Take Your Herbal MedicineBy Steven Horne

Our theme for this month is pregnancy, delivery and infant care and it’s such a broad topic that I just haven’t been able to cover it adequately. Our Sunshine Sharing and Herbal Hour this month focus on pregnancy and delivery, so I thought I’d write something about caring for babies and small children here in Nature’s Field.

When infants and children under the age of two experience health problems, most parents take them to the doctor. I think this is a shame. Not because I’m totally opposed to the use of modern medicine—I think there are times when a child needs to be taken to the doctor. No, it’s a shame because most of the time there are safer, cheaper and more effective ways of dealing with infant and toddler health problems than the drugs offered by modern medicine.

Many parents are afraid to use herbal remedies with babies and small children, but feel safe using vaccines, antibiotics and other medications prescribed by doctors. It strikes me as odd that people have become convinced that herbal remedies (which have been used by mankind for thousands of years) are dangerous and that these drugs are safe—especially when every few years another drug we were told was safe turns out to have some pretty negative consequences.

In my experience, herbal remedies are much safer to use than drugs, and parents that use them seem to have healthier children, in general, than parents who rely primarily on modern medicine. I’ve given herbal remedies to a newborn baby less than one day old as well as to older children and I’ve seen nothing but good results. I did this before I knew a tenth of what I know now about herbs and natural healing.

You can also safely use herbs with children under the age of two as long as you use some common sense and a little bit of know-how, which I’m about to share with you.

Basic Guidelines

Before providing you with a list of some of my favorite remedies for infants and small children, I want to share with you some common sense suggestions about using them. First of all, children under the age of six months have a very different digestive tract than adults or older children. Basically, their digestive tracts aren’t designed to handle solid food until they start cutting teeth. Also, children under the age of two have don not have fully developed livers. This means they have a harder time breaking down substances like alcohol, which means they may have a harder time detoxifying some of the compounds found in medicinal plants, too.

In short, young children’s systems are much more sensitive to herbal remedies than older children or adults. This means you should 1) use milder herbal remedies with infants and small children and 2) you should use very small doses.

For the most part, children under the age of two respond very well to mild, food-like remedies such as chamomile, peppermint, catnip, dandelion and slippery elm. These remedies also tend to be more pleasant tasting so it is easier to administer them. Stronger herbs, especially strong bitters and astringents, should be avoided, unless used in very small doses or as part of a formula where they are blended with milder herbs.

Young children also require herbs in liquid form. Small amounts of herbal teas are great for infants and toddlers, if you can get them to drink them. In my experience, it can be hard to get young children to drink an herbal tea unless you sweeten it. Stevia is a good herb to sweeten herbal teas for young children, as you aren’t going to create blood sugar problems for them by feeding them sugar water.

Honey should not be given to infants under the age of one because it can contain spores that will cause bacterial infections in the underdeveloped digestive tracts of infants. In the past, I used a little high fructose corn syrup to sweeten the tea, but I think that high fructose corn syrup contributes to the development of obesity, so I wouldn’t use it today. A small amount of Sucanat® or another whole sugar would be OK. Simply dissolve it in a little hot water before adding it the tea. However, the flavor is strong and infants might not like it. Furthermore, I still worry about feeding babies any kind of sugar as I think it contributes to blood sugar problems, sugar cravings and obesity later in life.

For children age one and up you can make an herbal syrup by mixing equal parts honey and water or whole sugar (Sucanat® or other unrefined sugar) and water. You bring this mixture to a boil and then add about 2 oz. of dried herbs per pint of syrup. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes. This mixture can be strained and then given by spoonfuls to children.

I don’t use alcohol tinctures with children under the age of two because of their undeveloped livers and besides, kids don’t like the taste of alcohol anyway. If I have to use an alcohol tincture, I try to evaporate the alcohol. You put the dose of the herbal tincture into the bottom of a cup and pour a small amount of boiling water over it. Stir it and let it sit for ten minutes. This will evaporate at least some of the alcohol.

My favorite dosage form for babies and young children is glycerites. I’ve done a lot of research on glycerine and it is a very safe substance to use and quite therapeutic in its own right. Although glycerine is not a sugar, it does have a slightly sweet taste, which makes glycerine-based preparations more palatable to children. Glycerine has been my friend when it comes to using herbs with young children. My directions for making sealed-simmer glycerites can be found at RaisingChildrenNaturally.com.


I’ve never been particularly fussy about dosages with kids. The fear over giving too much arises from the risks of overdosing with drugs. The kinds of mild herbal remedies I use with kids just don’t have that kind of toxicity. So, I follow two basic principles when giving herbs to small children.

The first is, I understand what kind of response I’m looking for when I use an herb. In other words, I’m trying to bring down the fever by promoting sweating, or I’m trying to loosen the bowel or breakup the congestion, or reduce the swelling or inflammation. Most people don’t have a clear goal in mind when they are administering a remedy so they can’t recognize when it is working.

So, I start giving small, but frequently repeated doses of the herbs until the desired action is obtained. I actually learned that doses of as little as 2-3 drops to as many as 15-20 drops repeated at 15-20 minute intervals for acute illnesses seemed to be pretty effective. If there is no sign that the remedy is working within two to three hours I switch strategies and try something different.

The second principle I use when giving herbs to small children is that I trust the instinct of their bodies. If the child seems to like the remedy and wants more I let them have more. If they have a real aversion to the remedy I switch to another remedy. This is because I believe that the natural instincts of the body are usually accurate. So, if the child’s body responds well to the remedy, they won’t mind taking it and may actually crave more.

Of course, this doesn’t work with infants, but with older children (three and four-year olds and up), I’ve actually given a bottle of an herbal formula to them. My experience is that they will only take so much and then they won’t want anymore and the amount they take always seems to be just the amount they need to get well.

For those who prefer to follow a formula in making dosage decisions, there are two methods to calculating a child’s dose based on an adult dose. The first is “Clark’s Rule,” which is to take the weight of the child and divide it by the weight of an average adult (150 lbs.). This is the fraction of the adult dose to use for the child. So, if the adult dose is 60 drops, then a 30 pound child would get 1/5 of the adult dose or 12 drops.

“Cowling’s Rule” is another dosage formula. This one is based on age rather than weight. Takes the child’s age on the upcoming birthday and divide it by 24. According to this rule, a two year old would take 1/12 of the adult dose.

Truthfully, I don’t think you need to be that precise. Remember that the kind of mild herbs you should be using with children are not powerful drugs but are high-powered foods. Give enough to get the job done, and if the child has a real aversion to the remedy don’t give it to them. Also, if you’ve been giving them a remedy and they’ve been tolerating it, but suddenly don’t want anymore, it’s time to stop.

If a child doesn’t take enough, the herb may not give any noticeable results. Some cases require extremely high amounts while others won’t.

As a starting point, here are my personal guidelines. For babies, doses are usually given in drops (1-5 of a glycerite) or as much tea as the infant will drink. For toddlers 10-15 drops of a glycerite is usually a good dose. Again, I find that for acute conditions, small frequently repeated doses work best. So, depending on the circumstances I usually give these doses every 15 - 60 minutes until the child starts feeling better.

Mom and InfantDosage Forms for Young Children

My Favorite Herbs for Babies and Small Children

Here are some of my favorite remedies for children under the age of two. I recommend that all parents with small children keep these remedies on hand. I’ve broken these remedies down into categories to make them easier to understand.

Aromatic Remedies

Aromatic and pungent herbs are used to stimulate circulation, improve digestion, expel intestinal gas, promote sweating (which brings down fever) and fight infections (particularly colds and flu). I don’t use strong stimulants like capsicum or ginger with children, but opt primarily for mild herbs like catnip, fennel, peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm and chamomile. My exception to this is garlic, which I use because it is such a good natural antibiotic.

Garlic (oil or capsules): Garlic oil is my favorite natural alternative to antibiotics. It is particularly good for respiratory problems like congestion in the lungs. I give infants a few drops of garlic oil internally and then rub it onto their chest. You can open up garlic oil gel caps by poking them with a pin; then squeeze some into a child’s mouth. Garlic oil can also be rubbed onto the chest, back, throat or feet. It will absorb through the skin and into the bloodstream when applied in this manner. You can also warm the oil to body temperature and use it as ear drops for ear infections.

Catnip (or Catnip and Fennel): Cats really love this plant, but it’s good for kids, too. Catnip is an aromatic nervine that settles the digestive tract, calms the nerves and helps induce sleep. Combined with fennel, it has traditionally been used to relieve colic in infants. It stimulates digestive secretions and settles an upset stomach, which has earned it the title “nature’s Alka-Seltzer” from some herbalists. Alone or in combination with herbs like chamomile, peppermint, yarrow and/or elder flowers, it is useful for colds, flu and fevers. Catnip tea has been used in an enema solution to help reduce high fevers in children. A catnip and fennel glycerite can be diluted in lukewarm water to use as an enema solution, too. I recommend parents keep a glycerite of catnip and fennel in their medicine chest.

Peppermint: This mildly stimulating herb has a pleasant taste that most children love, making it a useful flavoring agent and catalyst for children’s formulas. It helps to calm upset stomachs, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea and colic. I had a severely colicky infant with a spastic colon and found that a mixture of equal parts of peppermint and lobelia glycerites eased his digestive discomfort very rapidly. It is useful for colds, flu, respiratory congestion and headaches related to digestive upset, although I have seldom used it singularly for these problems.

I don’t recommend straight peppermint oil internally for infants and small children. You can, however, dilute it about 20:1 with a fixed oil (like olive oil) and give a dose of one to two drops internally. You can also rub it onto their stomach to ease digestive upset.

Bitter Remedies

Bitter herbs are generally used to remove stagnation and phlegm from the system. They can help reduce fevers, stimulate improved digestion, promote elimination of toxins from the system and help relieve skin irritation. Adults often use strong bitters like cascara sagrada, yellow dock and goldenseal. With young children, I opt for gentler acting bitters like chamomile (which is both aromatic and bitter), Oregon grape, dandelion, red clover and burdock.

Chamomile: This is one of the basic children’s remedies that every parent should be familiar. It is a bitter aromatic that helps the nervous and digestive systems. It has long been used as a remedy for colic, teething, nervousness, hyperactivity, upset stomachs, colds and flu in children. It contains a blue volatile oil, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. It helps calm some hyperactive children, but may stimulate others. Combined with licorice, it helps reduce intestinal inflammation and irritation. It is a particularly valuable remedy for infants and young children who are extremely peevish, fussy and distressed. Only one to two drops of a glycerite of chamomile are needed for infants. It can even be used homeopathically.

Oregon Grape: This is one of my two favorite blood purifiers for small children. I use it for skin eruptive diseases like rashes, chicken pox and measles both internally and externally. It is also a source of berberine, which helps the body ward of bacterial infections. I find it a better herb for children than goldenseal because it is milder and better tasting. If you combine it with a little licorice in a glycerite, it is quite palatable. It is also a useful aid for digestive complaints such as sour stomach, indigestion, constipation, dysentery and loss of appetite.

Dandelion: This bright yellow-flowered weed is my other favorite blood purifier for children. It acts as a mild diuretic to flush toxins from the kidneys and supports the liver in cleaning out the blood. It is useful for skin conditions, poor appetite, food allergies and blood sugar problems. I think the leaf (which is a milder remedy) is well suited for infants with urinary problems.

Antispasmodic Remedies

The remedies in this category are pretty strong and should only be used when they are needed to combat illness. They should also be used in small doses. The remedies in this category are strong detoxifiers and relax tissues to relieve spasms and some types of pain. I’ve used lobelia a lot with small children, but blue vervain will work for many of the same purposes and it is a milder remedy.

Lobelia: This is a pretty strong herb and some people even consider it dangerous, but I’ve used it with infants and toddlers and find it to be completely safe when used in small doses of 3-5 drops at a time. I use a lobelia glycerite with small children. With older children and adults, I use an alcohol extract. Lobelia is a strong relaxant. It can ease painful spasms associated with a colicky child. It is a great aid to any respiratory ailment where the child is short of breath or is having difficulty getting rid of mucus. It is nearly a universal remedy because it helps to clear obstructions in the lymphatic system. It aids respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, croup, pneumonia, laryngitis, and whooping cough. One of its best uses is to help stop an asthma attack, since lobelia acts as a bronchial dilator. Sometimes a person taking lobelia for asthma experiences vomiting, but afterwards they find themselves relaxed and breathing completely freely. When warmed to body temperature it can be dropped in the ear to help earaches. It can also be applied topically to ease pain or counteract the swelling of bug bites. Another great use for this herb is to induce vomiting in cases of food poisoning or flu to speed recovery.

Blue Vervain: This herb is often called a “cure all”. It works well for numerous childhood diseases. It relaxes the body and clears waste, easing tension and removing substances that may make healing difficult. Specifically this bitter tonic will bring down fevers, relieve pain, treat colds and flu and help other problems such as cramps, constipation, fever, headache, insomnia, jaundice and swelling. Use a few drops every hour or (a quarter to a half a dropper full) prior to bed.

Sweet Remedies

Sweet remedies aren’t “sugary.” They are remedies with a mild, sweetish or bitter-sweet taste. This category also includes herbs that are mucilaginous. Sweet remedies are used to strengthen weak tissues. They are nourishing and often soothing. Many tonic herbs and adaptagens could be considered to have a sweet flavor. Adult remedies in this category include American or Korean ginseng, dong quai and wild yam. These kinds of hormonal remedies should not be given to small children. Sweet herbs that are appropriate for small children include licorice, fennel, marshmallow, slippery elm and astragalus.

Licorice: This is one of my favorite herbs for children. In older children I use it to help overcome cravings for sweets and hypoglycemia. It is also a good herb for hyperactivity and dry cough. Licorice has antiviral properties, too. In infants and toddlers I use it primarily as an ingredient in formulas containing bitter herbs because it helps to mask the taste.

Fennel: This sweet, aromatic plant is one of the ingredients in the classic herbal formula for colic, catnip and fennel. It helps to relieve intestinal gas, improve digestive function, normalize appetite and cleanse the liver. Because it helps in milk production, it can be used to “sweeten” mother’s milk and make the baby less susceptible to colic. It also has a mild expectorant effect on children making it useful for coughs and congestion. I most commonly use it as part of the Catnip and Fennel combination.

Slippery Elm: This is an absolutely wonderful remedy for young children. It is mild, nourishing and one of the safest remedies I know. For infants, it can be sprinkled into the diaper to soothe an irritated bottom caused by diaper rash. A tea can be made for gastrointestinal irritation and diarrhea. You can mix it with applesauce or blend it with fruit juice or hot milk (or milk substitute) and give it to children suffering from diarrhea. It is a good remedy for failure to thrive in infants. I’ve mixed (you have to use a blender) it with Tofu Moo to make a food for failure to thrive infants. Just mix in a little Proactazyme before feeding it to them. Keep a little bulk powder on hand, as this herb does not make a good glycerite or tincture.

Sour/Astringent Remedies

These sorts of remedies are used to help arrest discharges such as diarrhea, excess mucus drainage and/or bleeding. They can also be applied to insect bites and stings. Stronger astringents for adults include white oak bark, uva ursi and bayberry rootbark, but I don’t use these with small children. Instead, I opt for red raspberry, yarrow, calendula, plantain or elderflowers. Remedies that are sour (which are usually made from berries) such as elderberry, rose hips, hawthorn or bilberry are perfectly safe for small children.

Elderberries and Flowers: This is another one of my favorite children’s herbs. The berries taste good enough to be a pancake syrup, but have valuable therapeutic benefits. Elderberry helps prevent excess mucus production, has a mild laxative and decongestant effect and has been shown to have antiviral properties.

This is one herb I find works best as a syrup, although I’ve also made it into a glycerite. To make the syrup, I gather fresh berries, cook them in a little water, squeeze them through cheesecloth to extract the juice and then preserve the juice with equal parts raw honey. An alternative way is to use dried berries, in which case you mix equal parts honey and water, add the dried berries and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, then strain.

Honey should not be given to infants under the age. I’d give elderberry syrup to my children whenever they were congested or suffering from colds or flu, but we’d also use it on pancakes and waffles. I’ve also made elderberry glycerites and added elderberries to formulas to improve their taste.

Elderflowers are also a valuable children’s remedy. They help to reduce fevers and inflammation. I typically combine them with yarrow and peppermint (and sometimes lemon balm and catnip) to make a formula I call Children’s Composition. This blend is talked about in my Dr. Mom-Dr. Dad course. It’s a great general remedy for fevers, colds, flu and other acute illness in children.

Red Raspberry: The leaves of the raspberry plant are an important herb for mom, not just the kids. Red raspberry is a very good astringent for bites and stings and can be helpful for arresting mucus discharge or diarrhea in children.Yarrow: This plant has long been one of my very favorite herbs for a long time. Like chamomile, it has a blue volatile oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory. It has been used to help wounds heal faster and as a remedy for colds, fever, toothache, upset stomachs and infections. It is a great remedy for fevers and wounds. By itself, yarrow is not very tasty, so children won’t take it, but when I combine it with peppermint or other aromatics to improve the flavor, it creates a great tasting remedy that children will take. (See Children’s Composition under Elderberries and Flowers above.)

Herbal Formulas and Other Remedies

In addition to the herbs I’ve previously mentioned, there are a few specific herbal blends and products that I’ve found work as wonderful remedies for small children.

ALJ: This is a wonderful expectorant and decongestant that has a little bit of anti-allergenic action. I’ve given it to children under the age of two who were congested and found it well-tolerated, even by babies. It loosens phlegm and helps them cough it out of their lungs. It also regulates the digestive tract.

Activated Charcoal: Although it isn’t an herb, I wouldn’t be without activated charcoal in my home first aid kit. In fact, anyone with small children around should definitely have this remedy on hand. It can be administered to infants by opening up a capsule and mixing it with some water and then giving it by the dropper full to the infant. For older children, just mix it with some water or juice and have them drink it or give it to them by the spoonful.

It is a very helpful remedy for mild jaundice in infants, especially when taken along with safflower tea. It is also a very good remedy for diarrhea and severe intestinal gas. Just be careful not to give too much as it can be constipating in large doses.

Activated charcoal can be administered in many cases of poisoning where a child swallows something toxic as it adsorbs many types of poisons. (Check with a poison control center before use, however.) It can be applied topically as a poultice for bug bites and stings, too.

Catnip and Fennel Extract: Although I mentioned this under the separate herbs, it bears mention again as a formula. A great remedy for colic and digestive upset in infants and young children. It is also helpful for fevers, especially when used in an enema.

Red Clover Blend: This is a great blood purifier formula that is very suitable for small children. It can be used for rashes, pox, hives or other skin conditions.

These are not the only remedies you can use for infants and young children, obviously there are many others. They just happen to be some of my favorites. As long as you are using the common sense guidelines I mentioned earlier, don’t be afraid to use herbal remedies for children under two. I’ve had great success with them and so can you.