Capsules: Alcohol Extracted Herbs and Children

A voluntary recall of ginseng products in four states last summer has sparked an interest in whether herbal remedies are safe for children.

The recall, issued in New York, Connecticut, Ohio, and Massachusetts, came after New York state teachers reported that students were drinking vials of ginseng extract that contained up to 24 percent alcohol. General Nutrition Centers, a national chain, also removed one brand of ginseng from its shelves because of concerns about children using the alcohol-extracted herb.

Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, said the danger is not ginseng itself, but the possibility of children abusing products that contain undisclosed amounts of alcohol. The products that prompted the recall did not disclose alcohol content, he said.

Ginseng root is known for its energy-boosting action, with extensive European research on its abilities and a history of use in China as a tonic herb. But many alternative health-care practitioners say that wise use of the herb requires professional guidance–particularly in the United States, where herbal remedies are lightly regulated. Children, whose bodies are still growing and changing, should always use herbs under strict supervision, they say.

Parents concerned about the safety of giving their children herbal remedies may wish to rely on gentle herbs traditionally used for children, including chamomile, ginger, lemongrass, and thyme, said Marji Mills of Herbs for Kids, a company based in Bozeman, Montana. Stronger herbs are best taken under the guidance of a trained practitioner, she said.

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