Natural Remedies for Children

Kid-friendly medicinal herbs can be a great alternative to medication

| October/November 1998

  • Echinacea
    Photography by Steven Foster
  • Peppermint
  • Chamomile
  • The glossy leaves and playful blossoms of witch hazel
  • Witch hazel growing in Arkansas
  • Horehound
  • Cranberries

My kids have grown up with herbs, and my knowledge of herbs has grown just from having children, but for most people, using herbs is a new experience. We don’t mind experimenting with herbs and dietary supplements on ourselves, but when it comes to our children, we want to be sure that the treatments will work and, more importantly, that they are absolutely safe. Just because an herb is “natural” doesn’t mean that it’s safe, and just because it’s safe for adults doesn’t mean that it’s safe for children. Little if any research has been devoted to the use of herbs by children. 

Children have rapidly changing bodies, with different metabolic rates, needs, and body chemistry from those of adults. My twelve-year-old son, Colin, is currently on a Shaquille O’Neal growth chart. He’s bigger than all his friends, has a huge bone structure, and grew 3 inches in height from March to July! For Colin, herbs are a fact of life, not a novelty, yet little if any research has been devoted to the use of herbs by children. Undoubtedly, many parents regularly give herbs to their children without scientific data attesting to their efficacy or safety.

What works? What’s safe? What do you need to know to get started? Let’s take a look.

For the past fifty years, U.S. physicians have almost universally relied on antibiotics in treating many childhood illnesses. If you want to use herbs to treat your child, talk to a physician or other health-care provider. If the physician is not yet open to using herbs, you may want to show him/her the excellent new book Phytotherapy in Pediatrics: A Handbook for Physicians and Pharmacists, by Heinz Schilcher. Schilcher, a physician and expert on plant medicines, is a former member of Germany’s Commission E, the federal regulatory body that developed the monographs that are the basis of herb regulation in that country. The book uses medical ­terminology, but it’s an excellent introduction to the subject. Peppermint tea tastes great and soothes an upset stomach. It can also help bring down a fever. 

Here are Schilcher’s rules for treating children with herbs. They apply equally to adults.

• Establish the cause of the illness.

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