The hottest days of August are upon us and the kids have hopefully been enjoying a summer of lazy mornings and days spent outdoors full of endless possibilities. This month is typically the time that reminds us, everywhere we look, the return to school is just around the corner. Depending on where you live, you might be looking at a return to classes, have already started back, or are gearing up for another term at online learning.
Most of us at this time of year find ourselves with the hard task of transitioning from the freedom summer holds, back into the scheduled rigours of work, school, and extracurricular life, and now add the additional level of fear being spread around the Covid19 virus and our stress levels are already high.
In our house there have been plenty of discussions on how best to handle the approach to the school year and this morning I got to thinking… how great would it be if we taught our kids, from a young age, that yes oranges have lots of vitamin C, sugar isn’t good for you, vegetables are your best choice, and remember to wash your hands… but also teach them how peppermint leaf and ginger root can help sore or anxious tummies feel better, Echinacea and elderberry can help stimulate their immune system ahead of what will be an exhausting cold and flu season, and mullein leaf can soothe an irritating cough.
So, what can you do to make the transition this year a little easier? I think it’s safe to say you know my answer already. Now that school is looming on the horizon for many, why not take the time to introduce to our kids how valuable natural medicine can be to support their everyday health and wellbeing. The beginning of this new school year will be stressful, exciting, or a huge relief… depending on your family’s choices this fall. Regardless of in class or online learning, daily routines change dramatically, sleep is disrupted, sports are being reintroduced into the mix, and homework begins again. By incorporating some key herbals into your child’s daily routine, you give them the tools to support and nourish their bodies no matter what their day looks like.
The following are a few herbs I use so that my kids are both mentally and physically ready to get back into the school routine. This is not an extensive list and there are plenty of other options, but these are great choices to start with.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Yes, the herb that fires up my cat will work in kids with the opposite effect to relax little bodies and relieve their stress and anxiety. A strong infusion (2-3 tsp of dried herb per cup of hot water) drank at bedtime or when they feel anxious will help induce sleep and relax any anxiety or restlessness. Catnip works well for anxiety-related aches and pains like stomach aches or headaches and as a bonus it is also a decongestant.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Astragalus is a great immune enhancing herb that has no toxic side effects. It is an adaptogenic herb that also helps to reduce the effects of stress and aids adrenal function. I recommend taking a small dose at the start of the school year and throughout the typical cold and flu season. This herb is also an antiviral, that increases stem cell numbers in our bone marrow, leading to a healthy white blood cell count. I love to simmer this into a bone broth and add some reishi mushroom for that extra kick. It is important to note: if your child experiences a fever, curb the astragalus as it could prolong it.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Elderberry is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants - namely two flavonoids, quercetin and rutin. These flavanoids prompt the immune system to step-up its production of cytokines, which are a category of small proteins that are important for cell signalling and immune response against inflammation and infection. The berries also contain water-soluble compounds called anthocyanins that produce an anti-inflammatory effect, which may explain why elderberry is effective in reducing fever. We love it in my cold and flu syrup, warm mixed into water with a bit of honey and drank before bed, as well as in herbal gummies that my kids take daily throughout the colder months.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
This herb is also an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body and mind adapt to stress and any on-going changes in your environment. Eleuthero also helps to prevent burnout and mental exhaustion (making it a great choice not only for those kids who feel school is overwhelming but for middle school teachers everywhere 😉. Eleuthero can enlarge your breathing capacity, in turn giving your body more oxygen and as an added advantage improved athletic performance. It’s also a great immune booster. This is a favourite to add to tinctures and syrups. A caution - avoid giving this herb to your kids too close to bedtime as it can be stimulating.
Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)
When kids are overwhelmed and exhausted from those first weeks back at school, rosemary can bring some much-needed relief. A nervine and member of the mint family, this herb contains antibacterial essential oils regularly used to stimulate and energize the mind and deliver excellent support to the immune system. Rosemary is used to relieve mental exhaustion, ease headaches, and stimulate digestion. You can prepare rosemary as a tea or try adding a few drops to a warm bath for your kids to relax in. Do not use rosemary essential oil on children under 6 years of age. A young child’s immune system is not fully developed and rosemary can contain high amounts of menthol or 1,8 cineole (a chemical component offering strong therapeutic properties) which can cause slowed respirations in some children. As well, other than for culinary use, mama’s who are pregnant should avoid rosemary – this herb is an emmenagogue and can stimulate the uterus. I always have this plant growing year round and even having it close by to run your hands through and breathe deep can do wonders for your mood.
School and work/life balance and all the crazy that is coming with it this year will be tough – no matter what side of the fence you are on with this virus. Aside from a healthy diet, lots of fresh air, exercise, and plenty of sleep, there are a variety of herbs that can be used to give your child an added layer of mental and physical protection, stamina, relaxation, and the ability to focus on whatever is thrown their way in the months to come.