Herbal Immune Support for Children
by Lena Wilson
When considering bolstering and supporting a child’s immune system with herbs, the most prevalent concerns are safety and effectiveness. Even though folk medicine and herbalist remedies have been used for a long time, they are not necessarily supported with scientific research. Therefore, there are guidelines to starting with herbs and dosages that provide immune action but are generally safe for children.
Many herbalists recommend children under six months should not be given herbs because their digestive systems are immature. Some suggest that mothers could take a full dose of an herb so that it might pass through her breastmilk. If in doubt, it is recommended that one consult with an appropriate physician. As is practical with anyone, if there are ever any signs of discomfort or reaction, herbs should be discontinued immediately.
Age-Old Immune System Herbs
The following herbs have been used in traditional herbalism and found to be safe over many years. As with all herbs, one should take care to determine the variety and quality of herb one is procuring. Adverse reactions and ineffectiveness could be the result of improper use or usage of the wrong herb.
Ashwaganda has been gaining popularity, largely due to its use for reducing stress levels. It is commonly used for stress-induced or disease-induced insomnia, fatigue and inflammation. It is considered an immune tonic, which means it enhances overall functioning. In Ayurveda, Ashwaganda is used to restore Ojas (the ultimate vital energy or life energy). Ashwagandha sometimes causes drowsiness and, if taken in large doses, could cause diarrhea or vomiting.
Astragalus is an adaptogen, meaning it helps one to adapt. It is antibacterial and antiviral. It’s also considered tonic. Astragalus is believed to strengthen, modulate, stimulate and restore the immune system. It has been used historically in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. It has no demonstrated toxicity from regular, daily use or large doses; however, it can cause flatulence for those sensitive to legumes since it is in the legume family.
Echinacea is a commonly recognized herb, but there has been some recent dispute on the efficacy of different varieties. Some experts say that Echinacea purpurea is not as effective as E. angustifolia. There is also dispute as to whether echinacea provides any prevention to colds, but it is generally believed it can be helpful if used every half hour at the onset of a cold or flu. It is believed to help raise immune function in active infections if taken internally in the right dosage, although some feel it is more effective for people younger than middle age. Echinacea is analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and an immune modulator and stimulant (not a tonic). One should not take large doses for a long time or use for repeated illness; in which case one should repair and recuperate the body.
Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng) actions include adaptogen, adrenal tonic, antidepressant, antifatigue, antistressor, immune tonic, normalizer and mental clarity stimulant. It is an extremely safe herb and there are reports of Russians using extremely large doses for 20 years with no ill side effects; however, others believe that extreme overuse could case tension and insomnia. Those with high blood pressure should get approval from a physician before using. Eleuthero is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to tonify vital energy (Qi and Jing). It is believed that it helps build resistance to infectious disease, decrease likelihood of autoimmune reactions, increase work capacity and reduce occurrences of influenza, when consumed regularly.
Reishi, the mushroom of immortality, has been found to be liver regenerative and protective, analgesic, antiallergenic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antistressor, antitumor and immunomodulant, among other things. In China and Japan, it has been used for at least 4,000 years. It is traditionally used as an antiaging herb and has a wide range of health benefits. People taking Reishi report a sense of peacefulness. This appears to be cumulative. There are few cases of adverse reactions reported, although caution is advised to anyone allergic to mushrooms.
Rhodiola is used to treat brain fog, chronic fatigue syndrome, low immune function, nervous exhaustion and recurrent infections. It is an adaptogen, adrenal protectant, anticancer, antidepressant, antifatigue, antioxidant and antistressor, in addition to an endocrine tonic, immune tonic and nervous system tonic. Rhodiolas have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine. It appears to increase the body’s ability to respond to outside stressors, including diseases. Some people experience some inability to relax with the herb, in which case it should not be taken at night.
There are proposed general guidelines for calculating pediatric dosages of herbal remedies. The most popular are Clark’s and Young’s Rules, with Clark’s Rule of determining dosage by weight being more favored (see sidebar). Still, many people feel the best method is to titrate doses: begin with a very small dose and slowly increase until desired results are achieved or the already accepted dose is reached.
To begin an herbal journey, one could also seek out a physician who employs herbs, look to community and families already practicing herbalism and turn first to herbs that have been found to be safe over thousands of years.
Sources for some of the herbal information above and recommended books to further assist with an exploration of herbalism include Herbal Antibiotics by Stephen Buhner, Herbal Remedies for Children’s Health by Rosemary Gladstar, The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teegaurden and Ayurveda by Scott Gerson.
Lena Wilson has a B.S. in Mathematics and is an herb enthusiast. She currently works in marketing, outreach and design for the Health Hutt based in Muskegon and Ottawa Counties. Connect at TheHealthHutt.com/contact. See ad page 7.