Treating Children with Herbs – Using Tinctures Safely

photo(4)If you’ve been following my work for any length of time, you’ve noticed a reference or two to parenting. In my early years of teaching herbs, I catered a lot to parents who wanted to develop trust when using herbs on their kids.

To say that this is an enormous passion for me would be understating it :) There have been a good handful of cases where herbs have saved me from having a heart attack because they were SO effective at treating my children. And I want to share this experience with other parents.

My eldest son’s first really high fever, for example, scared me to death. If you’ve tended sick children, you know this one. It’s easy for the vulnerability I felt that day to come flooding back even as I write this. It was a sense of almost complete powerlessness that came as an hollowness in my stomach and a weakness in my knees.

Do you know this feeling?

Or last summer, when my youngest son fell and hit his head on our concrete patio (actually twice in 10 minutes). I had to bite back a scream of worry/terror when I saw the size of the goose egg on his forehead. Same fear in my stomach and knees.

In both these instances, herbs worked really well and really fast.

Now, treating children with herbs is a huge topic. I’m not going to cover all of it right now. This is part one of the series…

Treating Children with Herbs -

the When, Why and How of using Tinctures

I used to have a real hesitation about giving children tinctures (meaning alcohol extracts of herbs). I was worried that giving alcohol to them was somehow wrong, though I couldn’t exactly explain why. Kids just aren’t supposed to have alcohol, right?

Wrong. Well, not in the ways that tinctures are used. Of course, I’m not talking about doing tequila shots with a toddler and then laughing as they stumble down the hall. I’m talking about pretty small amounts and amounts that occur naturally in the food (mostly fruit) they’re already eating.

Did you know that the average ripe banana contains more alcohol than I would give to a young child as a tincture? You see, fermentation happens. It’s part of the natural decomposition process of any fruit or vegetable containing sugar. And that’s what produces alcohol. So, the more ripe the fruit, the more alcohol it contains. It’s not enough to notice when you eat it, but it’s there.

And having this context is what really helped me to release my reservations about giving tinctures to kids. When the amount of alcohol I’m giving is less than the amount in the fruit that I want them to eat, I can feel safe about it.

Ok, you may be thinking, just because it’s safe doesn’t really answer the question Why would you want use tinctures to treat kids?

My first answer is concentration. A well made alcohol tincture can contain the same amount of medicine as a 4 oz cup of tea in every squirt (approx. 1 ml) or 1 large ‘horse pill’ of powdered herb. This means that you don’t actually have that much liquid to get into their little bodies.

If you haven’t tried to get a 2 year old to finish a cup of tea (even when you play tea time and have special cups and everything), trust me when I say it can be next to impossible. And forget it if it tastes bad! This is a greater challenge still when they’re sick.

A huge benefit of tinctures is that they help you get enough medicine into your children to be effective. I use tinctures on children because I want to know that the herbs will have a chance to work because enough of them are actually inside the kid.

My other big reason is speed. Tinctures work fast. Alcohol absorbs quickly into the body and gets into the bloodstream through the skin (or throat or stomach lining). Whether you hold it in your mouth or under your tongue or just swallow it down, it doesn’t need to be digested in order to get where it needs to be to start working. This is not the case with teas or powdered herbs.

I’ll also mention that convenience and simplicity are factors. If your little one stays home sick, it’s not as relevant. But if they’re just a little under the weather and still going to childcare or to a play date, tinctures are easy for travel.

Of course, there are a couple of caveats with this. It’s best to avoid giving alcohol to people with a liver dysfunction. And check for religious beliefs before giving anyone tinctures. Actually, make sure that you’ve got clear consent from a child’s parent before giving any herbs, especially if it contains alcohol (they may not know the banana thing).

Now that we’ve answered why, we can see some hints that answer When would you use tinctures on children?

I opt for tinctures I’m treating ‘acute conditions’, meaning when I’m using herbs in a reactive fashion to restore balance. In practice, it means treating viral or bacterial infections and first aid situations. So, colds and flus, coughs, fevers, strains and sprains, infected wounds, etc.

When I’m using herbs in as preventative medicine, I almost never use tinctures. In these cases, I much prefer to weave herbs into food and ferments, to use teas, or to take powdered herbs in capsules. In these cases, I want the herbs to work more slowly and to be digested.

Ok, let’s get to the how. I know you left brained folks are chomping at the bit to know How do you use tinctures safely and effectively when treating children?

I’ve already said that we’re talking about small doses, but how much tincture are we talking about?

When giving children tinctures, I use a really, really simple formula to give a safe and effective dose.

Use 1 drop of tincture for every pound (by weight) of your kiddo.

My little guy is about 30 lbs right now, so I give him 30 drops, which equals 1 ml, of tincture.

I almost always dilute this with a little bit of water or juice. But not too much! If you dilute it too much, you risk them not taking the whole dose. Think ‘small mouthful’ or somewhere in the teaspoon range (5 ml).

I use a small plastic syringe when giving herbs to my youngest. I squirt whatever herbs I’m using into a little cup and then suck that up into the syringe before adding water. Then I fill the syringe by sucking in water (or juice). You can mix in the water before you suck it up into the syringe, but you run the risk of adding too much water and not getting the full dose into the syringe. Sometimes, you only get one chance with kids and you wanna make it count.

**Note – if you dilute the tincture with hot water, it will evaporate the alcohol.  But don’t put boiling water into the syringe!  Only use the syringe after the water’s cooled**

There are other formulas for calculating dose. This is the one that’s stuck with me and I’ve never had any troubles. I hope that it works for you too.

What comes up for you? I’d love to hear your feedback, questions and stories about treating kids with herbs.  Please share your comments on the blog (rather than emailing me).  So many of the emails I receive would be a contribution to the whole community.

Introducing: The Herbal Integration Course

Over the last 10 years, I’ve watched folks struggle to find health care practices that feel good in their hearts AND that work.  I’ve seen many people resign themselves to taking drugs that they’d rather not be taking because it’s the only thing they trust to work.

I created this course specifically to help people develop a deep and powerful trust in local herbal medicines, along with building the skills to make these powerful medicines in their own kitchens.

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