My favorite herbalist, Samuel Thomson, wanted an herbalist in every home. He wanted parents to be able to take care of the health needs of themselves and their children. This is the God-given right of every parent, but it takes study and experience to be able to do it.
My wife and I have three children, ages eight, five, and one-and-a-half. If I have any "claim to fame" as an herbalist, it would be the fact that only the oldest has ever been to a doctor for treatment for a disease. With herbs, massage therapy, a little prayer, and a few other simple means, we have been able to take care of the health needs of our own family. From the time they were small we have used herbal and other home remedies when they were sick. In this article I'd like to share some of our experiences with babies and children under two.
This age group requires some special attention because their needs are not always considered in many herb books. You may have noted that many over-the-counter medications bear cautions which indicate that the preparation should not be given to children under two years of age, except under the advice of a physician. This caution is not without foundation. The systems of children under two are somewhat different from those of adults. I have read, for example, that small children have an alkaline digestive tract, while ours is more acid. Their livers and digestive organs in general (especially under the age of six months) are not as well developed. Also, their bodies are much smaller.
These special considerations, plus the general concern we feel for small children, often worry parents when they consider giving herbal or home remedies to their children.
Parents will often rush their children to the doctor for a minor injury or illness which they would be perfectly willing to tackle in an older child or adult. It takes some experience and a little common sense to learn what to do for small children when they are ill, but it can be done.
Of course, any serious or persistent health problem should be checked out by a competent physician. For a good guide to what is serious and what is not, get a copy of Dr. Robert Mendelson's book, "How to Raise a Healthy Child, In Spite of Your Doctor." Dr. Mendelson will allay some of your fears about minor illnesses in your children. He will also tell you how to recognize when the illness is critical and does require medical intervention.
Based on our own experiences, here are eight suggestions for giving home remedies to children
Suggestion No. 1
The best way to give herbs to a baby under six months of age is through the mother's milk.
The best food for babies under six month's of age is breast milk. Before this age, the liver and other digestive organs have not developed fully. Until children start cutting teeth, they lack the digestive enzymes and secretions to break down many of the foodstuffs we eat as adults.
Some health writers have suggested that the early feeding of solid food to children, especially the cooked, canned baby food, leads to the development of allergies, ear infections, diarrhea, and other infant health problems.
Since foods in general may cause problems at an early age, it is possible that many herbs might be difficult to handle at an early age. Hence, give the baby the herbs through the mother where possible. Let the mother's liver and digestive system process the herb for the child and let the child get what he/she needs through the mother's milk.
Besides, if a child seems to need an herbal remedy, then it is probable that the mother has the same problems. Often, clearing up the problem in the mother will automatically clear up the problem in the baby.
Of course, some mothers are not nursing, or occasionally an infant has troubles which seem to require some extra help. We have used herbs with our babies in these cases. Just be sure to consider the other suggestions below.
Suggestion No. 2
When small children need home remedies, use gentle, mild herbs.
Children's systems are more sensitive than those of adults. They have not had as much time for their bodies to become clogged with toxic debris and their systems to become atrophied and weakened. Hence, they do not require the strong remedies we adults often take. For example, if an adult has constipation, we often use strongly bitter herbs like cascara sagrada or heavy mucilages like psyllium husks. For small children, a little prune juice and some slippery elm would be better.
Suggestion No. 3
When babies do need herbal remedies, single herbs are preferable to combinations.
Again, because their digestive systems have not fully developed, babies aren't used to the complex mixtures of foods that adults are. In fact, in introducing solid foods to children, many health writers strongly recommend that you introduce only one food at a time so their digestive systems will get used to that food. The same advice would logically apply to herbs. Introduce herbs to children using only singles or very simple combinations.
Suggestion No. 4
Avoid giving alcohol to small children, where possible.
The liver has to destroy alcohol as a metabolic poison. Since children's livers are not fully developed, it would be wise to avoid this substance. Even commercial pharmacology is recognizing this problem, as I have seen advertisements for "alcohol-free” children's medicines. But if there is a problem and all I have available is an alcohol extract, I will use it and have had good results. I just prefer other forms.
Suggestion No. 5
Use rectal injection (enemas) to administer herbs children won't swallow.
It is often difficult to get children to take herbs because they do not like the taste. Even glycerine preparations, herbs mixed with honey, and other similar preparations are often too disagreeable for young taste buds. A simple solution to this problem is to make the herbs into a strong tea and inject some of the tea into the rectum using a bulb syringe. Many of the herbal constituents can be absorbed via the bowel. In a future issue I'll explain how to use enemas with small children for those of you who don't know how.
Suggestion No. 6
Feed your kids properly.
Instead of relying heavily on herbs to keep young children healthy, why not rely on their diet. Keep them away from sugar, salt, refined carbohydrates, soda pop, potato chips, ice cream, and all of the other "junk foods.” Then you'll help prevent them from getting sick in the first place. Get a good book on nutrition for children like Lendon Smith's "Feed Your Kids Right.”
Suggestion No. 7
Love is the best medicine.
The adage, "Food is your best medicine,” isn't quite true. It is well documented that a baby or young child can die from a lack of being rocked and cuddled. It appears that our immune response is directly related to selfesteem. A child who feels good about herself/himself has a stronger resistance to disease. They know they are worth fighting for and their immune systems respond accordingly. Frequent hugs strengthen the thymus gland, the seat of immune response. (The thymus is located in the center of the chest, so when you hug someone, you press your thymus against theirs.)
Holding, cuddling, rocking, comforting, back-rubbing, and other types of affectionate behavior speed recovery as much as any herb or medicine.
Praying for your children to get well is powerful, too. So if you want healthy children, feed them more than just food; feed them strong doses of the best medicine of all: Love.
Cow's Milk and Milk Substitutes
Cow's milk has many times more growth hormone than mother's milk. It has also been implicated in causing food allergies (even asthma) in children, and excessive growth rates. This will not be true of all children, of course. Certified raw cow's milk is best, but goat's milk is better.
Since most people will have trouble obtaining fresh animal milk, how about making your own out of nuts and seeds? Almonds have as much calcium as milk. A few can be blended in a cup of water. Strain away the pulp and give baby the results—you can have the pulp. Several kinds of nuts/seeds can be combined into one drink. Don't forget sunflower seeds. If you want to try sesame seeds, soak 6 tbsp. of unhulled seeds (if you can get them unhulled for the additional minerals) in a cup of water overnight. In the morning, put in the blender, add another cup of water and blend until smooth. Filter the solids for bottle feeding, or let him drink it all from a cup if he can.
Remember that broccoli, oranges, cottage cheese, collards, green beans, bone meal and spinach also carry plenty of calcium, too. Since we're looking for a balanced vitamin/mineral diet, you can always add dabs of other things like kelp, brewer's yeast (but just a little please), lecithin and various other supplements.
The idea is to use your blender to puree fresh, frozen foods that are easily digested and nutritious. But remember that baby doesn't need the strong salty or sweet tastes enjoyed by adults. Something quite bland can be satisfying and enjoyable.
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