at all what you might imagine, and it’s no wonder Cedar asks for more every time I offer it to him. I have tried to really impress upon him key botanical safety measures - “Take that grass out of your mouth, right now!” “We don’t eat plants if we don’t know what they are!” and “Do not squirt that elderberry in your eye!” and of course he never takes herbs without supervision and they are kept out of his reach and treated with respect, but still. I never travel without both garlic and elderberry elixir because together they form a kid-approved duo of antibacterial and antiviral superpower. 

If a child is experiencing tummy upset or some issue that’s gone straight to their digestive system, I use Belly Elixir, a super gentle carminative formula of mint-family plants which help to soothe the gastrointestinal tract and optimize its function. Sometimes I’ll just use peppermint on its own to aid those come-and-go tummyaches and help maintain a healthy digestion. If there are feelings of hot/cold, the beginnings of a ’sickie’, as Cedar calls it, I’ll use ginger to quickly warm the body, improve the health of the digestive area, and kick the immune system into action.

Antimicrobial yarrow is my favorite medicine chest in a bottle, and with children I like to use it to improve the efficacy of an immune response, to aid the respiratory system, and up the body’s natural defenses. Since it’s one of the stronger tasting herbs that kids are not likely to find acceptable, I hide it in tea, juice, or a popsicle when necessary (see below). 

If something has been sticking around in our household long enough to make its way through the respiratory tract and land in the lungs or in the sinuses, I incorporate elecampane, hyssop, and Breathe Clear in the mix, which act as a powerful lung-openers and disinfectants within the respiratory system. My favorite go-to that I keep on my bedside table all winter long is Wild Cherry Bark Syrup, a combination of soothing, calmative herbs that act as sedatives for the lungs and allow the respiratory system to clear and heal. We make the syrup with local raw mountain honey, which has its own list of medicinal benefits, and Cedar asks for the syrup as a super special treat. Whether your kiddo is used to taking herbs or not, it’s pretty sticky sweet and yummy. 

Herbs for a Children's Nervous Systems

Once, when I was managing the apothecary at a popular herb shop, I had a woman come in requesting I pour her a special size, a 16 oz, of catnip. “Why so much?” I asked as I dispensed the bright green liquid into the dark amber bottle, as that size is usually only purchased by practitioners. “Everyone in the family takes it. If it’s stressful at home, we all take a little and it helps everyone to just regulate themselves so much better. We call it calm down catnip.” Gentle catnip is a well-known soother of the nervous system and is especially appropriate for use with children. It essentially has the opposite effect on humans as it does on cats: it down-regulates us instead of winding us up into feline psychosis. 

A few other herbs that I love using for children with some nervous system dysregulation - and almost every child gets this way sometimes - are chamomile, tulsi, passionflower, and skullcap. These are particularly useful for those ‘tired and wired’ moments, when a child is beyond exhausted, perhaps grumpy, hungry, overstimulated, or any combination of these, and is having a difficult time calming down. My son and I like to make ‘honey tea’, which is usually either a cup of Chill Out or just plain tulsi steeped for a few minutes, blended up with a splash of raw milk and a generous dollop of whatever herbal honey I have on hand, sometimes turmeric, sometimes sage. 

Herbs for Children's Skin

I’ll never forget telling a friend my woes about my young baby’s skin seeming to be so sensitive and tending towards all sorts of mysterious things. She replied, “Kid’s skin changes like the wind. One minute it’s fine, the next minute it’s rashy, and then back again. Just be patient."

My kiddo first aid cabinet includes a number of remedies for the skin which I keep doubles and triples of in my purse and in the car. Since I have a feisty wildling who has a penchant for ramming his forehead into various dense surfaces, I keep plenty of Lump and Bump Salve around, essential for calming bruises, contusions, aches, sprains, and owies of all kinds. Green Wonder Salve, though, I use even more frequently because it’s truly all-purpose - appropriate for everything from a cut to a bug bite to a scrape to a rash. I’ve watched it reduce the swelling from a bee sting the size of a golf ball to the size of a quarter in ten minutes (that’s the magic of plantain!). 

But if there were one herb to be the queen of skin herbs for children, calendula would have to take the cake. The gorgeous dried flower is gently skin-soothing and antiviral, perfect for incorporating into bath time, using as a skin wash or rinse, or a wound healer. Calendula oil, made with the fresh flower steeped in organic olive oil, is the ideal and only ‘lotion’ or substance I would use on a baby (or even a toddler) as a moisturizer or skin protector.

Just a Spoonful of Honey Helps 

As a parent, you probably know that half the battle at least is not just deciding on an herb or supplement for your child but actually getting it into their tiny, stubborn bodies. Mixing your herbal formula into juicy popsicles usually helps relieve the fight, and these can be a fantastic way to keep feverish or lethargic kids well hydrated, too. If your child will only drink broth or mom’s special noodle soup, add the herbal extracts to that mixture.

If you’re in a hurry, skip the popsicles and simply place the herbs into a little water, tea, or organic juice and let them guzzle it down. One of my son’s favorite ways to take herbs is as ‘lemonade’, AKA my sneaky mom version of high potency vitamin C powder combined with honey, lemon juice, and whatever herbal extracts he’s having at the moment. Elderberry lemonade even turns a lovely magenta! Whenever he has ‘real’ lemonade for the first time, I’m going to get some serious flack. But for now, ignorance is bliss. 

Aviva Romm had success raising her four kiddos on garlic lemonade, which mine won’t touch. But maybe yours will! It’s not as weird as it sounds, and actually is quite palatable. 

Alcohol Extracts and Proper Dosing Amounts for Children 

Children can be dosed appropriately by following Young’s rule: add 12 to the child’s age and then divide the child’s age by this number. For a 3 year old, add 12 + 3 = 15. 3 divided by 15 = 0.2, therefore the child should be dosed with about 0.2 or 1/5 of the adult dosage.
How to Dose Herbs for Children Young's Rule

All of our extracts use certified organic alcohol. If you are concerned about your child ingesting the alcohol you can put the suggested dosage into a cup of hot water or tea. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so some of the alcohol is released in the steam. However, note that the amount of alcohol in the suggested dosage of any of our extracts is extremely minimal. To put it into perspective, one dropperful (25-30 drops) of a tincture has about as much alcohol as a ripe banana!
 

A Word on Glycerine

You’ll notice that many children’s herbal formulas out there are glycerine-based, rather than alcohol. We choose not to offer glycerine-based extracts for a few reasons: (1) they are far less potent and effective than alcohol-based solutions, because glycerine does not have the same solubility to certain plant constituents, such as alkaloids, that are medicinal, and therefore they simply don’t work as well or absorb into the body as quickly (2) much of the glycerine out there is derived from GMO corn and (3) using creativity and some of the methods described above, getting medicinal herbal extracts into young children is doable without resorting to less-than-ideal glycerine. 
 

Herbal Medicine Cupboard List

I mentioned more than two dozen herbs above, and whether you’re familiar with them or not, it’s a lot to take in. To make it easier for you, I made a list of all the herbs I want to have on hand with kiddos around. 
 
Of course, I am not a licensed medical professional and am very limited in what I can say about any herb. Do your own research, come back to us and let me know what you find!
 
Catnip
Chamomile
 
 
Disclaimer
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