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3 Herbs for Back to School Season

August 10, 2012

If you have children, and they’re anything like my siblings and I were, then right about now you’re probably hearing groans about how obscenely early the back-to-school adverts appear. Most of us, I would venture to guess, have a hard time transitioning from the freedom of vacation back into the scheduled rigors of work and school life. Add in the natural stresses of the social hierarchy of your typical school, and there may be some very good reasons for the pre-school season groans.

Mental stress is bad enough, but then empty a bunch of kids into one smallish space, and pretty much everyone comes away with some kind of bug within the first month or two. Sports, performances, homework—all of these activities could keep kids up late, and with that alarm sounding all too early during the school year, disturbed sleep patterns can also add to anxiety and illness.

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What can you do? Well, you know my answer already. Below are a few herbs you can try in order to get your kiddo mentally and physically prepared to transition back into the school year.

1. Catnip (Nepeta cataria):

Yup, that herb that gets your cat higher than the crowd at a Phish concert also works to relax the body and relieve stress and anxiety. A strong infusion (tea) of 2-3 teaspoons per cup of hot water taken at the onset of anxiety (or before bed) will induce sleep and relax anxiety and restlessness. For anxiety-related aches and pains such as stomachaches and headaches, catnip is immediately soothing (bonus: catnip is also a good decongestant as well). For chronic anxiety, try a supplemental dose by tea, tincture, or capsule. Follow package directions, remembering that those guidelines are for a 150lb individual; adjust accordingly.

2. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus):

Echinacea and goldenseal are probably the herbs you’re most used to associating with immune support. Echinacea is still a wonderful go-to herb, as long as you use it at the first signs of illness and keep up a relatively high dose as long as the patient is experiencing symptoms, but it’s not an herb to be taken over the long term. Goldenseal is not the safest choice for children, as it could be too much for a not yet fully developed liver. Besides, goldenseal is a plant at risk according to United Plant Savers, so finding alternatives is good environmentalism.

Astragalus is an immune-boosting herb with no toxic side-effects whatsoever. Plus, you can take a small dose throughout the cold and flu season (and, I would recommend, as soon as school starts) for immune system maintenance. Astragalus is antiviral and increases the number of stem cells in bone marrow, leading to a healthy white blood cell count. One note: if your child is experiencing a fever, curtail the astragalus, as it could prolong it.

3. Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus):

Eleuthero is an adaptogen, which means it helps the mind and body adapt to stress and ongoing changes in one’s environment; it also help prevent burn-out and mental exhaustion (sounds like just the thing for a day of middle school…).

Eleuthero can also increase breathing capacity, which brings more oxygen to the body which, in turn, increases athletic performance. It can also help the body burn more fat during exercise (note: you must take the herb for at least eight weeks for these benefits). Bonus: eleuthero is also an immune-booster. (Caution: avoid eleuthero if you have high blood pressure; also, avoid taking this herb too close to bedtime as it can be stimulating).


The school years can be hard enough on their own (god knows I wouldn’t go back and do it again…); herbs can give your child an added layer of mental and physical protection, stamina, relaxation, and the ability to focus.

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