The enchanting aromas, interesting flavors and vivid colors of herbs delight children and inspire a love of the natural world. Sharing the tradition of herbalism with children connects that love of nature to daily activities such as eating, playing and self-care. Many of the most nourishing, gently healing herbs have a special affinity for children and can help to sweetly soothe childhood woes. The ten herbs discussed below are some of the most beloved children’s herbs and are wonderful for introducing any child to herbalism. Encourage your child to smell, taste and play with each new herb they meet. Enjoy meeting these plants together with your child!
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Happy lemon balm is deliciously fragrant and tasty. A member of the prolific and useful mint family, it is full of wonderful aromatic oils that delight children, eliciting happy sighs when inhaled. Simply take a stalk of the fresh plant and run your hands over it to release its beautiful lemony scent. Lemon balm is a well-known, gentle nervine. It is perfect for helping to soothe grouchy kids who are stimulated and high-strung from being overtired. Lemon balm is also a safe antiviral that can be wonderful for aiding children with a viral illness by helping to combat the virus while easing aches and pains.
Use lemon balm to make delicious teas, lemonades, syrups, and popsicles. You can add the fresh leaves to fruit salads, smoothies, cookies, and other tasty baked goods such as these scones.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
We have all heard the story of Peter Rabbit and his terrifying adventure in Mr. McGregor’s garden. Poor little Peter was so distressed and tuckered out upon arriving home that his mother wisely put him straight to bed with a cup of chamomile tea. Indeed, this classic children’s herb is perfect for helping to relax the nerves and induce sleep. Chamomile can also be wonderful for easing digestive problems, especially those associated with emotional issues resulting in nervous tummy upset. Topically, chamomile’s anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities can be put to good use for helping to heal and soothe the skin.
Use chamomile in salves, baths, and compresses for irritated, injured skin. Most children adore the taste and smell of chamomile. The lovely little flowers make the perfect bedtime tea! Or add the tea to your child’s bath to help soothe skin and help send them right off to dreamland.
Rose (Rosa species)
The beautiful rose is not only wonderful to behold and smell, roses are also a beloved herbal remedy! Children simply delight in roses. They love to touch and smell the soft, silky flower petals, and they love tasting fragrant rose tea while learning all about this amazing plant. Roses are another nervine from the plant world. They help to open and comfort a sad heart while easing anxiety and depression. This may be helpful for children going through tough transitions in life or for sensitive souls who just need a little extra care and love to feel comfortable. Roses can also help to ease chest infections and cool a headache. The tangy hips are high in vitamin C and can thus be used to support a healthy immune system.
Delicious teas can be made from rose petals and hips. Use the fresh flower petals and rose water to make luscious desserts (like this Lemon-Rose Parfait). You can also add the fresh flower petals to salads, whipped cream, and baked goods. You can make a tasty jam with the hips by soaking them in apple juice overnight to soften. Dried baby rose buds are a wonderful craft item for children. Use them as playdoh decorations for very small kids or craft with them to make pretty jewelry with older children.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Delicious spearmint is a favorite herb for children. The flavor is not as intense as peppermint as peppermint has less of that spicy coolness that can be overwhelming for kids. It is wonderful for easing tummy upset. Spearmint is also antimicrobial and makes a mild tea for helping children during illness such as colds and flus. Like all mints, spearmint is very easy to grow and is a delight in a child’s garden.
Spearmint leaves can be munched for a tasty snack. Pluck the stems to make impromptu wands for play. Add the leaves to salads, pancakes, muffins and more for a little minty boost in your food. Fresh spearmint leaves added to chocolate chip cookies is especially delicious. The leaves also make a refreshing tea for drinking and freezing into popsicles.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
Those fluffy marshmallows we all know today originally came from an old time herbal remedy made from the marshmallow plant! Marshmallow root used to be blended with sweet things—like honey—to make a tasty remedy for soothing scratchy throats and irritated tummies. The roots are mucilaginous and can help to create an extremely soothing and protective layer over irritated mucus membranes of the upper respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems.
Add the root to homemade teas and syrups when your child is dealing with dry, scratchy conditions. You can also make your own version of ‘real’ marshmallows by adding the powdered root to marshmallow recipes. Use the pretty edible flower petals to decorate foods!
Lavender (Lavandula species)
Beloved lavender is indeed a lovely herb for children. Just as with adults, children often find the aroma of lavender to be soothing and helpful for calming anxieties. Lavender is also helpful as a first aid plant. It’s antiseptic and skin-healing properties make it a great addition to any first aid kit and wound salve.
Help to soothe skin and nerves by adding the pretty purple flowers or a couple drops of essential oil to your child’s bedtime baths. My children and I love to add lavender to our playdoh, homemade paints, and aromatherapy sprays for plenty of relaxing fun!
Violets, Pansies & Heartsease (Viola species)
These sweet little flowering plants delight us each spring and are wonderful herbs for kids. Violets and pansies can be used interchangeably with slight differences, though most often the sweet fragrant violet (Viola odorata) is the sought-after species. Used to cool and soothe inflammation, fevers, and headaches, violet can be a wonderful, gentle herbal ally for children during illness such as a cold or flu. It is also high in nourishing vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamin C.
Be sure to grow violet in your garden, because the fresh flowers are fun to munch on! Use the flowers as an edible garnish to make your food especially beautiful. Infuse violet leaves and petals to make delicious beverages like this refreshing lemonade.
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Tiny anise seeds have a delicious and mild licorice flavor that most children adore. Anise’s anti-spasmodic properties make it a useful addition to formulas when helping children with spasmodic coughing or griping pains in the stomach.
Use the seeds to make a tasty tea and add them to other herbal tea blends to improve their flavor and increase palatability. The seeds, along with organic orange zest, make a delicious addition to sugar cookies.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum species)
Sweetly spiced cinnamon is an herb most children will recognize from their very own kitchen. You might be surprised to find that cinnamon has beneficial herbal properties. Cinnamon is warming and may take the chill out of a cold day or provide comforting warmth for kids with chills during illness. It is also helpful for easing tummy upset with uncomfortable cramping, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Cinnamon makes an appealing addition to herbal teas, syrups, and formulas by improving the flavor of other less tasty herbs. Throw a couple of cinnamon sticks in a cup of hot water for any easy-to-make tea. Add the delicious, warming powder to all manner of foods - cookies, cakes, whipped cream, or butter and even some savory sauces and stews. Children love playing with the smooth, fragrant sticks which make a great crafty building material or an interesting playdoh toy. Add powdered cinnamon to warm playdoh for a lovely aromatic experience.
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
A favorite of many children is the little elderberry. Well-reputed as an herbal remedy for influenza, elderberry is an effective antiviral and indeed a powerful herbal ally for families. The berries can be made into a delicious tea or syrup (try this Quick and Simple Elderberry Syrup Recipe) that can help to ease cold and flu symptoms while hasten healing. The flowers are also part of a classic flu remedy which combines elderflowers, peppermint, and yarrow to make a diaphoretic tea that can help to stimulate circulation and a healing sweat at the first sign of flu. The flowers may also be useful for hayfever and colds with copious runny mucus.
Children love elderberry tea and helping to squish the berries when making syrup. Use the tea to make tasty popsicles!
Inspire Your Kids to Learn About Herbs!
If you are interested in introducing your child to the magical world of herbs, please enjoy the free series from the Herbal Academy of New England. The kids’ series is written for children to read, learn and follow along with as they begin to play with plants. Each lesson is filled with fun craft ideas, recipes, printable activity sheets and notes for parents to aid in your child’s learning experience.
There are eight lessons to enjoy, which include:
• Meet My Friend Herb! Part One & Part Two
• Keep It Simple
• A Kid’s Herbal Pharmacy
• Start Your Herb Garden
• Adventures In The Herb Garden
• Herbs Are Tasty
Angela Justis is the Family Educational Director at the Herbal Academy of New England, the home of the Online Introductory Herbal Course and Online Intermediate Herbal Course, and meeting place for Boston area herbalists. Follow the Academy on Facebook and Instagram! Photos provided and copyrighted by Herbal Academy of New England.