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Herbal Medicine for Kids: 5 Things to be Aware of When Using Herbal Medicine and 5 Herbs to have at Home
June 19, 2014
By Dr Corinne Harpster, ND Naturopathic Physician Bellevue, WA
Hi everyone, I am very happy to tell you a bit about two of my favorite things: herbal medicine and kids, enjoy!
Here is the simplified version of how botanical medicine came about:
Plants can’t run away, so to keep from being destroyed by the wildlife around them they have to come up with another way to survive. Their survival mechanism is often based on their chemical makeup.
Plan: make yourself so toxic animals won’t eat you.
Drawback for the plants: some of these toxins are incredibly useful as medicine when taken in smaller amounts. Sorry plants, your plan may work against some animals, but not so well against inquisitive, experimenting humans. (And some other fauna that use plants as medicine including bears, primates, caterpillars, ants…)
From the dawn of mankind plants have been used as medicine. In several traditional societies knowledge of plants as medicine has been passed down from generation to generation. This vast history influences modern botanical medicine use and has led to such pharmaceuticals as Digoxin (used for congestive heart failure), Metformin (used for Diabetes) and Quinine (for Malaria) among many, many others.
When used correctly the herbs deemed safe for use with children can help to quickly relieve health concerns and improve immune function without side effects that can be seen with other treatments.
Things to keep in mind about botanical medicine:
1) There are possibilities for negative interactions between herbal medicine and drugs:
prescription drugs and botanical medicine (example: licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.)
and Warfarin (Coumadin) licorice has been found to reduce Warfarin’s actions).
over the counter medications and botanical medicine (example: medications such
as Sudafed and Theraflu and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum spp.) can lead to a very dangerous rise in serotonin).
2) If you are not getting your botanical medicine from a reputable source you may be getting medicines that are high in heavy metals or you might not be getting the right plant at all. Some reputable herbal medicine companies (no affiliation) include but are not limited to: Gaia, Herb Pharm and Wise Woman.
3) While there are many botanical medicines that have centuries of use and several scientific studies behind them there are others that are unproven. That ‘latest and greatest’ fad you are reading about on the internet? Be skeptical. Do your research. Ask your medical provider about it before using!
4) Be careful of herbal preparations from countries such as China and India; while these countries have incredibly effective botanical medicine many of the current herbal medications being imported are high in heavy metals. It is of the utmost importance to get these herbs from a reputable source.
5) Be very careful using essential oils. Essential oils are a super concentrated form of botanical medicine and may cause severe neurological issues or even death if taken internally without the express instruction of a trained healthcare practitioner.
My top 5 herbal medicines to have on hand at home for use with kids:
Peppermint (Mentha piperita): upset tummies, coughs and colds, allergies, appetite stimulant, constipation. Use as a tea.
Chamomile (Chamomila recutita): issues sleeping or relaxing, upset tummies, appetite stimulant, topical for soothing the skin, diarrhea. Use as a tea.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): antiviral, antioxidant, immune support. Use as a glycerite or syrup.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.): Sore throats, antimicrobial, antiviral, immune stimulant. Use as a glycerite or tea.
Garlic (Allium sativum): Antimicrobial, allergies, parasites, regulating blood sugar, topically for ear infections, poultice for warts. Use as raw herb, in food and as a syrup made with sugar or honey.
Information included here or elsewhere on this website is not to be considered treatment or diagnosis of any particular disease or condition. Always consult your health care practitioner before undertaking any new health regimen.
An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants Bove, Mary McGraw Hill 2001
“Botanical Medicines to Support Pediatric Respiratory Health” Bove, Mary Integrative Practitioner 2013
“Herbal Supplements are Not What they Seem” O’Connor, Anahad The New York Times November 3, 2013
“Factors Associated With Pediatric Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine” Gurjeet S. Birdee, Russell S. Phillips, Roger B. Davis and Paula Gardiner Pediatrics 2010;125;249
“Seven Herbs Every Pediatrician Should Know” Kemper, Kathi Contemporary Pediatrics 1996; 13;12
“Animals Use Medicine, Too” Schultz, Colin smithsonian.com April 12, 2013