Why head for the pharmacy when you can go straight to the source? Many pharmaceuticals are derived from super-healthy herbs that can give your family a natural immune-system boost. Here, some of our favorites:
- Elderberry syrup is great to keep on hand, says master herbalist Jessie Hawkins, author of The Handbook of Vintage Remedies. “It’s safe to take regularly for immune system support,” she says. “Plus, kids don’t mind the taste, which is similar to blueberry.” Give your kids a teaspoon of the syrup daily for cold prevention, or one teaspoon every four hours when they’re sick, unless the manufacturer’s directions state otherwise.
- To beat congestion, put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil, a natural anti-inflammatory, in a pot of boiling water, then have your child inhale the vapors, suggests herbalist Christopher Hobbs. For best results, put a towel over her head to create a steam tent.
- Remember how good it felt when your mom rubbed ointment on your nose and chest when you were a kid? Use essential peppermint oil to get the same results, only without the mess. Put a tiny dab under your child’s nose or around the edges of her nostrils—just tell her not to touch her eyes, and be sure to wash your hands after (if you get the stuff in your eyes, it’ll sting).
- Hawkins recommends slippery elm bark (available in tablet form) for sore or scratchy throats. Slippery bark contains mucilage, which becomes a slick gel when it comes in contact with saliva: Have your kid dissolve a tablet in her mouth to coat her throat.
- Some people swear by echinacea, claiming it shortens the duration and reduces symptoms of a cold or flu. Although the herb’s effectiveness hasn’t been proven, it’s perfectly safe to try. Hobbs suggests drinking echinacea tea several times daily at the first sign of a cold (five to ten drops of echinacea mixed with tea for kids six months to two years, ten to 20 drops for kids ages three to six, 20 to 30 drops for kids seven to ten, 30 to 40 drops for kids 11 to 14, and 40 drops for older kids).
Before you turn to herbs as remedies, Hawkins suggests talking to a master herbalist. “If you’re unsure of the herb, or you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, wait until you consult with a professional,” she says. If your kids do get sick and you want to use a homeopathic remedy in addition to herbs, try Boiron Oscillococcinum (oscillo.com)—it’s safe to give kids over two, and it’s been shown to reduce flu symptoms