by herbalist, Joseph Nolan

Virtually all herbalists are general practitioners, but most - by chance or design - accumulate particular knowledge in a few areas. One of the areas I deal with a lot is paediatrics. I see a lot of kids.

The big issues tend to be eczema, molluscum, constipation and digestive problems - and nursery coughs, those intractable drippy cough colds that babies and little kids have from the day they start nursery until they go to school.

The nursery cough kids sometimes get ear and throat infections, repeated bouts of tonsillitis, or just endless rounds of coughs. They sometimes don’t appear bothered by the perpetual snail trails across their cheeks, and the coughing may only be a problem at night, but they are definitely 'not quite well' and herbs can help a great deal.

At home, 3-4 drops of eucalyptus oil on a diffuser helps get into the nose and down into the lungs, decongesting and disinfecting. My three-year-old gets the eucalyptus essential oil out anytime his nose feels stuffy. It’s anti-infective and smells refreshing, light and pleasant, and the E. smithii species particularly - although E. globulus works perfectly well too - is very well suited to children.

Nasty coughs can be helped even by a cup of tea made from good quality chamomile flowers (not supermarket tea bags). The relaxing qualities help the spasmodic coughing and relax an upset, ill-feeling child. Have one yourself too.

Other herbs that can be very helpful for poorly little ones include Elderflower, Meadowsweet, and Catmint. All of them work well for feverishness with sweating and chills.

For headaches, aching, sore throats, or probable pain, meadowsweet works very well.

For drippy green noses, elderflower helps to strengthen the membranes, relieving inflammation and repelling the viruses.

For miserable, upset, uncomfortable children, when there is a lot of unexplained crying or tantrums, you’ll want to hit the Catmint and maybe add some Chamomile to it. If the child is very young or a baby (or rebels at the idea of drinking tea) make up a strong litre of it and chuck it in a bath, maybe adding a handful of epsom salts too. Baths are a great way to get herbs into babies and children (and adults too for that matter).

For coughs specifically, Chamomile can help spasmodic coughing. A mild thyme tea can be great for helping to disinfect. Elderberry is wonderful for encouraging phlegm to come up, while simultaneously aiding the immune system and strengthening the respiratory tissues. I use elderberry for children and adults recovering from serious lung problems like pneumonia, to give the body a little something to work with while it rebuilds. You can use elderberry syrup/honey/glycerite, tea, or a hot drink with cloves and ginger and cinnamon. It’s lovely however you do it. For the adult set, elderberry wine is nice too.

For sore throats, a mild sage tea works well for slightly older children although it is a bit strong for babies and toddlers. Liquorice root sticks to chew, honey and lemon off a spoon (if you give your child honey/sugar), Chamomile (again!), and Meadowsweet tea all help with sore throat pain. Calendula tea helps with throat infections and is very useful when there is a history of tonsillitis.

To help prop up immunity during an illness, children’s vitamin C and vitamin D can also be useful, with extra doses for a few days. These two nutrients help the child’s immune system get on top of invaders and can be very helpful supplements taken at the age appropriate upper end of the recommended dose range for kids who get ill often.

There are many other herbs I use in practice with children, and it depends very much on the individual child what I will choose. Kids who have long histories of allergies, tonsillitis, bronchiolitis, ear infections, etc., will probably need more of a seeing to because their systems need more help to right themselves. But right themselves they do, and it’s a pleasure to see.