During my 25 years of clinical practice as a naturopathic physician and herbalist, I've often had parents—especially new ones—ask whether herbs are safe for kids. Even if they themselves already used herbs, they weren’t sure where to start. Which herbs were OK for kids? And what would they be used for?
Many—though definitely not all—of the herbs that adults can use safely are also safe for children. Still, I recommend discussing any herbs with your pediatrician first.
Knowing the source of your herbs is also important, especially for children, whose bodies are rapidly growing and developing. Choose reputable brands that provide due diligence, such as testing for purity. And consult a health care professional if you have any questions or concerns.
Here, we'll look at five herbs in particular that have a reputation for being kid-friendly, from a traditional herbal medicine sense as well as from an evidence-based perspective:
1. Black elderberry
Black elderberry is a long-established tonic for immune support. These berries are high in many flavonoids, including anthocyanidins, known for their protective effects against oxidative stress and flu-fighting action.
It’s the perfect herb for both prevention and quick action, as research suggests it can improve flu symptoms in two days. Kids who always have a runny nose and cough—and perhaps allergies and tummy issues—might also benefit from several weeks of black elderberry syrup.
How to use: Syrup can be given straight off a spoon, mixed in juice, or made into a fun gummy. Use once a day for immune support and three to four times a day for the flu.
Note: While some species of elderberry are known to be toxic, commercially available products that specify "Black Elderberry" are suitable for consumption.
The immune-supporting herb Echinacea is actually two herbs: Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea.
The former’s roots or seed heads help fight a cold while the latter’s flowering parts support ongoing immune function. Research suggests that Echinacea can cut down on frequent sniffles, earaches, and other respiratory illnesses.
How to use: During cold and flu season, take once daily for general immune support or several times during the day at the first signs of a cold. (Pack it in your carry-on bag, too. Taking Echinacea before and during your flight may prevent travel-related respiratory symptoms.)
The tummyache remedy made famous in Peter Rabbit is also a popular herb for children. Chamomile flowers and essential oil have a pleasant taste, so their tea is particularly nice before bed to relax a child’s body, mind, and spirit. (Chamomile tea is also a soothing mouthwash for inflamed gums and canker sores, from braces or teething.)
Clinical studies suggest that chamomile could benefit symptoms of sleep disorders, anxiety, and stress-related dermatitis.
How to use: Drink 1 cup in the evening to induce deep, restful sleep. Diffuse 5 drops of essential oil to calm and uplift an irritable or cranky child.
Caution: Avoid if a child has a hypersensitivity to the Aster family.
4. Lemon balm
Lemon balm is one of the most uplifting and calming plants I know. Kids tend to love its zesty lemon aroma, and diffusing it can aid sleep, calm restlessness, and improve mood.
Lemon balm has long been used for kids’ digestive ailments, sleep issues, fever, and colic. In modern-day herbal medicine, this herb is also commonly used to calm restlessness and hyperactivity; reduce mild anxiety, nervousness, or agitation; and improve cognitive function and focus. Scientific research on lemon balm has upheld traditional use for cognition and mood.
How to use: Think of lemon balm as a soothing lullaby. Drink one cup nightly, or add to a child’s bath (it’ll calm and relax you both).
There’s a reason that ginger ale is the go-to for tummy trouble. Ginger has a long history of use in alleviating nausea and vomiting. The root’s volatile oils are responsible for ginger’s pungent odor and taste as well as the medicinal qualities. Modern research has supported its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and it has been found to help motion sickness.
Warm, pungent ginger is a perfect herb for upset tummies or bugs that include nausea and vomiting. For motion sickness, try a dose of ginger 30 minutes before getting in the car.
How to use: Add ginger to baked goods or drinks, or slowly sip as a tea when nausea is present. Alcohol-free syrups or tinctures can be served in 1 to 2 ounces of water or juice.