Winter Wellness for Kids
by Jahwei Chen-Graf
Many parents struggle when their children fall ill during the winter months. When your little ones are unwell, it is easy to feel anxious and rush to the doctor at the first sign of a fever, cough or sniffle. While it is natural to want to protect our kids from serious illnesses, many winter colds are self-limiting and can safely be managed at home with diet, herbs and supplements. Unfortunately, antibiotics are still one of the most over-prescribed medications for children’s upper respiratory tract infections and while they can be very effective for certain bacterial infections, they are not effective for colds and flu caused by viruses. Although it is vital to get medical help when you feel unsure about your child’s health, it is also important to feel empowered to be able to administer simple home remedies for minor illnesses. In this article I will outline what to do in the case of fever, colds and coughs and suggest simple, kid-friendly lifestyle, nutritional and herbal advice to empower your family to heal naturally.
Fevers are understandably feared by parents and for this reason a fever is frequently suppressed using pharmaceuticals such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. In our panic at seeing our child unwell and hot, we forget that a fever is the body’s natural defense response to fight off infections. Fever is not a disease in itself and the rise in temperature actually helps the immune system to destroy the infection and slows the reproduction of viruses and bacteria.
Fever, is in fact, a strong and vital sign that your child’s immune system is working well and doing its job!
However, if at any time you are concerned about your child’s fever it is always best to consult your doctor or healthcare professional. Parents know their children best and can usually gauge when their child is in serious danger or not.
|Always consult your doctor if:
If the fever rises and persists over 101°F (38.5°C) it may be necessary to manage the fever by giving herbs that promote sweating and cooling of the body such as those in the children’s fever tea.
|Children’s Fever Tea
1 part elder flowers,
1 part linden flowers
1 part peppermint flowers
½ part catnip
½ part yarrow flowers
Use one heaped teaspoon of the mixed herbs per cup of freshly boiled water. Cover and infuse for 10-15 minutes.
The tea can be sweetened with a little fruit juice or honey and served as warm as possible to enhance the diaphoretic (sweating) action. Other herbs could be added to the tea depending on the symptoms, include hyssop, marshmallow, or meadowsweet. For best results, consult your clinical herbalist to have a blend custom made for your child.
Herbal Sponge Bath
Another way to lower your child’s fever naturally is by giving a tepid sponge bath using the above tea (make a strong infusion, strain, let cool and then add to the bath) or just sponge the child using a facecloth dipped into the tepid tea. If you don’t have the herbs to make a tea, even sponging with warm water will help lower the temperature.
Ensure Plenty of Fluids
One of the most important things during fever is to make sure your child is not getting dehydrated. Important minerals such as sodium and potassium are necessary for electrolyte balance. This is why giving an electrolyte blend is more effective than just plain water in maintaining hydration. Give the feverish child plenty of fluids.
Warm fluids will also encourage sweating and detoxification to bring the fever down. Food should be kept to a minimum. Your child’s appetite will naturally be suppressed during fever to conserve energy to fight the infection. Consider giving home made electrolyte blend, chicken or vegetable broths, miso soups, and warm herbal teas.
|Homemade Electrolyte Blend
1 quart of water
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of baking soda
2-3 tablespoons of honey or in a child under one year substitute maple syrup or sugar.
Juice of ½ a lemon
Let the feverish child drink 2-3 cups of this throughout the day. It will replace minerals lost through sweating and help prevent dehydration.
The Common Cold
Colds are usually caused by a virus, and for this reason, antibiotics are NOT an effective treatment for them. It’s comforting to know that a child with a healthy immune system will usually recover from a cold within 5-7 days without any specific treatment. However, supportive measures such as rest, fluids and a nutrient dense diet low in sugar will speed recovery. My favorite remedies for colds in children are Echinacea tincture and Elderberry Syrup.
Echinacea has been shown to increase white blood cell activity and stimulate immune response. It is highly effective in cases of colds and other upper respiratory tract infections and can forestall and shorten the duration of colds and flu. Echinacea works by stimulating immune cells to fight infection and increases the body’s ability to dispose of infected and damaged cells, and harmful bacteria through a process called phagocytosis (which literally means “to eat cells”). Echinacea has been shown to stimulate a type of white blood cell called a “macrophage” to recognize, target and engulf infected cells. I like to imagine Echinacea as a magic potion that activates Pac-man like “macrophages” to run around the body and eat up all the unhealthy cells.
How long should children take Echinacea for?
Research has shown that the stimulation of the immune system lasts only 10 days and is maximized between 3-6 days after the first dose. In other words, Echinacea may take at least one day before it “kicks in” and should be taken for about 48 hours after the symptoms of a cold, flu or infection disappears. After ten days, the immune system may become accustomed to large doses and the “phagocytic power” of the immune cells drops to just above normal. This research suggests that larger doses of Echinacea should only be taken as needed at the first sign of feeling unwell. Echinacea should not be taken continuously at large doses, but if required over a longer period of time, try taking the Echinacea in cycles- 10 days on and 5 days off.
Best form of Echinacea?
I prefer the alcohol-based tinctures to the glycerin-based extracts, which are often marketed for children. In my experience the 50%-60% alcohol and water extracts are stronger and better capture the active constituents of the plant. The amount of alcohol consumed is very minimal but if you are concerned, you could always add the tincture to a little hot water to evaporate off excess alcohol. I usually disguise Echinacea tincture into elderberry syrup for my kids. Make sure to use the right doses according to age. Both the roots of the Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea are effective medicinally.
|Echinacea Tincture Doses For Kids
2-5 years: 7.5 ml a day. Taken in divided doses this is ¾ teaspoon in a little water or elderberry syrup twice a day.
6-12 years: 10ml a day. Taken in divided doses this is about 1 teaspoon in a little water or elderberry syrup twice a day.
12+ and adults: 10-15ml a day. Taken in divided doses this is about a teaspoon in a little water or elderberry syrup 2-3 times a day.
Elderberries are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin A. These tiny purple berries also have potent anti-viral and immune-boosting activity, which makes them perfect for both the prevention and treatment of colds and flu.
Elderberry syrup is a wonderful remedy for children mostly because it tastes so delicious! My children never turn it down and I use it often to disguise the taste of other herbal tinctures. In my experience, a daily dose of elderberry syrup helps prevent kids from suffering the seemingly endless rounds of sniffles and coughs that circulate in the classrooms during the winter. Frequent hand washing with good old soap and warm water helps too!
|Simple Elderberry Syrup Recipe
1 cup of fresh or ½ cup of dried elderberries
3 whole cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon of fresh, chopped ginger
3 cups of water
1 cup of raw honey
Place the berries and spices in a saucepan and cover with the water. Simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Smash the berries. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and add 1 cup of honey. Stir well. Bottle and store in the refrigerator. It will last 2-3 months when refrigerated.
Give your child 1-2 teaspoons daily as a preventative and 1-2 teaspoons every 2-3 hours when feeling rundown or ill.
|Hot Lemon Ginger Garlic Tea
This is a time-honored recipe that is warming and soothing.
Bring 2 cups of water to the boil with about 3-4 slices of peeled fresh ginger root. If you don’t have time to boil the ginger, you can grate about a teaspoon of it and add it to the freshly boiled water.
Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and a clove of crushed garlic.
Optional: Add honey or maple syrup to taste
Plenty of fluids such as water, herbal teas of aniseed, catnip, chamomile, elder flowers, eyebright, spearmint and hyssop should be offered to the child with a cold.
A runny nose and head congestion can make a child feel pretty miserable. A favorite remedy for children who are old enough is to use an herbal steam (aged 5 and over).
Heat a large pot of water until steaming, add a drop or two of eucalyptus or peppermint essential oil, and have the child inhale the steam for 5-10 minutes until the sinuses open up. Cover the child’s head with a towel to increase exposure to the steam and instruct them to keep their eyes closed.
For younger children, a drop or two of the above essential oils could be placed in a humidifier in the bedroom.
A vapor type balm or oil can be made and applied to the chest and back to help loosen lung and chest congestion. Aromatic herbs such as eucalyptus, hyssop, thyme, peppermint, camphor and rosemary can help to relieve congestion, help with spastic coughs and relax tight muscles.
Be very careful using essential oils on very young children as the powerful oils can be irritating to the eyes and tender young skin. Always dilute appropriately.
If you want to avoid essential oils, a hot water bottle can be applied to the back between the shoulder blades to help loosen lung congestion.
A sore throat can be caused by any type of infection that affects the upper respiratory tract. Most are related to a virus, but sometimes sore throats can be caused by bacteria. The most common bacterial infection is streptococcus which can be seen in a throat culture. If your child has a fever, a very red sore throat and swollen glands, see your doctor or healthcare professional.
A combination of immune supporting, demulcent (soothing) and lymph moving herbs are useful to fight sore throats.
|Healing Throat Tea
1 teaspoon each of:
Slippery Elm bark
Take 4 teaspoons of the mixed herbs and add to 16 oz of freshly boiled water. Steep covered for 10 minutes. Strain, add honey if desired, and have the child drink it warm.
Like fever, coughs are a natural reflex that guards the respiratory tract from foreign matter that may block or irritate the air passages. Most often, coughing is a useful way to clear excess mucous from the respiratory passages. However, when a cough is ineffective and interferes with sleep and causes exhaustion from muscular effort or leads to vomiting, it is time to take action.
First of all, it is useful to determine whether the cough is dry and irritating or wet and productive and choose a remedy to fit the type and cause of the cough.
These herbs soothe the irritated mucous membranes and are called demulcents: licorice, marshmallow root, plantain, slippery elm and elecampane. Adding skullcap, crampbark, lemon balm or linden might help if the cough is caused by a nervous irritation in the throat.
|Dry cough herbal tea:
1 teaspoon each of licorice root, marshmallow root, aniseed, and cinnamon bark. Add to 16 ounces of cold water, simmer gently for 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten, if desired.
These herbs work to loosen and expel mucus from the chest and are called expectorants: hyssop, elecampane, thyme, aniseed and mullein are some examples.
|Wet cough herbal tea:
1 teaspoon each of mullein, thyme, aniseed, and plantain leaves. Pour 16 ounces of boiling water over the herbs and cover. Steep for 5 minutes, strain, and sweeten if desired
|Herbal cough syrups:
Either of the two teas can be made into a yummy kid-approved syrup by taking the strained tea, adding an equal amount of raw sugar and boiling for 5 minutes. Cool and bottle. Give 10-30 drops in a little water for infants, 3-4 times a day. For children give ½ to 1 teaspoon, 3-4 times a day.
The advantage of using sugar to make syrups is that it will keep longer without refrigeration. If you want to avoid sugar, you can add an equal part of honey to the warm tea (do not boil the honey). Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months and do not give to infants under one year (due to the risk of botulism in honey).
|Brandy, Lemon and Honey
A simple, old-fashioned and time-honored remedy for irritable, spasmodic coughs.
Combine equal parts of each and give one teaspoon as needed (up to 3 teaspoons a day to avoid getting the child drunk!). This is good to give at bedtime, as the brandy will help children become drowsy and sleep.
Recurrent illnesses in children:
Sometimes, despite our best efforts our children become prone to recurrent illnesses and infections. This could be a sign that something deeper is going on with a child’s immune system and special nutritional, herbal and emotional support may be called for. In these cases I would highly recommend a consultation with a naturopath or other holistic healthcare provider to treat the causes of decreased vitality. Depending on your child’s individual case, herbs such as Astragalus and Ashwagandha can be used to build deep immunity.
The forgotten art of convalescence:
A final word about wellness in these modern times…very often we look for a quick fix and magic bullets to cure. We lack the patience for the healing power of nature to do its work. The vital force, the immune system and the whole child needs adequate time to rest and heal after illness. Unfortunately, many parents cannot afford to take the time from their busy schedules to allow their child an extra few days off school to fully recover. This is detrimental to health and can contribute to the child relapsing into illness or worse still, suppress symptoms and drive the illness deeper.
Even though the symptoms of the illness are gone, it is advisable that a child rests for a full 24-48 hours after a fever/cold/sore throat etc before returning to school or usual activities. In our increasingly fast-paced lives it becomes vital to remember that convalescence is a powerful tool for our life-long health. Taking the time out now may save us from being forced to take time out in the future to deal with chronic and recurrent illnesses.
Best wishes for a healthy and happy winter with your children!
Bove, Mary, An Encylcopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants, 2001, New York: McGraw-Hill
Gladstar, Rosemary, Herbal Remedies for Children’s Health, 1999, Storey Publishing.
Hobbs, Christopher, Echinacea The Immune Herb!, 1992, Botanica Press.
Romm, Aviva J., Naturally Healthy Babies and Children, 2003, Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
Romm, Aviva J., Winterize Your Kids! Optimizing your health with Herbs, Diet and Common Sense, 2012, Webinar notes.
De La Foret, Rosalee., Herbal Remedies for Children During the Cold and Flu Season, 2012, e-book.
Jahwei Chen-Graf is a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist at HAALo specializing in women’s and children’s health. She can be directly reached at email@example.com.