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Pediatrics - Herbs for common pediatric conditions

by Mary Bove ND, LM, MNIMH

Medical Herbalism 4(4):1,4-5

Using botanical medicine in the treatment of commonly occurring disease states in children can be a safe and effective therapeutic modality. Botanical medicines can be used as the main therapeutic agent as well as being an effective adjunct therapy to support other forms of treatment. It is here in pediatric medicine that many of the more gentle, subtle herbs can be used as infusions, syrups, ointments, steams, baths, rubs, powders, and tinctures. Often using one or two different types of preparations in a protocol is very effective, such as in the case of otitis media, when both a topical oil and an internal medicine would be appropriate.

General Considerations:

Adjusting the dosage to suit the individual child is always important. This allows for the proper dose to be given in consideration of the child’s size, weight, and age. There are several formulas which allow one to calculate a safe dosage for a child by age. One example is Young’s Formula;

Age in years/(Age + 12) = Fraction of adult dose

Thus a 6 year-old child would take 1/3 of an adult dose.

(6 years)/(6 + 12) = 6/18 = 1/3 of adult dose.

Dosing schedules are usually three times a day (TID), but four times a day or every 2-3 hours is often more effective for acute conditions. Consider the example of a 5 yr. old child with an upper respiratory infection whose symptoms include fever, runny nose, pharyngitis, and malaise. I would dose this child with 10-15 drops every 2-3 hours during the acute stage. As the child stabilized I would drop the dose to TID and maintain at this dose for 7-10 days. In contrast, if the child’s condition were chronic rhinitis, the dose would be 10-15 drops TID over a longer period of time.

External botanical treatments are often easy to comply with and offer an effective adjunctive treatment. These include the use of baths and skin washes to treat dermatological conditions, fevers, and flu; lotions, linament, and steams for bronchial congestion and constriction; and herbal fomentations for swollen glands and sore throat.

Botanicals Used in Pediatrics

Yarrow is both an anti-inflammatory and a refrigerant due to the azulene content. It has a specific affinity for connective tissue, especially the venous system. Its diaphoretic properties also aid in the treatment of fever. Achillea acts on the gastrointestinal tract as a carminative, anti-spasmodic, and a mild bitter.These qualities make the herb particularly useful in the treatment of influenza and respiratory infections associated with fever, malaise, and decreased appetite. The azulene also acts locally in external applications to decrease inflammation,and to promote tissue healing, while the tannins are astringent. Achillea may be applied externally as a fomentation, bath, or cream.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    337


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies

Calendula has a wide variety of actions which one can draw upon in the application of the herb. The resins of the plant are anti-fungal, making it useful in creams, ointments, and washes. Calendula acts to mobilize white blood cells, stimulate lymphatic drainage, decrease inflammation of the lymph nodes, and generally support lymphatic circulation. Thus, this plant is always a safe substitute for the more toxic plant Phytolacca dec. Calendula’s vulnerary action makes it useful in external preparations such as ointments, creams, fomentation, washes, ear oil, and skin powders. It is excellent for diaper rash, any type of pruritic skin rash and all types of cuts and bruises.

Eyebright’s actions as an anti-catarrhal and anti-inflammatory agent make it useful in conditions effecting the upper respiratory tract, especially the nasopharynx and sinuses. It acts as a tonic to the mucous membranes, as well as decreasing inflammation and breaking up excessive catarrh. It may also be used internally in otitis media and conditions of the eyes. For inflammation and irritation of the eye, it is useful as an eyewash or compress.

Fennel and anise seed are both pleasant tasting medicines which act to decrease colic in the G.I. tract. Fennel acts as a mild laxative and a G.I. relaxant. Anise is also a G.I. relaxant but is more specific to the respiratory tract. This is a good herb to use in respiratory infections and coughs as it acts not only to relax and decrease bronchial spasms,but also as an anti-microbial agent, because the volatile oil is being excreted via the lungs.

Cleavers’ action on the lymphatic system makes this a safe alternative to Phytolacca for children. It has its strongest action in the fresh state and is best used as a fresh juice, a glycerine extract, or specific tincture. The use of Galium topically should also be considered for its anti-pruritic action.

Hyssop & thyme share many similar actions in that they both have an anti-bacterial effect on the urinary system and the respiratory system owing to their volatile oil content. The oil of both plants has a stimulating expectorant action, and acts as an anti-spasmodic on the bronchioles. In addition, the oil acts as an anti-fungal when used topically in lotions and creams. Hyssop differs from thyme in that it has an overall relaxing effect not only on the respiratory system but the entire body; for this reason it is often chosen when the child is tense and anxious. It is commonly used in asthmatic conditions and pertussis, as an internal medication and an external inhalant. Thyme’s relaxing action is directed largely to the respiratory system and the urinary tract, but also has a mild effect on the digestive tract.

Chamomile has long been known as a popular children’s herb. It is gentle in its action yet very effective. Like Achillea, it also contains azulene in the volatile oil, but in larger amounts. The azulene is partly responsible for Matricaria’s anti-inflammatory action and its effects on fevers. Another constituent found in the oil is alpha bisabolol which is anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and analgesic. Chamomile has a specific affinity for the GI tract, making this a useful plant for flatulence, nervous GI conditions,diarrhea and acute GI irritations. Used as an infusion, it acts quickly to reduce pain and settle the stomach and intestines. It has been shown to inactivate and bind bacterial toxins, and to be effective against streptococcal and staphylococcal bacteria. When used as a steam inhalant for upper respiratory tract infection and sinusitis, this action is very pronounced. Externally this herb is used in poultices, creams, and washes for healing wounds, decreasing inflammation, and soothing irritations.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    338


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies    

Elderflower is another herb which stimulates non-specific immune function. The areas it most effects seems to be the upper respiratory tract, nasal mucosa, and sinuses. It is soothing (due to the mucilage), anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal, and diaphoretic. Thus it is useful in respiratory infections accompanied by fever, and agitation. When mixed with Tillia spp. it makes an excellent combination for influenza.

Pediatrics bibliography

Behrman, R. and Kliegman, R.; Essentials of Pediatrics; W.B. Sanders, Toronto, Canada,1990.

British Herbal Pharmocopoeia, British Medicine Association, Megaron Press Ltd.; Bournemouth, UK, 1983.

Cook, Wm., The Physiomedical Dispensatory, Cincinnati, Oh., 1869, reprinted Eclectic Medical Publication, Portland, OR. 1985.

Murray, M., Pizzorno, J.; Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine; Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA., 1990.

Scott, J.; Natural Medicines for Children, Gaia Books, Ltd., London, 1990.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    339