Back to School; Herbs for Healthy Kids

It’s August.  The hottest days of summer are upon us and the kids have settled into a new routine of lazy mornings and days full of endless possibilities.   August also reminds us, everywhere we look, that the return to school is just around the corner.

If your kids are anything like mine, this results in lots of groaning and complaints about how it can’t possibly be the end of summer yet.  Most of us, I would guess, find ourselves with the hard task of transitioning from the freedom summer holds, back into the scheduled rigors of work, school, and extracurricular life.  Add in the stress of dealing with everything that goes along with it (from homework, to new teachers, change of seasons, to harder workloads, etc) and there might be some good reasons for the pre-school return groans.

I was mulling this over my cup of tea this morning, taking in the sights and sounds of my herb garden (while admittedly daydreaming about the school bus’ magical return) and got to thinking…  how great would it be if we taught our kids, from a young age, that yes oranges have lots of vitamin C, sugar isn’t good for you, vegetables are your best choice, and beans are full of protein… but also teach them how peppermint leaf and ginger root can help sore tummies feel better, Echinacea can help stimulate their immune system, and mullein leaf can soothe an irritating cough.

So what can you do to make the transition this year a little easier?  I think it’s safe to say you know my answer already.  Now that school is looming on the horizon, why not take the time to introduce to our kids how valuable herbs can be to their everyday health and wellbeing.  The beginning of the new school year can be stressful, exciting, or a huge relief… depending on whether you are the parent or the child.  Daily routines change dramatically, sleep is disrupted, sports are added to the mix, and homework begins again.  By incorporating some key herbal supplements into your child’s daily routine, a more successful and less stressful year lies ahead for your whole family!

The following are a few herbs I use so that my kids are both mentally and physically ready to get back into the school routine:

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Yes, the herb that gets my cat Stanley higher than a kite will also work to relax little bodies and relieve their stress and anxiety.  A strong infusion  (2-3 tsp dried herb per cup of hot water) taken at bedtime or when they feel anxious will induce sleep and relax any anxiety or restlessness.  Catnip works well for anxiety-related aches and pains like stomachaches or headaches and as a bonus it is also a decongestant.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

The herbs you’re probably most used to correlating with supporting your immune system are Echinacea and Goldenseal.  Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is a great go-to herb – but you need to use it at the first signs of any illness and keep up a relatively high dose as long as symptoms are present.  Echinacea is not an herb to be taken long-term.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), while great for infections, aiding digestion, earaches, and upper respiratory congestion, is not the safest choice for kids since it can be too hard on their not yet fully developed liver.  It is also only recommended for short-term use, as over time it will build up mucus in the body, causing irritation and inflammation.

Astragalus is a great immune enhancing herb that has no toxic side effects.  It is an adaptogenic herb that also helps to reduce the effects of stress and aids adrenal function.  I recommend taking a small dose at the start of the school year and throughout the typical cold and flu season.   This herb is also an antiviral, that increases stem cell numbers in our bone marrow, leading to a healthy white blood cell count.  It is important to note:  if your child experiences a fever, curb the astragalus as it could prolong it.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

This herb is also an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body and mind adapt to stress and any on-going changes in your environment.  Eleuthero also helps to prevent burnout and mental exhaustion (making it a great choice not only for those kids who feel school is overwhelming but for middle school teachers everywhere 😉

Eleuthero can enlarge your breathing capacity, in turn giving your body more oxygen and as an added advantage improved athletic performance.  It’s also a great immune booster.  A caution, avoid giving this herb to your kids too close to bedtime as it can be stimulating.

Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinale)

When kids are overwhelmed and exhausted from those first weeks back at school, rosemary can bring some much needed relief.  A nervine and member of the mint family, this herb contains antibacterial essential oils regularly used to stimulate and energize the mind, and deliver excellent support to the immune system.  Rosemary is used to relieve mental exhaustion, ease headaches, and stimulate digestion.  You can prepare rosemary as a tea or try adding a few drops to a warm bath for your kids to relax in.  Do not use rosemary essential oil on children under 6 years of age.  Ayoung child’s immune system is not fully developed and rosemary can contain high amounts of menthol or 1,8 cineole (a chemical component offering strong therapeutic properties) which can cause slowed respirations in some children.  As well, other than for culinary use, mama’s who are pregnant should avoid rosemary – this herb is an emmenagogue and can stimulate the uterus.

School can be tough.  Aside from a healthy diet, lots of fresh air, exercise, and plenty of sleep, if needed herbs can be used to give your child an added layer of mental and physical protection, stamina, relaxation, and the ability to focus on the tasks at hand.

Yours in health,

Farrah

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