In this article it is only possible to skim the possibilities, briefly looking at coughs and colds, common and minor digestive problems, 'hyperactivity' and eczema If the readers interest is aroused there are a number of excellent books about herbs for children worth reading, of which I would highly recommend Natural Child Care by Maribeth Riggs. 2 It is a cornucopia of safe, reliable and effective formulations specifically for children, both in terms of the herbs and their taste!
The green world abounds with gentle but effective plants that can help children's respiratory problems. Important examples are Coltsfoot, Mullein, Hyssop, Horehound, Wild Cherry Bark and Garlic. Herbal remedies can ease the discomfort of virus infections such as colds and the 'flu, treat the unpleasant symptoms, speed recovery and help prevent recurring infections. Aches and pains are common but can be relieved easily. Perhaps the best herb is Boneset, especially if there is a fever. A hot infusion drunk often will make life bearable in even the worse cases of 'flu. The bitter taste of Boneset is one of its therapeutic qualities, but not one children relish! Elder flower, Linden and Peppermint tea have a similar effect, not as strong, but they taste a lot better. For children that have a tendency to frequent colds, the body is hinting that the immune system needs help. Anti-microbial herbs such as Echinacea or Garlic and the tonics Cleavers or Nettles help prevent infections by increasing the vitality of immune system response. These may be combined in capsules, or as tinctures. Garlic in food or as the oil in a capsule would be most beneficial.
Herbs can effectively treatment coughs, but as they are important diagnostic signal s from the body they must be interpreted and the appropriate treatment selected and not be suppressed. Any long-standing or intransigent coughing should receive professional attention. Home treatment is safe and effective for minor coughs of short duration or associated with mild infections, but if in doubt seek skilled advice. Expectorant remedies help get rid of phlegm in the lungs, but also soothe irritation and reduce the cough reflex. Coltsfoot is safe and effective for children. Use as an infusion at least 3 times a day whilst the symptoms remain. If the there is a dry irritating cough use Marshmallow leaves or Liquorice to soothe the inflamed membranes. Consider Mullein if a stronger remedy is needed.
Many herbs are appropriate for treating digestive problems in Children, especially herbs rich in volatile oils. These oils relax cramping muscles, reduce inflammation and relax the nervous system. They will ease pain and discomfort due to flatulence and colic. Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Dill, Fennel, Peppermint and Aniseed all work well and taste pleasant.
For constipation it is often inappropriate to use laxatives with children unless absolutely necessary, as it usually responds to dietary changes, such as increasing the amount of water drunk; eating fruits and vegetables with peels such as figs, raisins, pears, apricots, beans, celery, cucumber, lettuce, apples; eat whole grain cereals or making bran muffins and decrease constipating foods like dairy products, white rice, white flour. If needed use Psyllium seed preparations in children over two years of age, or for stronger but still safe effects use a decoction of Dandelion root or Yellow Dock.
For diarrhea a number of astringent remedies are suitable for children. The most useful is Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) , as it protects and soothes the lining of the digestive tract, reducing excess acidity and easing nausea. In diarrhoea it also has a calming effect, helping the child feel good. The presence of aspirin-like chemicals explains Meadowsweet's action in reducing fever and relieving 'growing pains'.