Your child is sick and you’d like to try administering herbs rather than drugs. The reason is obvious: you correctly ascribe to the notion that most medicinal herbs are safer and have less potential side effects than drugs. One problem: your child, like most, is resistant to taking anything unfamiliar and has already taken a firm stand against a variety of foods most adults consider tasty, such as mushrooms, fish, tomatoes, vegetables, etc. Getting children to take herbs with strange flavors and textures is no small feat.
Unfortunately there’s not a one-size-fits-all resolution to this problem but the following is offered to provide a number of approaches. With a little luck, one may just work.
Teaching young children to swallow pills
Most kids under the age of 6 have difficulty swallowing pills (in fact, I’ve encountered several adult patients who are unable to swallow pills). If they are willing to learn, you can demonstrate how by putting the pill or capsule in the back of the throat and swallowing with a little fruit juice. Another alternative is to purchase a special PILL TAKERS CUP manufactured by Maxi-Aids. It is available online for about $3.50 and many consider a worthwhile investment.
If you can’t get the herb in the child, put the child in the herb! (Herbal bath, that is.)
Our skin is actually a natural filter able to mostly keep out what we don’t need while absorbing what we do. In fact, one very famous French herbalist, Maurice Mességué, (the most famous mid 20th-century European herbalist) based his entire career on treating celebrities, royalty, and heads of state such as Winston Churchill by prescribing alternately a 20-minute hand soak in a strong warm herbal tea each morning and the same with a foot bath in the evening (Of Men And Plants by Maurice Mességué, 1973). He actually would recommend using the same tea several days in succession, warming it each time before use.
Many times I’ve been able to bring down an acute fever in an infant or small child by mixing a strong tea of willow or white poplar bark into bath water. It usually works after the first bath, but if needed it can be repeated more frequently. I’ve found the results of this to be as fast or faster than OTC drugs. Both willow and white poplar have fever-reducing methyl-salicylates similar to aspirin but also combine many other anti-viral, anti-bacterial constituents as well.
I have also been able to heal people of some ill-understood or unyielding acute condition while in the hospital where medicinal herb teas or pills were forbidden based on liability issues. I simply moistened a cloth saturated with the appropriate herbal tea and laid it on their abdomen overnight. If the hospital will permit, a heating pad or hot water bottle can be laid over the top of the fomentation to assist absorption.
Children’s Dosages for Oral Medicines
Still there may be circumstances and times where it is necessary to give an herbal tea or extract by mouth. The best way to do this is to first determine the therapeutic dose appropriate for a small child as opposed to an adult dose. Keep in mind however, that within reason, determining the minimum therapeutic dose for the milder herbs commonly given to young children (such as plantain, licorice, chickweed, willow bark, wild cherry bark, ginger, cinnamon, raspberry leaf, lemon balm, chamomile, elderflowers, dill, echinacea, anise or fennel seed, etc.) is of more concern than whether they are harmful. It is best to start out with a small dose to note any possible reaction before increasing to the full therapeutic dose.
When the adult (age 12 and over) dose is 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) of tea, the following is recommended for children:
- Younger than 2 years – 1/2 to 1 teaspoon
- 2 to 4 years – 2 teaspoons
- 4 to 7 years – 1 tablespoon
- 7 to 11 years – 2 tablespoons
When the adult dose is 2 droppersful (60 drops), the following is recommended for children:
So far as giving an alcoholic extract, Julian Scott recommends rubbing about three times the normal dose directly onto the skin of child’s abdomen three or more times daily (Natural Medicine For Children by Julian Scott).
- Younger than 3 months – 2 drops
- 3 to 6 months – 3 drops
- 6 to 9 months – 4 drops
- 9 to 12 months – 5 drops
- 12 to 18 months – 7 drops
- 18 to 24 months – 8 drops
- 2 to 3 years – 10 drops
- 3 to 4 years – 12 drops
- 4 to 6 years – 15 drops
- 6 to 9 years – 24 drops
- 9 to 12 years – 30 drops
If a child is nursing, the mother can take the full adult dose and the medicine will be quickly carried to the child through the mother’s milk (Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar).
Not all herbal medicines have to taste bad
An herbal confection is made by grinding raisins, dates, apricots, and walnuts mixed with honey, maple or rice syrup. You may use some nut butter (peanut, almond or cashew) in place of the fruit/nut mixture mentioned above. Add your selected herb powders and some shredded coconut and mix well. Roll into small balls and coat with with carob or coconut. Store these in the refrigerator.
Teas can be diluted with fruit juice and frozen in ice-pop trays for herbal-fruit popsicles.
Glycerites and glycerin-based tinctures are particularly suited for children and taste much better than pure alcohol tinctures. Keep in mind that most commercially produced glycerites will contain at least 20% alcohol to help them remain shelf-stable.
Ayurvedic medicine most commonly prefers herbal powders to teas and alcoholic extracts. These herbal powders are called churnas and are taken by mixing them with honey or syrup. Sometimes a smaller amount of clarified butter (ghee) is also added which along with the honey not only aids the flavor but the assimilation of the herbs in the intended parts of the body.
Many ancient classical Chinese herbal formulas call for the addition of a small amount of licorice and jujube dates as ‘˜harmonizing’ agents in an otherwise gnarly tasting brew. Herbal teas and extracts can be nicely sweetened by adding a few drops of the non-caloric South American sweet leaved herb, Stevia rabaudiana. Most teas and extracts can be made more palatable with the addition of a few drops of anise seed or vanilla extract, maple syrup or honey.
Making Friends with Herbs at a Young Age
Young children should be introduced to the value of herbal remedies from a young age; it all begins with learning creative methods of administration and improving flavor. Ideally you want to avoid traumatizing your child that might create a lifelong aversion to herbs and natural healing. It is good to share your experience with using and taking herbs with your children from a young age learning how to administer them so they at least appreciate how they can help them feel better.
The best book for this endeavor is A Kid’s Herb Book by my wife, Lesley Tierra.This book includes a blend of practical information with a number of fun hands-on activities, herbal projects and preparations, stories, songs, and myriad ways to use 17 of the most common herbs for a variety of ailments. It includes a number of easy, kid-friendly recipes for cough medicine, rose petal jam and basil pesto, all of which are intended to get kids to recognize that herbs are not only a good thing, but they are also fun.
The notion that one must take one’s “bitter brew” as a form of atonement for some moral transgression for which disease was a punishment is a throwback to a harsher time when women were supposed to endure the pangs of childbirth because of original sin and disobedient children were routinely beaten. Disease is not a pleasant experience, but as much as possible we should try to alleviate any unpleasantness associated with treatment. It is part of the herbalist’s art to adopt ingenious delivery and flavoring methods to make remedies more palatable, especially for children.