The growing light and increasingly loud bird song have roused me from a two-month hibernation. Like determined green shoots pushing up from the Earth and the promise-filled budding branches, I feel energy renewed for the year ahead, and I can think of no better person to kick off the 2015 Urban Witch blog festivities than herbalist, teacher, change-maker, wonder woman and friend, Karen Lawton – who has generously shared her wisdom on using herbs with children, and effectively treating common conditions naturally.
One of my first herb harvesting experiences was infact with Karen and her daughter Elektra. One sunny afternoon Elektra showed me how to pick delicate Tilia blossom and explained that Daisies help make coughs go away. She was five years old at the time. Naturally I was impressed by my young friend’s knowledge and wondered why it should be that I was only discovering the healing powers of these plants in my thirties! Why don’t we learn this in school? How can we better teach our children about their plant allies? And how can we share knowledge and inform parents of the safe alternatives to pharmaceuticals? Karen had a few ideas…
What’s your experience of introducing children to herbs?
Elektra’s school has involved me with her class over the past couple of terms. I’ve taken the children out to the woods and also explored the school outdoor environment with them. In the last session we talked about what they might want in a first aid box, and looked at Lavender as an anti-infective and anti-inflammatory that can be used on cuts, scraps, burns and even for headaches.
My son, Harry, and Elektra drank chamomile tea from a few months old and as they grew I simply added more herbs to their palates. At four years old Harry knew all of the Latin names of our local flora, as I was studying for my degree in Herbal Medicine. We called them ‘the magical names’ so a walk to school would be filled with stories of The King, Quercus robar (Oak) and his many subjects, fairies and elves. Elektra helps me harvest flowers from the garden in the summer months, which is a total joy. She’s extremely observant of every plant and cuts each flower head so carefully while she sings!
I had tonsillitis frequently as a child, what herbs are helpful for this?
When Harry was 13 he had tonsillitis and the white spots on his swollen tonsils indicated it was bacterial. He felt utterly miserable but he wanted to use herbal medicines he made himself rather than see the doctor.
He made a tea with Bay leaves, Thyme, Sage, Marjoram, Elderflowers and Rosemary all thrown into a pot and left to infuse for 15 minutes. He drank a whole pot with plenty of honey every couple of hours. I also made up a mix of Elderberry syrup, Pokeroot, Marigold, Ginger, Sage, Thyme and Rosemary tinctures and put them in a spray bottle for him to spray on his tonsils regularly.
Sage, Thyme and Rosemary are full of antiseptic oils that help fight the infection. Pokeroot and Marigold are powerful lymphatic herbs that encourage the immune system to remove the infection from the area, to be safely excreted by the body. Harry soon felt better, although he’s insistant it was the ice-cream that cured his tonsillitis! He’s 18 now and has only taken conventional medicine once, when he had meningitis as a baby. He received intravenous penicillin that saved his life but other than that he has only ever taken herbs to treat various ailments.
What’s your go-to herb for colds and flu?
I make Elderberry syrup every Autumn and have a year’s supply in my fridge. Harry loves it as, like most kids, he enjoys sweet tastes. It’s extremely immune-stimulating and anti-viral, and therefore very effective for flu. Hypocrites called the Elder tree the Medicine Chest, as it’s used to treat so many ailments.
We have oil burners with essential oils of Geranium, Lavender and Eucalyptus, which is a staple blend for getting rid any cold viruses that may enter our home. Essential oils are very powerful medicinally, and help to prevent the spread of infection to other family members, while being uplifting and beautifully scented. We don’t have ‘normal tea’ so pots with various herbs brewing are the norm. The children love to harvest and make their own concoctions from the garden, field and hedgerows.
For coughs, especially when there’s lots of mucus, I’ll make a tea by first decocting Marshmallow root and then add Thyme. Marshmallow root is demulcent and soothes inflamed tissue, while Thyme is an anti-viral and expectorant, and helps move phlegm up and out of the body. Elektra and I made a video on herbs for childhood coughs, with some more helpful tips.
Are there natural remedies for childhood acne?
Acne is an embarrassing condition that typically develops in teenage years but is becoming increasingly common in the pre-teen age group too. The cause of nearly all teenage acne is the complex hormonal surge that occurs around the time of puberty, which can also be aggravated by stress and bad diet. Roaccutane seems to be all too easily prescribed to teenagers with acne, with reported adverse reactions including gastro-intestinal disorders and even suicide.
As herbalists we treat each person on an individual basis but there are some general principles to treating acne, such as supporting the liver and lymphatic system, and healing the skin which you can read more about on our blog. Steam facials are also a good tool. I fill a basin with boiling water and a few drops of Lavender essential oil, then ask my patient to put a towel over their head and leave their face in the steam for 5-10 minutes.
Herbs for eczema
Since birth Elektra has had very sensitive skin with a predisposition to eczema. We make a healing balm which has been amazing on her skin and really helped to clear the eczema. For the healing balm we:
- Make herbal infused oils with St John’s Wort, Calendula and Lavender. To do this dry the freshly picked herbs for a couple of days on newspaper in the airing cupboard then put each herb in a glass jar, cover with organic Almond oil and leave for a lunar cycle.
- Strain the herbs from the oil when they’re ready and store the infused oils.
- Add 50ml St John’s Wort oil, 50ml Calendula oil and 50ml Lavender oil to 25ml cocoa or shea butter, and 15ml beeswax. Gently melt the mixture over a bain marie.
- To test whether the mixture is the right consistancy, drop a little of the mix onto a plate, leave for 5 minutes, then mash up with your finger. If it’s too hard add more oils, too soft add more beeswax.
- Once it’s the right ‘balmy’ consistency pour the mixture into small pots or jars, and leave to solidify and cool. For more info on these herbs check out the Sensory Herbcraft blog.
The digestive system is where a lot of skin problems and allergies originate so I’ve always used Chamomile with both kids to aid digestion. It’s a mild bitter with profound actions on the gut. It’s totally safe for babies and young kids and it’s important to get children drinking herbals teas and used to the diverse flavours so it’s easier to administer herbs when they’re ill. The Herbal for Mother and Child by Anne McIntyre is a great book anyone wanting to learn more.
As a herbalist I see many patients wanting to give natural treatments to their children for specific health problems and my advice for getting children to happily take their medicine is to make herbal teas your daily family drink. Making a pot of different delightfully coloured, aromatic smelling herbs is magical and a form of healing in itself.
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Karen and her Seed Sista Fiona Heckels run community workshops and apprenticeships, re-connecting people with native plants. Their mission is to make natural healthcare accessible to all. You can also find Karen teaching Sensory Herb Yoga in Enfield, North London.
19th March 2015 – Detox Juicing Day
11am-5pm, YHA, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. £65
Learn about the benefits and pitfalls of detoxification, juicing and herbs. Includes a herb walk around the Lea Valley canals, making a herbal vinegar and cleansing juice with local greens, and energising yogic postures to support detoxing. Lunch is included.
2015/2016 – Sensory Solutions Apprenticeship
This initial one-year apprenticeship is designed to introduce you to the ancient, magic and practical art that is herbal medicine. The beautiful, Gaunt’s House in Dorset is our apprenticeship venue, which is fully residential over four seasonal weekends. All delicious vegetarian meals included.