Silja is an herbal witch who grew up in rural Ireland, where her mum had an herb garden and taught Silja about herbalism and foraging for Mother Nature's bounty. As a witch, she has led a Celtic training coven in Ireland, but now lives in the U.S. with her husband and three kids in Arkansas. Silja is the author of The Green Wiccan Herbal.
Many parents think they need to wait to introduce their baby to herbs until they are older, but this is not true! Baby food doesn't need to be bland—the earlier you introduce herbs, the more babies will get used to different tastes and start accepting different foods. It also has the advantage of allowing you to share your own food with your baby sooner.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Many experts recommend not starting herbs in babies younger than 12 months; others say you can start non-allergenic food herbs gently when the infant reaches 6 months or so. Along with the list of herbs not to give babies (found at the end of this blog), herbs in the Asteraceae family (echinacea, calendula, etc.) should be avoided because of the possibility of allergies. Gentle antispasmodic, carminative herbs such as dill, fennel and lemon balm have been recommended for colicky babies for generations. In introducing any herbs to children, start with very small quantities and go slowly.
Make momsicles: So when to start? When the baby is still nursing! What you eat will have an influence on your breastmilk. Also, you can express and add herbs to your milk for a teething baby. Express some milk (if you are dealing with oversupply as a new mom, just hold a cup under the breast not being fed from during nursing sessions), and freeze in icecube trays, adding a stick if the baby is old enough to hold his or her own momsicle. Momsicles are great when baby is teething, to gain extra fluids on hot days, or when the baby is interested in solids—but don't give them any yet. You can add some very, very finely minced herbs to vary the taste slightly and help baby's health! Try chamomille for colicy babies, lavender to aid restful sleep, or rosemary to fight against night terrors.
Baby-led weaning: When a baby is old enough for solids, herbs really come into their own. We did mostly baby-led weaning and my go-to solid when my kids seemed hungry (but I didn't have and foods ready), was to stew a few apple chunks in the microwave—it takes two minutes at most—and add a few herbs: whatever I had ready. I used cumin, (especially during tummy trouble) thyme, (great to help release gas and as an expectorant when they have a cough) and lemongrass the most. Apples were much more readily eaten with an herbal taste to them! We also used this method with other fruit and veggies, such as melons, potatoes, broccoli and carrots. Even if you decide to feed your child mushy food, you can add some herbs. (Just be careful. Some herbs should not be given to babies under one year old. See the bottom of this article.) When you pour, or very finely chop, them, add them to jarred baby food.
Teas and infusions: Once you wean or your baby is ready to have fluids other than formula, consider diluted tea as an alternative to sugary drinks and juices. A fennel infusion is quick and easy to make: Bruise a teaspoon of fennel seed; pour 10 ounces hot water over it; let infuse for 10 minutes; decant into a bottle or cup. This infusion will help with tummy trouble. You can also add fennel seed to warm milk if your child is more than one year old. For overnight weaning, some mothers like to mix weak chamomile tea with the expressed milk or formula, gradually adding more tea until it is purely tea. (Chamomile tea, in a stronger form, is also great to wash out eyes when there are eye crusties or your child has pink eye.)
Caution: While herbs are great for mom and baby, some herbs are best avoided by the nursing mom because they can decrease milk supply, or because baby doesn't tolerate them well. A handy list is here.
*Statements herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not intended to treat or diagnose any disease or health condition. It is also recommended that patients check with their doctors before taking herbs, to ensure that there are no contraindications with prescription medications.