One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is whether there are herbs that can be safely used for children. The answer is, absolutely! While some of the stronger ones should be avoided, there are a number of medicinal plants that are gentle enough (but still effective) for little bodies. Here are three of my favorite herbs for kids.
1. Chamomile: a classic for crankiness, colic, and upset tummies
Chamomile has been used in children’s medicine for… well, forever. Beloved children’s book author Beatrix Potter even mentions chamomile in The Tale of Peter Rabbit—when Peter comes back from Farmer McGregor’s garden, his mother gives him some chamomile tea and sends him to bed. This calming herb has a place in even the most familiar of children’s stories.
Chamomile is a gentle relaxant, meaning it helps ease nervousness and tension, and it works wonderfully to soothe cranky babies. It has been studied in six-week-old infants with colic and was found effective for relieving symptoms, especially when combined with fennel and lemon balm. In addition to combatting fussiness, chamomile can be used to settle upset tummies. (Chamomile can ease digestive distress in adults, too, along with grownup anxiety.)
When my son was young, I’d brew chamomile tea and pour it into ice cube trays. Any time he was teething, I’d take a chamomile ice cube out of the freezer, wrap it in a handkerchief with a nice big knot in it, and let him gnaw away. The combination of cold ice and comforting chamomile really helped ease his discomfort. Chamomile ice cubes can also be made into ice chips to ease nausea and diarrhea, or put into smoothies to calm a stressed-out schoolkid.
For fussy children who’ve had a long day, are stressed out, or are having a hard time settling down and unwinding before bed, a cup of chamomile tea can be the ideal remedy. It’s also excellent for older kids who may be struggling with feelings of anxiety.
While chamomile is safe and gentle enough for people of all ages, those with a severe ragweed allergy will want to be careful with it. Both chamomile and ragweed are members of the aster family, so there may be some allergic crossover.
2. Lemon balm: perfect for busy little bees
Also known as heart’s delight and the gladdening herb during the Middle Ages, this marvelous member of the mint family can really help take the edge off. Lemon balm’s genus name is Melissa (meaning “honey bee”), and I think this herb is perfect for busy little bees. It’s great for kids who are always on the go but sometimes get cranky and overwrought.
Lemon balm has been studied both for relieving anxiety and improving focus. It’s indicated for social butterflies who get grumpy when they don’t have enough downtime, and for overstimulated extroverts who sometimes have trouble concentrating. For kids with mild anxiety and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an afternoon cup of sweet-tasting lemon balm tea can be soothing and centering. At night, a higher dose of lemon balm can help children fall asleep. It has also been shown to work as a sleep aid in children under 12 when combined with valerian root.
A supremely gentle herb, lemon balm really has no safety concerns for use with kids, either as a tea or a glycerite. (A glycerite is like an herbal tincture, only it’s prepared with glycerin instead of alcohol.)
3. Elderberry: a potent (and tasty) immune booster
Elderberries are delicious and versatile—they can be made into syrups, jams, glycerites, and even gummies. But beyond tasting great, these berries possess strong antiviral properties. In fact, the National Institutes of Health found that black elderberry ranked very highly when it tested a number of natural products for antiviral activity during the time that H1N1 flu was going around.
Not only can elderberry effectively prevent colds and flu, it may also shorten the duration of these illnesses. One study found that the application of elderberry juice serum to cells infected with the influenza virus effectively slowed down viral infection during late stages of influenza.
Elderberry syrup is widely available at many pharmacies as well as health food stores. You can even make your own elderberry syrup from scratch, if you prefer homemade to a prepared product. Companies like Mountain Rose Herbs sell organic elderberries in bulk, and you can see a video of me demonstrating how to make elderberry syrup (and offering tips and tricks) here.
Elderberry can be used on children of all ages—I’d even be comfortable giving elderberry syrup to a one-year-old. The nice thing about elderberry preparations is that they taste really good, making them an easy-sell for kids who may be expecting their medicine to be “yucky” based on previous experience. If your kids are skeptical about anything given off a spoon, you can mix elderberry syrup into oatmeal, pour it onto pancakes, or even drizzle it over ice cream!
Caring for your kids, naturally
While there are many herbs that can be used for children, these three are the ones I recommend parents keep in their medicine cabinet at home. Whether you’re dealing with upset tummies, anxiety, teething pain, focus issues, or immune health during cold and flu season, you’ll be well prepared if you have chamomile, lemon balm, and elderberry on hand.
- Soothes cranky and colicky babies
- Settles upset tummies
- Eases teething pain
- Helps kids wind down at bedtime
- Alleviates anxiety in older kids
- Should be used with caution in those with severe ragweed allergies
- Is perfect for busy little bees
- Helps kids who are always on the go but get cranky and overwrought
- Has been studied for relieving anxiety and improving focus
- Is indicated for kids with mild anxiety and/or ADHD
- Can be used to help children fall asleep
- Comes in forms like syrup, jam, gummies, and more
- Possesses strong antiviral properties
- May help prevent colds and flu
- Can also shorten the duration of illnesses
- Is available at many pharmacies as well as health food stores
- Tastes great so kids love it