Treating Your Child’s Cold Naturally

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

Children are prone to get sick even those who eat healthy and are generally well. It is all part of growing up and assists in building their immune system. No parent likes it when their child is sick and most of us need to take a day or 2 off work to take care of our little ones. This week I have had my little man off school with the dreaded cold.  As soon as the onset of a cold or a cough is imminent with my children I brew a herbal tea and burn eucalyptus essential oil to help sooth and aid in opening the airways and let it work its magic.  My next guest blog post is by Kyra Howearth who has completed her studies of herbal medicine and a mother of soon to be 4. She lives on a rural property in New South Wales, Australia, and enjoys growing an abundance of fresh herbs. You can find more information on herbs (plus vegan recipes) on her blog Vie De La Vegan.

Unfortunately the common cold is exactly that – common. Most of the population are infected by the cold every year. Often, our children seem more prone to catching the cold – and it’s never fun having a sick child to care for.

The common cold is often caused by a viral infection, usually a rhinovirus. Symptoms of the common cold include a sore throat, runny nose, and sneezing, and other symptoms could include fatigue, loss of appetite, cough, mild fever, and muscle aches.

The good news is that you can effectively treat your child’s cold with herbal medicine. Let’s take a look at some herbs which are safe for children to take and are effective for relieving colds:

Echinacea: the echinacea species has been proven to boost the immune system, and can shorten the duration and severity of colds1.

ElderberrySambucus nigra has been proven to relieve cold symptoms and reduce the length of the sickness2.

EyebrightEuphrasia officinalis is an excellent herb to reduce mucus – if your child is suffering from a severely runny nose, eyebright is very beneficial1.

Licorice rootGlycyrrhiza glabra is perhaps my children’s favourite herb, because it tastes so sweet! Licorice is particularly helpful for soothing sore throats1.

Olive leafOlea europaea has demonstrated antiviral activity3. Although there is little evidence it is specifically effective against the common cold, there is potential due to its antiviral activity.

Where to get these herbs: depending where you are in the world, it may be difficult to obtain these herbs locally. You may be able to buy either dried herbs (to make herbal teas, or your own herb extracts) and/or pre-prepared herbal medicines (usually either in liquid or tablet form). Some places you could find these:

  • Pharmacies
  • Health food stores
  • Online herb suppliers
  • Herbalists or naturopaths (these health practitioners may prescribe other herbs depending on your child’s individual case)

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The difficult part about giving herbs to children is that they may not comply due to the strong taste! I can usually convince my older children to drink herbal teas (as long as it doesn’t taste too horrid), but the younger children are more challenging. I often will give them tinctures (concentrated liquid herbal extracts) in a glass of freshly squeezed juice – the small dosages needed for tinctures mean they are easily disguised in another beverage! Tablets can be difficult for children to swallow, but they can be crushed and added to food or beverages if needed.

As a side note, many tinctures and herbal extracts contain alcohol, as alcohol is effective at extracting the medicinal parts and also preserves the extracts. There are contradicting views on the safety of alcohol, even in small doses. However, there are non-alcoholic extracts widely available – the herbal extracts may be in a glycerol base or a syrup.

Apart from dosing up on herbs, other things you can do to help your child recover quickly are:

  • Keep them hydrated. If they don’t feel like much water, they may enjoy a fruit-based icypole, or frozen green smoothie pops.
  • Let them rest. If possible, keep them home from school/daycare while they recover. Not only will this help prevent the cold spreading to other children, but will also help your child recover faster by allowing them to rest.
  • Feed them nourishing foods. Your child’s appetite may decrease when they have a cold, but it’s important to keep them nourished with fresh fruit and vegetables to aid recovery. Homemade vegetable soups, vegetable broths, or green smoothies are some good options which may be appealing to your sick child.

Disclaimer: the information in this article is general advice only and does not take into account any herb/drug interactions or pre-existing conditions which could apply to you. Always consult with a doctor or qualified herbalist before consuming medicinal herbs.

  1. Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy : Modern herbal medicine.Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
  2. Zakay-Rones, Z., Varsano, N., Zlotnik, M., Manor, O., Regev, L., Schlesinger, M., & Mumcuoglu, M. (1995). Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract ( Sambucus nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama. The Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine1(4), 361-369. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/acm.1995.1.361

MICOL, V., CATURLA, N., PEREZFONS, L., MAS, V., PEREZ, L., & ESTEPA, A. (2005). The olive leaf extract exhibits antiviral activity against viral haemorrhagic septicaemia rhabdovirus (VHSV). Antiviral Research66(2-3), 129-136. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.antiviral.2005.02.005

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