School-year health tips

Oh boy! School’s been in session for a while now and the weather is beginning to change. Sitting in classrooms all day and not getting to play outdoors is taking a toll on your child’s body (not to mention his psyche!). The excitement he may have had about his new backpack, lunch bag and cool clothing has all but vanished only to be replaced with piles of homework. Let’s face it — your child is stressed out. This means that his immune system is vulnerable to viruses and bacteria.

Parents, too (especially moms) can begin to feel a little anxious as the spelling tests, math quizzes and book reports need to be completed. And concerns ranging from “Is my child making new friends?” to “How do I teach my child to handle that bully?” begin to surface and can really heighten that sense of worry.

At this point you may be asking, “What can I do to keep me and my child from catching colds and flu?” “What can I give my children to relieve their nervousness about their social situations or passing tests?” Or “What can I take for my nerves?”

Good news! There are MANY herbs that help both kids and parents strengthen their immune systems and quell their nerves.

Prevention is best!

As a trained and certified herbalist (and a practical mother of seven) I am a firm believer that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. I encourage parents to adopt the enlightened practice of using herbs to nip that cold, flu or nervousness in the bud, before it has a chance to blossom into many days of missed school and inflict untold misery.
My suggestion is to keep one or two excellent immune herbal tinctures blends* on hand to administer to your children (and yourself) at the first sign of an illness. A drippy nose, sneezing, achy-ness or an emotional shift means it is time.  Nerves, tension and anxiety suppress the immune system, thereby increasing ones’ child’s  vulnerability to the viruses and bacteria that just love to ‘hang-out’ in classrooms.I make herbal blends to fit the exact symptoms as they arise but for those of you who do not have a ‘personal herbalist’ it’s a comfort to know that there are commerically available herbal blends that work wonderfully.

One of my favorite herbal immune tinctures for kids is David Winston’s Healthy Kids Compound. And for adults, I like David Winston’s Immune Adapt (a Fu Zheng formula).

When and how to take herbs

Herbs can be given morning and evening when the person is well, but should be increased to three or four times a day if the person seems to be coming down with an illness. All members of the family should begin taking herbs if one member of the household begins to show signs of an illness. It is also a good idea to take immunity building herbs when a dramatic change occurs in the schedule or when an emotional challenge comes up in the family. Generally speaking, schedule changes and negative emotions are stressors; stress weakens the immune system. This is preventative medicine at its best.DOSAGE: Depends upon the age and weight of the person. Common dosage of an adult is 25 drops; children range from 5-15 drops.

View Sara Chana’s “Giving Herbs to Children” (click on video, below)

Giving Herbs to Kids

Nervous tension and stress

For kids and parents who are nervous or having trouble sleeping I suggest Skullcap and Lemon Balm. They can be mixed together or taken separately. Skullcap is best used for nervous tension and anxiety feelings; you can feel the calming effect within 20 minutes of taking this herb. It works wonders for children who are anxious and fearful (please note: Skullcap should not be mixed with psychotropic medications such as Prozac, Ativan or Zoloft). Lemon Balm is a calming and relaxing herb. It is also anti-viral. It can be given after school if a child is unable to relax, or at the first sign of a cold. This herb is gentle and very soothing. Finally, most importantly, remember to breathe. When the nervous system becomes agitated and anxiety is nipping at your heels, stop running. Turn around. Sit down. Breathe slowly and deeply.

SkullcapHerbalist & Alchemist Skullcap Glycerite
Lemon BalmHerbalist & Alchemist Lemon Balm Glycerite


1) H2O: The first is a jug of purified water that kids need to bring to school every day and be encouraged to drink! Dehydration makes concentrating difficult, which in turn makes it difficult for a child to transition well. Hydration is an easy and inexpensive way to help a child succeed academically and socially.

2) FOOD: The next thing is to give your child snacks to take to school that contain oats or nuts and you should be able to read and understand what the ingredients are! I really am impressed with Kind bars. They are easy to carry around and quick nutrition for kids who do not have nut allergies. For kids with allergies and especially nut allergies I am super impressed with the products made from EnjoyLife. Their products are wholesome,very tasty and convenient for kids to eat at school.

3) AVOID: Stay away from MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) – also called tortilla yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured vegetable protein. MSG is an excitotoxin in the brain, meaning that it over-stimulates the brain, causing the production of excessive amounts of dopamine. This creates a drug-like rush that provides a brief sensation of well-being. In the process, though, brain cells are destroyed. Studies show it can impair memory retention.

Q. My four-month-old daughter is physically ready to start eating solid foods but breastfeeding is still going well and I think I want to delay the introduction of solids a little longer. Is there any advantage or disadvantage to waiting a little longer? How do I know when I should start feeding them real food?

A. There are so many variables when it comes to breastfeeding. Different problems can occur for babies and for mothers so individual assessments are often required regarding the introduction of solid foods if breastfeeding is not going well. If however, breastfeeding has been going well for you and your child, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and homoeopathist, Sara Chana, says that four and a half months is way too early.

In Chana’s experience, parents and pediatricians often rush the introduction of solid foods because they’re worried about the appropriate weight gain or getting the right nutrients. In her twenty years as a lactation consultant and working with thousands of babies, she usually recommends delaying solids until around nine months (unless there are complications with breastfeeding).

“Each person’s individual and I hate generalizing but if I’m forced to generalize, I would say feed a child when they can sit up straight on their own and when they have between four and eight teeth,” explains Chana. The presence of teeth shows that the child is able to eat and digest solid foods properly, according to Chana.

According to Dr. Jack Newman MD, IBCLC, many babies can grow properly and get all of their essential nutrients exclusively from breastfeeding until they’re a year old so there is no reason to rush them onto solids. Dr. Newman agrees with Chana in that parents shouldn’t introduce solids until their child is ready. It can be difficult to tell when your child is ready, because babies often go through a phase of oral curiosity around six or seven months. During this phase, babies will put anything and everything in their mouths and parents can mistake this for hunger. A good test of whether or not your child is ready or interested in solids is if they can differentiate between a dirty shoe and a cracker; “you’d be surprised how many times they choose the shoe,” says Chana. Chana also explains that one of breastfeeding mothers’ most common mistakes is thinking that their older baby (around six or seven months) is not getting enough milk. More often than not, they are getting enough, they are just so proficient at feeding and it happens so quickly, that mothers assume their child isn’t getting any milk.

Breastfeeding and weaning is an individual, case-by-case issue so do what feels right for you and your child. It can be helpful to consult with a lactation consultant if you have concerns.

In my practice, I often get calls from clients worried that their baby or they themselves have a fever. I respond quite differently than their doctors do. I say, “Hurray! I am so proud of you; your immune system is doing exactly what it needs to be doing. You are so strong.” Next I teach them what can be done to comfort a person with a fever. I want a person to be as comfortable as they can with a fever, but I do not want to get rid of the fever until the body is ready for the fever to stop.

The fever is not the illness; it is just a reaction the body is having to an intruder (be it viral or bacterial) that has entered the body.

Dr. Stuart M. Copperman, M.D., a pediatrician who was in private practice for 35 years, writes, “Fever is a friend, not an enemy. It is a sign of the body fighting infection—fever is helping your child get well—be alert and aware, but don’t panic.”

Dr. Mary Bove N.D. teaches about fever in this way. She says that the brain detects an intruder entering the body. The brain then sends out a detective to analyze the type of invader that is present. The detective reports back to the brain. The brain then sets a temperature sufficient for killing off the bug. Let’s say the brain chooses the temperature of 101.5, the body begins to get hot, and the person gets cranky and achy. If you give Tylenol or Motrin at this point the fever drops but the fever was not allowed to do its job! The brain must now say, “I felt the intruder would be killed at 101.5 but I still detect the intruder, I must now set the internal thermometer higher, lets say to 102.4.” The body then begins to get hot again. If you once again give Tylenol or Motrin the cycle begins again. After suppressing fevers many times the body responds one of two ways, either producing a spiking fever or the body just stops trying to heal itself. What then can happen is that the child (or adult) gets into a cycle of the body no longer protecting itself with a fever or the person goes from illness to illness.

Robyn Landis, a medical researcher writes, “The persistence of the myth that fevers commonly cause brain damage keeps many parents medicating small children with suppressive drugs in an effort to deal with a symptom that is really a healing response of the body. By suppressing that healing mechanism, you prolong the illness. The growth rate of certain microbes (the bad guys) is impaired at specific (hot) temperatures. The immune system also responds to the increase in body heat by increasing white cell (the good guys) activity and mobility.”

Dr. Mendelsohn explains that “fevers caused by common viral and bacterial infections will not exceed 105 degrees. Most cases of brain damage with fever have resulted from meningitis or encephalitis, both of which can cause brain damage independent of fever. Even in the small number of children who have seizures with high fevers (the number of children is extremely low), the seizures themselves are apparently usually harmless, and contrary to popular belief, they occur due to the speed of the temperature rise, not the temperature itself.”

So now that we have learned that a fever is a blessing, what should we do? First of all, kiss your child and tell the child how proud you are that his/her immune system is working so well. Next, take your child to your doctor to get a diagnosis. You can find out if the source is viral or bacterial. Most children can fight both bacteria and viral infections.

Next, do not push food on a child with a fever. Yes, it is important to make sure the child stays hydrated with liquids, but the child does not need food! Offer the child broth soups, grape juice, herb teas, or water with lemon (yes, you can add honey if the child is over 1 year old).

Herbal treatment can be very helpful. The herbs of choice will either help the body to sweat while keeping the temperature as high as it needs to be, or the herb may calm and relax the child; some herbs will also help make the child feel cooler. Below is a list of the herbs I find most helpful with fevers.

  • Yarrow — will produce a sweat in your child and will prevent the fever from going too high
  • Catnip — is cooling, relaxing and calming
  • Elderflower — will also produce a sweat and is given if nasal congestion and a cold are present
  • Hyssop — can be used in fevers associated with respiratory infections and coughs
  • Chamomile — is always helpful with a fever; it helps in reducing the fever, and helps the child to relax, rest, and sleep
  • Peppermint — (although most herbalists prefer spearmint with young children) is given for the fever associated with stomach aches; it will soothe the stomach and help cool the body

These herbs are easiest given to children in tincture form. My favorite company is Quantum. You can also give these herbs in a tea form. Another idea is to make herbal popsicles with the herb tea (and it is okay to add honey if the child is over 1 year old).

You can also get pure essential oil of rosemary, lavender or peppermint and add 3-4 drops in your palm with some lotion and massage the child’s feet and back 3-4 times per day. These essential oils will help reduce the fever and help comfort the child.

Have a healthy and productive winter. And happy healing.


— The temperature is higher than 104 and the child is not responding to treatments
— The child refuses to drink after the first 24 hours of a fever
— The child acts confused or loses consciousness
— The child has rolling of the eyes or body twitching
— The child is under six weeks old
— There is a persistent fever accompanied by a severe headache and stiff neck


Q. Please give me some suggestions for winter coughs.

A. I love the herbs marshmallow, wild cherry bark, elecampane, lemon balm and thyme. These herbs can be used singly or in combination.

Q. What kind of coughs are these herbs for?

A. Marshmallow is an emollient that means it soothes irritated throats and lungs.

Wild cherry bark is for spasmodic coughs — coughs that comes in spells.

Elecampane is one of the worst-tasting herbs but it is my absolute favorite. It is an expectorant which means it helps the lungs get rid of mucus.

Lemon Balm is a wonderfully gentle herb used for viruses and to calm an aggravating cough.

Thyme has essential oils that help calm coughs. It works as an expectorant to help the mucus leave the lungs and opens the airways that are irritated.

Q. Are these herbs safe for kids?

A. Yes, all of the above mentioned herbs are safe for children and adults.

Q. How would I administer these herbs to children?

A. I like the caregiver to put the herbs into a glass cup. Put about one-half teaspoon of grape juice over the herbs and then give the herbs with a medicine dropper.