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Kitchen Pharmacy: Home Remedies for Simple Childhood Ailments

By Melanie Cardwell, HNH, Ir., ITEC, MAMH, Reiki Master

One of the best gifts we can give our children is that of good health, as well as our love, guidance and support to enable them to develop into healthy balanced adults. ‘Prevention is better than cure’. From building a strong immunity for life with breast feeding from birth, to eating as organically as possible, preparing fresh food from scratch so you know what goes into it … including your loving vibes in the preparation so it’ll taste even better! The importance of a healthy digestive system is the key to having and maintaining good health, so what we put into our own and our children’s bodies is as vital as what comes out – every day. Avoid highly refined and processed foods, which ‘clog’ the body, sugars and fizzy drinks. Sugar inhibits the ability of the immune system to destroy bacteria. Did you know that just two teaspoons is enough to diminish the immune system response dramatically, whilst it also consumes calcium, stripping the body of one of its most necessary minerals, especially in growing children?

As a mother and herbalist for almost 20 years, I have had the fortunate experience of aiding my daughter’s health and mine in a natural way. I’ve also had the pleasure of helping many children in my clinics over the years. I believe a wholistic approach to healing and health is vital to acknowledge that mind, body and spirit are all equally important elements of good health. Being parents, our children’s health is so important and we want to be able to take care of them in the best possible way. It is our right, as parents to do so and knowing how to do that in a natural way by working with natural remedies, not only empowers us, but also helps us re-connect to Nature and the natural world. In our busy, modern technological society, we have the chance to explore and help our children to harmonise with Nature. Too much time is spent with technology (computer games, PC’s and TV) and not enough time climbing trees and enjoying the changing seasons (playing with autumn leaves, building snowmen). Becoming aware of the plants around you when out on walks with your children, identifying and picking them, and learning how to make simple remedies together, is all part of a well being process. In our modern world, it’s easy to forget that plants and natural healing have been used with success since the beginning of time.

Many herbal remedies are now readily available in health shops, chemists, and even supermarkets yet you may be surprised how many foods and herbs already found in most kitchens are also very useful for various childhood ailments and simple first aid. Imagine how useful it would be to know what soup to give to soothe a cough or sore chest; how to be able to ease a sore throat with an effective gargle made from everyday kitchen ingredients; or how to bring relief to an upset tummy with the right choice of herb tea or a simple massage with essential oils. In fact it’s only in the last few decades that we have got out of the habit of treating ourselves with plants and herbs and have come to rely so much on doctors. If you think about it, you’ll probably find that you already use quite a few natural remedies without even realising it – lemon and honey for a sore throat, for instance, prunes for constipation, or vinegar to treat a wasp sting.

Nature is the greatest laboratory on Earth. There is such a varied array of plants and trees, each having it’s own unique formula. At home there is a huge amount you can do with herbs and foods without actually regarding the practices as medicine. Primitive people just picked and ate plants in their raw, natural state.

We can be a bit more creative in the use of Mother Nature’s wonderful gifts of healing:

Infusion: Herbal teas generally consist of leaves, flowers, and seeds and are a particularly good way of introducing children to herbs.  

Decoction: Similar to an infusion but uses the harder parts of the plant, like nuts, barks and roots, which need to be heated for longer.

Herbal Syrups: This is an infusion or decoction, to which 100% pure maple syrup or honey is added to preserve it. This makes it more palatable to children.

Onion & Garlic Syrup – excellent for immunity and respiratory problems! Liquidize organic onions and garlic with a good quality honey or maple syrup. Add one tablespoon of lemon juice to preserve and blend. Decant into a glass jar and seal. Will be ready in two weeks. Another more instant method is to simmer the onions and garlic in the honey on low heat for up to an hour, then cool, strain and decant.

Compress: A herbal infusion or decoction applied externally, hot or cold, using a piece of natural cloth like cotton, gauze or a towel. Simply dip a piece of cloth, in proportion to the area of the body you want to cover, in the prepared liquid. Wring out any excess and apply to the affected area. A hot water bottle can also be applied over the compress to help it retain its heat.

Herbal Oils: Making your own herbal oils couldn’t be easier. Place your chosen herb into a blender with a little extra-virgin olive oil (100g herb to 400ml oil) and liquidize. The cutting of the herbs will release the essential oils into the base oil. Shake regularly and strain after two weeks. Decant and label it. Try making several different oils for use internally and externally?

Other forms of ‘Natural Treatment’ include Steam Inhalations and Essential Oil Burners. Essential oils have therapeutic benefits and can aid the healing process, when added to hot water (i.e. baths).

You can find remedies in your garden, kitchen cupboards or local fields and hedgerows. Here is a list of a few essential, useful Kitchen Pharmacy ingredients and common herbs to get you started.  

Apple

‘An apple a day … really does keep the doctor away!’ A glass of juice a day can help destroy viruses and detoxify the body.

Pureed apples aid digestion, prevent constipation and reduce cholesterol.

Grated apple makes a great poultice for sprains and mixed with natural yoghurt it eases diarrhoea.  

Bicarbonate of Soda

Traditionally used as a raising agent for baking, it offers extremely effective relief from bee stings. Extract the sting, make into a paste with water and apply.

A similar paste is helpful in reducing inflammation and irritation from nappy rash.

Cabbage

Bruise a leaf and apply it as a poultice to bruises and swelling, as well as drawing out infection from cuts and boils.

A bruised leaf placed on the breast, will help relieve mastitis.

A warm cabbage compress reduces headaches when applied to the forehead.

Fresh cabbage juice helps upset tummies, chest infections, sore throats and even helps mouth ulcers.  

Chamomile

Excellent as an infusion for its calming effects on the body and mind and helpful for insomnia, digestive upsets and teething.

Bathing the eyes with a cold infusion will help treat conjunctivitis and sore eyes.

A drop of essential oil mixed into a carrier oil like sweet almond or olive, makes a perfect massage oil for babies and small children – helping skin conditions too. Rub a little on their cheek when teething.  

Dandelion

Apply the fresh white sap to warts regularly to eliminate them.

An infusion of the root and /or leaves is a great tonic for the digestive system and helpful for the kidneys and urinary infections.

Include the leaves in salads for their nutritive and digestive properties.  

Elder

One of Nature’s classic ‘flu’ remedies! Use alone or m/ix elder flowers with peppermint and yarrow for a mild infusion at the onset of colds and fever.

Elderflower compress is soothing for sunburn, nappy rash, sore itchy eyes and the infusion applied externally, helps skin problems and inflammation.

Hot elderberry tea is a good gentle laxative for constipation.

Elderflower and berry syrup is a wonderful daily tonic against colds and chest infections during the winter.  

Fennel

An infusion made from the seeds will ease colic, indigestion, constipation and flatulence.

Eaten raw or lightly steamed, fennel bulb is also a wonderful digestive aid.

As a syrup, the seeds are useful to treat wheezing, coughs and shortness of breath.

It promotes the flow of breast milk in nursing mothers – either as a tea, when eaten or the essential oil used in massage.  

Ginger

Add a hot ginger tea to bath water to help treat chest colds, flu and fever.

Taken internally, an infusion will calm an upset tummy and ease colic and spasm, whilst improving digestion.

Ginger, in any form (powder, tea or crystallized) will reduce the nausea of morning sickness and ease travel sickness.  

Honey

A wonderful antiseptic, a honey compress is excellent for cuts and bruises, and set honey smeared on ringworm several times a day, encourages healing.

For hayfever, eat a little of your local honey to encourage the body to build up an immunity to pollen.

A hot honey and lemon juice drink is perfect for colds and effective when made into a cough syrup.

A little honey in warmed milk can be a gentle sedative.  

Lavender

One of the most versatile herbs, it is the only essential oil that is completely safe to use neat on the skin. Its antiseptic qualities make it helpful when applied to all cuts, grazes, spots, bruises, bites, splinters and minor burns. A must in any First Aid Cabinet … and your handbag!

A hot lavender compress eases pain and inflammation.

Massage with the essential oil promotes deep relaxation and eases muscle pain, and relief from headache when applied to the temples.

Add a few drops of the essential oil to a handkerchief or pillow to soothe and promote restful sleep or to a warm bath, when feeling unwell.

Speeds healing of skin complaints like eczema and nappy rash.  

Marigold (Calendula)

A mild infusion of the petals helps ease colic and abdominal cramps.

Excellent compress for boils, spots, cuts, grazes and sore eyes. Promotes quick healing.

As a lotion or ointment, its effective on chapped hands and lips, itchy skin rashes, eczema and fungal conditions.

Gargle with the tea as a great mouthwash for sore throats, tonsillitis, mouth sores and ear infections.  

Nettle

Rich in calcium, iron and other essential nutrients, a daily infusion makes a great tonic for growing children.

A compress will soothe minor burns, rashes and skin complaints.

An infusion encourages production of breast milk in nursing mothers.

Improves metabolism and can aid in weight problems.  

Oats

Highly nutritious … eat porridge daily as a nerve tonic. Great way to start the day.

An oat compress, or oatmeal added to a bath, will soothe eczema and other skin conditions.

Eating raw oats can ease constipation.  

Onion

Like garlic, it warms the body and stimulates circulation and boosts immune defences. Include it raw or cooked in the daily diet.

Roast an onion and apply as a poultice (wrapped in a cloth) to ease earache. Also helpful applied to acne and boils.

Simmer with honey to make an excellent cough & cold syrup.

Vinegar

Apply neat on wasp stings to reduce swelling and discomfort.

Use apple cider vinegar to treat eczema, ringworm and athlete’s foot externally.

Add 2 tablespoons to warm water and honey and drink to relieve digestive disorders, urinary infections, coughs, colds, arthritis and even asthma.

Its antifungal properties make it excellent taken internally and applied externally, or added to bath water for thrush.

Yoghurt

Also antifungal, natural live yoghurt is very useful in the treatment of any kind of thrush, internally and externally.

Eaten daily, (especially when having to take antibiotics), it helps to increase healthy bacteria in the stomach, which help fight infection. 

Children are ‘special people’ in their own right and therefore have their own specific requirements and needs - especially when they are sick. Anyone having the care of children, not just parents, should have a basic knowledge of how to deal with simple childhood ailments. So now you know allot more on Kitchen Pharmacy … get using what’s in your cupboards, gardens and the surrounding countryside. Through healthy teaching, good nutrition and proper care during illness, we can create a healthier future generations.

If you or your child are suffering from a chronic or life-threatening condition, or you have an undiagnosed problem, it is advisable to consult your doctor or a qualified herbalist before treating yourself.