Tasty Herbal Options for Children
Jillian Stansbury, ND
How many of you have ever struggled to find a botanical medicine that children would take? What can you do when children are too young to swallow pills, tinctures are a bit too vile to consume, and not enough tea can be consumed to do the trick no matter how much licorice you add? Sure, there are herbal glycerites, but they are typically available for only the top 15 or 20 botanicals. Following are a few ideas to create kid-friendly botanical medicines.
If there is a commercial pill or encapsulated formula that you would really like to use for a child, one option would be to crush the pill in a mortar and pestle or simply open up a capsule and mix it into a heaping tablespoon of applesauce or mashed banana and have the child take it off the spoon. You can suggest that the parents get a few jars of baby food such as apricot, cherry, or peach to have a few more options and cater to the child’s tastes. This should help get 3 or 4 pills down each day. If you wish to use the “HEMP” formula, which is very effective for pharyngitis, but quite bad tasting for most, switch out the dropper with a spray applicator and have the parents spray the back of the throat, missing the tongue as much as possible. Young children have excellent absorption through the skin and another idea to help avoid bad tasting medicines might be to prepare a strong tea and have infants and young children bathe in the medicine. Infants and toddlers up to 3 or 4 years of age can be easily bathed in the kitchen sink filled with 4 or more inches of herbal tea. Older children might use a large tub filled with herbal tea set in the bathtub to avoid messes, and have them sit on the edge of the tub with their feet in the herbal bath. There are a few European herbal practitioners who are reportedly successful in treating a wide variety of complaints using hand and foot baths alone. Perhaps a child can drink 1 or 2 cups of tea each day, and the use of a daily herbal bath or foot soak might help ramp up the dosing to be more aggressive where needed. Parents might read bedtime stories while the child is soaking their feet in an herbal bath, for example.
Get Them to Drink
If just a few cups of tea per day are needed, such as for childhood stomachaches and IBS, or a bone healing or allergy formula, but the child will drink no more than a half cup, there are a few simple measures which may help get a few more cups in. For one, try some of those fancy straws; I keep a supply in my office and dispense them routinely to children going home with a tea prescription. To keep the straw entertaining and special, it should only be allowed to be used when drinking the herbal tea. Another idea is to prepare medicinal teas with the addition of dried fruits – from rosehips and elderberries which might have their own indications for specific ailments, to adding dried cherries, blueberries or date pieces to make a delicious and interesting tea. Herbal teas might also be mixed in equal parts with an unsweetened fruit juice or sparkling mineral water to create a more palatable beverage.
Good tasting teas and tea and juice mixtures might also be frozen in ice cube trays. Place 4 or 5 such ice cubes in a clean dishtowel and crush with a hammer. Put the ice chips in a cup and serve with a spoon, perhaps with a few fresh berries. Many children enjoy crunching on the ice chips. Most grocery and variety stores sell plastic molds that might be useful for older children and used to prepare larger quantities of frozen tea. Another idea is to make a sort of herbal chai. Instead of the traditional black tea and herb chai, prepare the best tasting medicinal tea you can and then mix with warm soy, rice, almond, coconut or other milk and a bit of maple syrup. Go one step further with a blender and ice and transform the herbal chai into a smoothie. Whip in Astragalus powder for children with immune issues, fish or plant essential fatty acids for children with asthma, eczema, or hay fever, or any number of powdered herbs and liquid vitamin and herb supplements as specifically indicated. Add fresh fruit, vanilla beans, or nut butters as desired.
Another creative and unusual idea is to prepare an herbal gelatin dish. Prepare a strong herbal tea and use it instead of water following the directions on gelatin packages. Fresh fruit, grated carrots, or nuts can also be added to these herbal gelatins either to contribute to medicinal and nutritive effects, or to simply improve the interest and cater to children’s tastes. This is useful for many mild tasting herbs.
Using Essential Oils
Essential oils (EOs) are an often overlooked therapy option. It does not take much time or effort to learn a few useful essential oils to put into practice immediately. For children who are cranky, irritable, and who sleep poorly, essential oil of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) might be used instead of trying to get nervine teas and sedating pills into them. Lavender oil can be massaged into the scalp at bedtime, or for restless infants place 10 gtt lavender EO on a cotton ball and tuck into the baby’s bedding. This would be especially effective when combined with a nervine foot soak or bath before bed. For nasal and respiratory congestion, steam inhalation with a few drops of EO of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), pine (Pinus sylvestris), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), or oregano (Origanum vulgare) dropped on top of the steaming pot of water can provide immediate decongestion. Repeat TID-QID, if possible. Take care not to overdo it with the quantity of EOs dropped on the water, otherwise the evaporating fumes might sting the eyes and be too strong in the nose.
All EOs are antimicrobial and might also be used topically to help treat infections. For gastritis or stomach upsets and nausea, place 10-20 gtt each of EO of chamomile (Matricaria recutita), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and mint (Mentha spp) on a warm washcloth. Rub castor oil into the child’s abdomen, cover with the warm EO cloth, and cover that with a warm towel and hot water bottle or heating pad. For bladder or kidney infections, place 20 gtt each of EOs of juniper (Juniperus communis) and sandalwood (Santalum album) in 1 Tbsp castor oil. Rub over the kidneys and/or lower pelvic area and cover with a warm compress. For sore throats, cold sores, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, place 20-30 gtt each of EOs of oregano and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) in 1 Tbsp poke root (Phytolacca americana) oil and rub into the throat, below the jaw, and around the ears. For lung congestion and pneumonia with severe coughing, prepare a strong tea of lobelia (Lobelia inflata) and add a single drop of thyme EO (it is painful and irritating on the skin with much more). Rub the child’s chest and back with castor oil, soak 2 thick cloths in the lobelia tea and place one under the back of the supine child and one over the chest. Cover with a heating pad and dry towels and blankets. This may be modified into a hydrotherapy treatment by placing the child’s feet in a tub of hot water simultaneously.
And last but not least, many herbs can be prepared into a variety of snack balls or “no bake” bars. The first step is to obtain the desired herbs in powdered form. This will not work for the really bitter herbs such as goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) or gentian (Gentiana lutea), but many slightly bitter herbs, such as dandelion (Taraxicum), Oregon grape (Mahonia), or burdock (Arctium lappa) root powders can be transformed into something tasty. And the bland green grassy herbs such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and many others are a piece of cake to turn into something almost as good as a piece of cake.
The basic technique is to take the herb powders and prepare something like cookie dough by mixing with nut butter and honey or maple syrup. From this simple start, any number of further amendments can be included to either contribute to the medicinal value or simply cater to the child’s tastes, or to vary the recipe from week to week. Such amendments include coconut, whey, cocoa, carob or maca powder, sesame seeds or other finely chopped nuts, fresh mashed banana or fruit purées, or finely chopped pieces of dried fruit. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) can become delicious medicines for children with immune difficulty. Nettles (Urtica dioica) and eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) can be transformed into a tasty allergy support medicine. Even chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus), turmeric (Curcuma longa), echinacea (Echinacea spp), and other strong tasting herbs can be doctored up to create something decent tasting.
Once a cookie dough-like combination of the herb powders, nut butter and maple syrup have been prepared, the dough can be rolled into balls, and then rolled in licorice powder, sesame seeds, or shredded coconut. These balls will keep 1-2 weeks and can be stored in small amounts in containers in the refrigerator, or can be individually wrapped. Alternately, a batch of the mixture can be pressed into an 8”x8” baking dish and allowed to firm up overnight in the refrigerator, and then cut into 1” squares.
Jillian Stansbury, ND has practiced in SW Washington for nearly 20 years, specializing in women’s health, mental health and chronic disease. She holds undergraduate degrees in medical illustration and medical assisting, and graduated with honors in both programs. Dr. Stansbury also chairs the botanical medicine program at NCNM and teaches the core botanical curricula, a position she has held for over 18 years. In addition, Dr. Stansbury also writes and serves as a medical editor for numerous professional journals and lay publications, plus teaches natural products chemistry and herbal medicine around the country. At present she is working to set up a humanitarian service organization in Peru and studying South American ethnobotany. She is the mother of two adult children, and her hobbies include art, music, gardening, camping, international travel and studying quantum and metaphysics.