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Keeping Kids Healthy

The kids have been in school for only a few weeks but already have runny noses and coughs. Are there any herbs that would help to keep them healthy and resist all the new bugs they get exposed to in the classrooms? Changes of season and exposure to new kids and new germs in the classroom environment make keeping our children healthy challenging. Preschoolers and kindergarteners seem to pick up everything. Some kids are more susceptible to illness if they have preexisting conditions such as asthma and allergies.

I have previously recommended taking echinacea before an airline flight to help boost immunity, and I think the same would be good for kids before or just as they are starting the school year. I make a formula of echinacea combined with astragalus and reishi mushroom to support the immune system. It can be taken for several weeks or at the first sign of a cold until symptoms diminish. Regarding what types of preparations are best, I recommend teas, chewable tablets and glycerine rather than alcohol tinctures.

For the sniffles, I like to make a tea of Mormon tea (Ephedra viridis) which grows here in Utah and does not contain the "speedy" ephedrine found in the Chinese plant, Ephedra vulgaris. Peppermint and ginger can slightly increase secretions to work as a decongestant. Marshmallow root tea can help ease a scratchy throat.

For chest congestion, garlic can be useful: In the same way that its odor comes out of our skin and breath, it also gets excreted through the lungs, which will move any congestion. Osha, licorice, pleurisy root and elecampane can help more severe bronchial problems, but a qualified practitioner should recommend and adjust dosages. Children from 2 to 7 should take 25% of the adult dose; between 7 and 12, 50%. If the condition worsens or creates concern, consult a doctor.

The best way to stay healthy is to live healthy. We can do a lot for our kids by providing a whole foods diet and making sure they get the good rest and exercise essential for health. Digesting processed foods and fats taxes the body and creates extra physical stress. Sugar, food colorings and additives like MSG can cause wide energy swings and might interfere with learning ability. Even mild food allergies to dairy or wheat can interfere with a child's health.

If your child is one of the many with asthma and allergies, take extra care to avoid the triggers. An ear, nose and throat doctor told me that he has seen the frequency of sinus and ear infections go up with the increase in pollution in our valley. A new study reported on National Public Radio showed that kids exposed to diesel fumes on the bus are more prone to get chest colds. I suggest using appropriate herbs at the first sign of a flare up at the onset of a temperature inversion. Depending on the case, I might recommend yerba mansa, licorice, goldenseal, dandelion leaf and lobelia.

With hectic family schedules, social challenges on the playground and scary events like September 11th, we need to do all we can to ease our children's stress. I especially like to use lemon balm to relax and calm a child, when sleep won't come because of a busy mind.

Our kids are being bombarded from all directions. The best defense is to address and manage the small ills before they get bigger. Herbs are good for that.

Merry Harrison is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
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Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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