Children and Herbal Therapy

With its focus on preventive medicine, holistic approaches to health can
be most helpful in many of the common problems of childhood. If conditions
are brought under control during childhood they can often be avoided entirely
in adult life. Examples are asthma and eczema, both of which can start at
a very early age and become an ongoing theme throughout the persons life.
If treated successfully with herbs there is rarely a continuation of the
disease into adulthood.

Children have special needs and special plants address these needs. Whenever
possible focus upon the tonics and normalizers. The healing capacity of
children can be quite incredible. The most relevant remedies are pointed
out in each section below. Care must also be given to dosage, obviously
a lower dosage being used. For details of the standard pharmaceutical formulae
used to convert adult dosage to that appropriate for any particular age,
please refer to the preparations chapter or James Green’s Medicine Maker’s Handbook.

Possibly the most important consideration is the relevance of tender loving
care. Children respond to love and caring in wonderful ways. So do adults,
if they give themselves the chance!

A number of useful books have written about herbs for children, of which
I would highly recommend the following three. Each is colored by the authors
particular preferences and biases, but then who am I to comment on personal

Christopher, John R. Herbal Home Health Care. Christopher
Publications, Provo, 1984

Riggs, Maribeth. Natural Child Care. Harmony Books, New York, 1989

Scott, Julian. Natural Medicine for Children. Avon Books, New York,

Childhood Diseases

The so-called childhood diseases are viral syndromes most often seen in
children who lack immunity until they have recovered from the disease, and then rarely get the problem again. Usually not serious, they can cause severe fever and discomfort, and occasionally lead to serious complications. In adults, the same diseases can have different and more serious manifestations. Some of the commonest are outlined here, but please refer to the end of this chapter for a discussion of mumps.

Digestive System

There are many herbs that are appropriate for treating digestive problems
in Children. Carminatives are especially important. Of the many possibilities,
please review these remedies and ensure their various actions are familiar
to you:

Althaea officinalis (Marshmallow)

Anethum graveolens (Dill)

Chondrus crispus (Irish Moss)

Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet)

Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel)

Gentiana lutea (Gentian)

Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)

Melissa officinalis (Balm)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint)

Pimpinella anisum (Aniseed)

Rumex crispus (Yellow Dock)

Symphytum officinale (Comfrey )

Ulmus fulva (Slippery Elm)

Treatments outlined in the chapter on digestive problems are relevant here.
Please refer to the following sections:


Although rarely seen in breast fed babies, it is not abnormal for breast
fed babies to have bowel movements as infrequently as one in seven days.
Treat breast fed infants for constipation only if the child appears to have
pain and cries during the bowel movement. The indications for treatment
in bottle fed babies or young children include:

  • Painful passage. Pain during bowel movement is abnormal and in
    some cases trauma to the anal canal can lead to anal fissure. This is confirmed
    by finding bright red blood around anus or on toilet paper.

  • Inability to pass stools. Children who feel the need to have
    a bowel movement and are unable to do so. The exception is infants less
    that 12 months of age who grunt push, or strain, and become flushed in the
    face during bowel movements. This is normal behavior as long as the episode
    is not accompanied by pain.

  • Infrequent movements, going more than four days for young children.

If bowel movements are accompanied by much pain, abdominal bloating and
crying it is important to refer for skilled diagnosis to rule out conditions
such as Hirschsprungs disease, impaction, etc..

It is inappropriate to use laxative remedies with children unless absolutely
necessary, as constipation almost always responds to dietary changes. For
babies over six months of age you may add strained apricots, prunes, pears
to the diet. For older children try:

  • Increase intake of water.

  • Increase fruits and vegetables particularly raw foods with peels such
    as figs, raisins, pears, apricots, beans, celery, cucumber, lettuce, apples.

  • Increase fibre by using whole grain cereals or making bran muffins.

  • Decrease constipating foods, e.g. dairy products, white rice, bananas,
    cooked carrots, white flour.

  • Use Psyllium seed preparations in children over two years of age.

  • Flavored cod liver oil.


The number and consistency of stools varies a great deal. Loose stools are
normal in the breast fed infant. If baby is vomiting and having more than
8 watery stools there is danger of dehydration and loss of electrolyte balance.
Refer the child if there is blood in the stool, abdominal pain causing crying
for over two hours, or signs of dehydration such as lack of turgor, depression
of the anterior fontanel, or dry mucous membranes.

Consider it diarrhea if the number and fluid content of the stools has dramatically
increased or exceeds 10 per day in the child under one year of age. Infection
with Shigella, Salmonella and Campylobactor will often result in blood flecked
diarrhea. Ampicillin will sometimes result in diarrhea, however the most
common cause is mild viral infection.

A number of the astringent remedies are particularly suitable for children.
Possibly the most useful is Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). Unfortunately
whilst available it is not widely stocked in North America. Tell your herb
supplier they need to carry it! These herbs are also helpful for children

Geranium maculatum (Cranesbill)

Euphrasia spp. (Eyebright)

Solidago virgaurea (Golden Rod)

Verbascum thapsus (Mullein)

Plantago media (Plantain)

Rubus spp. (Raspberry)

Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary)

Potentilla tormentilla (Tormentil)

Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)

Rosemary Tea (quoted from Natural Child Care by Maribeth

Rosemary is antispasmodic and astringent, so a mild tea made from this herb
is excellent for infant diarrhea. The antispasmodic property relaxes painful
abdominal cramping and the astringent quality helps tighten the lower intestine
and solidify the stool.

1/4 oz. Rosemary

1 cup water

  1. Combine Rosemary with the water in a covered pot, bring to a boil and
    simmer for 5 minutes.

  2. Take the pot off the heat and steep the herb for 15 minutes.

  3. Thoroughly strain out the herb through cheesecloth and discard it.

  4. You may see some essential oil floating on top. Stir this back in and
    cool the tea to tepid before serving. Do not sweeten. Refrigerate the unused
    tea and reheat with each use. Discard remaining tea after 3 days.

Application: Bottle-feed an infant suffering from diarrhea 1/4 cup
of tea 3 times each day, for 3 days, or until the diarrhea is checked. Most
infants do not like the taste of the tea, so you may have to use a teaspoon
or sterile dropper to administer it. Diarrhea in an infant can become a
serious condition owing to dehydration. If the diarrhea is severe, dehydration
can occur in less than 24 hours. If mild diarrhea does not improve after
3 days or treatment, or if the diarrhea is severe, with frequent uncontrolled
bowel movements and painful cramping, consult a physician.


In addition to the information given for functional dyspepsia in the chapter
on the digestive system, an overiding issue must be taken into account for
children – TASTE! If they don’t like the medicine they won’t take it, and
medicinal plants only really work if they are actually taken. The following
from Ms. Riggs is an example of what can be concocted if taste is taken
into account.

Fennel and Orange Peel Tea

These carminative oils stimulate intestinal peristalsis, the wavelike contractions
that move food through the intestine and promote the expulsion of gas from
the gastrointestinal tract.

1 Tbl. Fennel Seed

1 Tbl. dried sweet orange peel

2 cups water

honey to taste

  1. Combine the Fennel seed, orange peel and water in a covered pot.

  2. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

  3. Strain out the herbs and discard them. The tea is light green in color
    and smells mostly of Fennel.

  4. You may see some essential oils floating on the top of the tea. Stir
    the tea to recombine the oils before serving. Keep any unused portion of
    tea in the refrigerator and reheat for each use. Discard any remaining tea
    after 2 days.

Application: Serve this tea as warm as is comfortable for the child,
since heat aids the intestines to expel gas. Sweeten it with honey to taste.
Most children enjoy the taste of this tea. Give the child 1/2 cup of tea
every 2 hours whenever he or she experiences stomach pain from gas. If the
child continues to complain of stomach pain after drinking 1 or 2 cups of
the tea, check for other possible conditions, such as diarrhea, constipation,
or gastroenteritis.

Respiratory System

Nervous System

A few of the many nervine remedies offered by Nature are especially appropriate
for problems of the nerves in children. Please review these remedies, ensuring
that their actions are familiar to you:

Nervine Tonics

Avena sativa (Oats)

Hypericum perfoliatum (St. John’s Wort)

Scutellaria spp. (Skullcap)

Verbena officinalis (Vervain)


Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop)

Lavandula spp. (Lavender)

Leonurus cardiaca (Motherwort)

Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)

Melissa officinalis (Balm)

Tilia spp. (Linden)

Trifolium pratense (Red Clover)


Eschscholzia californica (Californian Poppy)

Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)

Treatments outlined in the chapter on nervous system problems are relevant
here. Please refer to the following sections:

Meribeth Riggs provides us with another example of a well formulated and
effective suggestion for herbal treatment of children. Here is a formulation
for over excitability, anxiousness or mild insomnia:

Infant’s Calming Herbal Bath

1 qt. water

1 oz. dried Lavender buds

1 oz. dried Camomile flowers

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a covered pot.

  2. Remove the pot from the heat and add the herbs, being sure to cover
    the pot again. Let the herbs steep in the hot water for 20 minutes.

  3. Strain and discard them. The bath tea is dark yellow and smells pleasantly
    of Lavender.

  4. Pour the tea into an infant bathtub and add enough warm water to fill
    it. The herbal bath should be as hot as a normal bath for the infant.

Application: Make sure the room is warm before the bath. Place the
infant in the bathwater and hold him or her reassuringly, humming and crooning
all the while. Soak the infant in the bath for at least 10 minutes. Do not
try to wash the infant during an herbal bath. Gently pour the water over
the belly and legs and just let the infant play and splash. Use this bath
as often as necessary to reassure and calm an upset, colicky infant.



Diaper Rash

Cradle Cap (Seborrheic Dermatitis)



Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection)

Urinary System

Bedwetting (enuresis)

Night dryness should occur between the ages of 3 and 7 years with slightly
older norms for males. Bedwetting affects about 5 million Americans including
between 2 and 4 percent of adults. Bedwetters share specific characteristics
the most prominent being unusually deep sleep patterns with decreased amounts
of REM sleep. Other tendencies include lowered threshold for stress, and
need for affection, and reassurance. Most `experts’ feel that no organic
disease or defect is present in 98% of bedwetters.

Children who wet the bed may do so for emotional reasons. They may feel
insecure due to the arrival of a new baby, a change of school or because
of the parents’ marital problems. In these cases, the child needs love and

Sometimes bedwetting occurs because of lack of nervous control of the bladder.
In this case, give an infusion of 1 part each of horsetail, St. John’s
wort, Cornsilk, wild oat, and lemon balm. Give half a cup three times
a day, and try to give the last dose well over an hour before bedtime.

Traditional approaches to bedwetting include (excluding the more barbaric

    • Lifting and waking the child to toilet at night, but this further
      deprives the child of needed REM sleep and may aggravate the problem.

    • Waiting for the child to outgrow the problem. As the child grows older
      the statistical chances of outgrowing the syndrome decrease. Also other
      stress patterns may arise, such as adult bruxism.

    • Decreasing fluid intake at night. Some statistics show that this will
      aggravate the problem in a true bedwetter.

    • Holding back bladder exercises. This has little affect
      on enuresis but can increase daytime control.

    • Pad and buzzer, a moisture sensing pad buzzes and awakens
      the child. 90% of older children or adults who seriously undertake this
      technique on their own will have success with it.

  • Regular bedtime routine. These children need regularity and more
    sleep. They do better if put down at the same time each night leaving time
    for at least 8 hours of sleep.

  • Outdoor exercise. This fatigues the child in a healthy natural way and
    helps regulate sleep.

  • Decrease stress, easier said than done! Use encouragement rather
    than punishment. Make sure the emotional environment in home and school
    is supportive.


Normal body temperature ranges between 96.5 and 99.0 degrees F. (35.8-37.2
degrees C.), depending on the individual and the ambient conditions. At
night the temperature is about one-half a degree higher than in the morning.
Rectal measurements are almost one degree higher than those taken by mouth

Fever, the elevation of body temperature above normal, is a valuable sign
to follow through the course of an illness. Its onset may be the first indication
that something is wrong, its disappearance a sign that things are improving.
Consequently, fever should not be treated before its cause is known unless
the patient is uncomfortable or the temperature is greater than 102 degrees
F. Although brain damage may occur with extremely high temperatures, it
is rare at temperatures below 105 degrees.

  • Document the temperature by measuring it every four hours while awake.
    Be sure to shake down the thermometer before using, and remember to keep
    it under the tongue with the mouth closed for three minutes. Use a rectal
    thermometer for infants. You may want to keep a record of the temperatures
    for your doctor.

  • Encourage intake of liquids. Higher temperatures account for greater
    body fluid losses through sweating and evaporation.

  • Cool compresses across the forehead and under the arms are soothing
    when the temperature is high. Hourly sponge baths can be given to infants
    and small children to keep the temperature below 104 degrees. Fill the tub
    with an inch or two of water at around body temperature. Rinse the child
    for ten to fifteen minutes, allowing the water to run off.

  • Dress warmly, but don’t overdo it.

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

Explore Wellness in 2021