A Medical Herbalist’s approach to this seasons’ childhood problems
The summer (what we had of it this year!) is over, autumn is nearly here and our children are returning to school. Some will be just getting used to starting school, and the parents of these children may be new to the common complaints and ailments associated with lots of children mixing together. How do we deal with head lice, coughs and sneezes, warts and verrucas without resorting to pharmaceutical drugs?
Pediculosis capitas, otherwise known as head lice, are common amongst primary school children, especially those with long hair. The lice are transmitted from head to head contact and the females lay their eggs (nits) close to the hair shaft. A balm containing natural insect repellents and insecticides will help destroy living lice without the use of chemicals. Examples of such oils would be Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary), Lavendula officinalis (lavender), Pelargonium graveolens (geranium) and Eucalyptus spp. (eucalyptus). It is important not to use essential oils undiluted so always seek professional advice on appropriate preparations. Regularly rinsing the hair with a cold infusion of Picrasma excelsa cortex (quassia bark) may also act as a deterrent to re-infestation.
Coughs and colds are an inevitable part of a child’s first years at school. The immune system is still developing and it can seem that some children have an endless cold, cough or runny nose. Whilst the immune system needs to deal with these bugs so that it gets plenty of practice, herbal medicine can help it on its way, making it more efficient and stronger. Many people already use Echinacea spp. (purple coneflower) which is a proven support for the immune system. Medical Herbalists know that there are many other suitable alternatives available, protecting the most overused herbs like Echinacea from becoming endangered. Both the flowers and berries of the native Sambucus nigra (elder) tree are useful. Elderflowers are diaphoretic (induce heat dispersion via sweating), immune stimulant, anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal so can be useful for high temperatures, infections, colds and sneezes. Elderberries have been proven to be effective against the flu virus! A gentle tasty syrup, made from Thymus vulgaris (thyme) and Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) with its expectorant and soothing properties may help ease a tickly cough. Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) also has these properties and immune enhancing action too.
We all want our children to learn to swim, but young, or compromised immune systems may lead to verrucas from frequent visits to the swimming pool. Verrucas are caused by the same papova virus that causes warts and an efficient immune system will deal with the problem itself. Stubborn, or multiple outbreaks are much better treated under consultation with a fully qualified Medical Herbalist, who can create an individual prescription of herbs aimed at supporting the immune system, considering the patient’s unique medical history/family history/symptoms/diet etc. Simpler cases may respond to frequent use of an emulsion made from Thuja occidentalis (arbor-vitae) which is anti-viral and has a long tradition of use against warts and verrucas. Similarly, the latex of Chelidonium majus (greater celandine) contains a protein dissolving enzyme which breaks down warts. Greater celandine, however, is only available through a qualified Medical Herbalist.
Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist