Phytotherapy for Children using Garden Herbs

Make herbs part of your life! Dr Connie Meyer shares some ideas about using them in everyday cooking and baking and as soothing natural remedies for childhood ailments.

The best way to integrate herbal medicine into your family’s life is to make herbs part of your world. If you have fresh herbs growing in the garden, your child can have the fun of carrying the basket and helping you pick some to use in the dinner you are cooking, or to add to a fruit punch on a hot summer’s day. When your child has a doll’s tea party, how about using lemon balm for the tea? Fresh herbs made into a tea taste much nicer than dried ones. If you have a few of the basics, you can supplement when you need to with dried herbs from your phytotherapist.

If you have these herbs in your garden, you are equipped for all kinds of wonderful cooking options, as well as having medicines for many common ailments. By involving your children, you’ll allow herbs to become part of their lives instead of a foreign concept that is only associated with illness!

THE HERB GARDEN

Here are some ideas for your herb garden:

Herbs for tea: peppermint, lemon balm, chamomile.

Herbs for cooking: rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, bay, coriander, lovage, sage.

Herbs for baking: lemon- or rose-scented geranium, southern wood, lemon verbena.

Herbs for salads: dandelion, chicory, rocket, parsley, celery leaves, spring onion, garlic.

Herbs for medicine: sage, thyme, lemon balm, peppermint, chamomile, calendula, Echinacea, garlic.

INVOLVE YOUR CHILD IN THE KITCHEN FIRST

A very good way to introduce your child to herbs is by using them for baking. The lemon flavours work really well, and the most pungent herb for use in baking would probably be lemon- or rose-scented geranium. Use your normal cupcake recipe, but liquidise a few leaves of lemon-scented geranium together with the eggs. Add this mixture bit by bit until it’s fully incorporated in your cupcake mixture.

You could add the finely grated zest of a lemon (which your child could grate, if old enough to handle a grater) to enhance the flavour. Watching and being part of this process, and absorbing the lovely aromas, will make a lasting impression on a child. Another idea is to place a rose geranium leaf at the base of each paper baking case. This will infuse your cupcakes with another wonderful flavour and add an extra element of fun to the baking session.

Get your child to snip some herbs for soup or a savoury dish. They will love the way the aromas are released when the herbs are cut, and will feel as if they have contributed to the success of the meal.

Next time you make a jelly for your child you could add borage flowers to it. And you might tell a little story about fairies while you are at it . . .

HERB TEAS FOR SNIFFLES AND COUGHS

Every mother knows when her child is coming down with something. Children differ in this regard – some get red and hot with glassy eyes and are very irritable, while others become lethargic. It’s important to be able to ‘read’ your child, because the sooner you are aware that a problem is developing, the sooner you can get into action.

If your child has a fever, you can use lemon balm on its own or mixed with chamomile or peppermint. If you have been in the habit of making herb teas, you’ll know which herbs your child prefers. The lemon balm is the important herb for the fever, as it has a soothing effect and will also help to get your child sweating, which breaks the fever. This would be a similar action to giving paracetamol. However, you don’t want to do this too soon,

because a fever is an important mechanism to kill invading bugs and mobilise the immune system, so allow the temperature to rise to about 39oC before giving the tea.

Some children are very thirsty when ill, but others don’t want to drink at all – if your child is one of the latter, you’ll have to do your best to make sure he or she drinks enough at this time. A sick child usually has no appetite. This is fi ne. If you force-feed at this time, you’ll probably be scooping the meal off the bed covers later on.

HERB SOUP FOR A COLD

If your child is developing a cold, a runny nose and possibly a cough will be the initial sequence of events. Nothing will prevent the cold now, so the best you can do is minimise its severity. Hot soup might be a better option than a herb tea at this time. Make a clear vegetable soup with lots of onion, sage, garlic, celery and parsley. The onion and garlic will thin the mucus, and the parsley and celery will help the kidneys and liver to function better and ‘rinse’ the body. This soup can be strained and then drunk as a tea. There is an element of comfort in a soup that should make it very acceptable to a child who’s feeling miserable.

Make up a pot of herb tea and encourage your child to have a sip every so often. Peppermint tea with added sage and chamomile will have a soothing effect if the child is irritable, and help as a decongestant if the nose is very blocked. Sage is antiseptic in its action and an excellent herb for coughs and colds, and will boost the immune system. Treating the cold effectively at this stage may prevent it going to the chest, but if it does, thyme tea with added honey will be your best medicine. An old recipe for a cough syrup was to steep onions or garlic in honey for a couple of weeks. Given a teaspoonful at a time, it is very effective.

Just remember that it is quite normal for children to have colds and coughs, it’s part of the development of the immune system. How you treat infections like these is the key to future health! If you want your child to have a strong immune system as an adult, lay the foundation now by encouraging the body to heal itself rather than suppressing the healing functions.

It is important to consult with your phytotherapist if you need support. To find a registered phytotherapist in your area, contact www.herbalpractitionerssa.co.za or the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa at www.ahpcsa.co.za, or info@ahpcsa.co.za

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Phytotherapy for Children using Garden Herbs

Dr Connie Meyer
About The Author
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MCPP, qualified from the College of Phytotherapy in the UK and is in private practice. She lectured at the University of the Western Cape for several years, and served on the Allied Health Professions’ Council. In her spare time she is an enthusiastic organic gardener and grows herbs, vegetables and fruit, bakes all her own bread, and enjoys a healthy and eco-sensitive lifestyle.