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-Andrea Candee, MH, MSC

Parents often tell me that their children tend to get frequent colds once school and daycare start. Is this normal? How can I minimize their symptoms?, they ask.
Statistics indicate that the average American schoolchild has several colds a year. Comforted, falsely, by statistics, parents accept all manner of cold and flu as “normal childhood diseases”. “After all”, we tell ourselves, “it could be worse. What’s a case of the sniffles or the odd ear infection now and then? It’s something all kids need to go through.”

This is erroneous thinking. Health, not sickness, is the body’s normal state of being. Just because all the other kids at school are sick doesn’t mean yours have to be. You can maintain a respectable level of wellness for your child even in the face of the nastiest colds and flu.

Herbs are especially useful in healing flare-ups of the upper respiratory system. Many of the therapies presented below are preventative so the old adage that “all kids get sick” doesn’t have to prove true in your home--it certainly didn’t in mine!


Gargles are an age-old method of bringing soothing substances to sore throats. To see if your child is capable of gargling liquids:
 Have her hold a small mouthful of plain water towards the back of the throat.
 If this is easily done, gargling can become a fun activity by vocalizing, causing the liquid to vibrate.
 If vocalizing makes your child uncomfortable, simply have her retain the liquid in the throat while you count, encouraging her to hold it a moment longer.
 Be sure the liquid is expectorated (spat out) so the toxins drawn out from the swollen tissue are not swallowed.


The astringent properties of lemon juice and common table salt (or, for a more pure version, sea salt, found in all health food stores), when combined with warm water and used as a gargle, shrink swollen tissue. As a result, this classic blend reduces the inflammation and pain of sore throats while providing excellent anti-microbial protection.
 Combine the juice of half a lemon with one tablespoon salt in 1/2 cup warm water.
 Have your child gargle with this mixture at least four times a day.
 To further enhance the astringency and anti-microbial action of this gargle, mix the lemon and salt into 1/2 cup sage tea instead of plain water.


The extract of the grapefruit seed contains potent anti-microbial as well as astringent constituents that help relieve an inflamed, sore throat.
 Add 4-6 drops grapefruit seed extract (purchased in health food stores) to1/2 glass water.
 Have your child gargle with the diluted extract, spitting it out after each gargle.


In addition to the herbs you would give for a cold, a sore throat may be comforted with:
 Slippery elm lozenges (available at health food stores).
 A diluted spray of echinacea and goldenseal, sprayed on the back of the throat.
To make this anti-microbial spray, dilute 10 drops of each herb in 4 ounces of water.
 A spoonful of honey which is anti-inflammatory as well as anti-microbial is a traditional remedy for soothing the throats of opera singers before performances. Your child can lick the honey right off the spoon to experience its soothing properties as it slides down her irritated throat.
 A room vaporizer containing eucalyptus oil. The vaporizer’s hydrating mist soothes a dry, irritated throat while the eucalyptus emits its anti-microbial properties into the surrounding air.
 A tea/gargle of the soothing, anti-inflammatory herbs licorice root and slippery elm bark.
 A gargle with sage or raspberry leaf tea, effective astringents, can help reduce the swollen tissue of a sore throat.


When your child’s chest feels tight as a result of cold or flu and coughing is painful, a ginger rub will bring herbal heat to the chest. Ginger’s stimulating properties increase circulation and help loosen things up, with greater comfort being the happy result. I can remember times when this remedy was so effective that the next night my son required an onion pack to stop the incessant coughing from all the loosened phlegm!
 To prepare this rub, mix together 1 tablespoon each powdered ginger purchased from the health food store (where it will not have been irradiated) and a non-petrolated petroleum jelly (also available at a health food store).
 The mixture will look rather like brown frosting. But don’t eat it--spread it on your child’s chest, then cover with a cotton t-shirt.
 A reddening of the area is normal and indicates that the ginger is increasing circulation to the capillaries near the surface of the skin.
 In the morning, the petroleum jelly will have been absorbed, and the ginger will have worked its magic, as indicated by your child’s ability to breathe more easily.

Another wonderful reason to use ginger: A Brigham Young University study revealed that this herb significantly decreased nausea and diarrhea associated with the 24-hour flu.


Blending together any of the following oils will create a treatment that deeply penetrates tissue, stimulating blood flow to the lung area, helping to open air passages. In addition, the herbs are anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial.
 Thyme
 Eucalyptus
 Peppermint
 Lavender
 Anise
 Cinnamon
 Hyssop
 For children under eight years of age, blend 6 drops combined essential oils in a teaspoon of carrier oil such as almond, apricot kernel or grapeseed. For the older child, increase the dilution to 10 drops to the teaspoon of oil.
 The congestion oil may be rubbed on the chest and back in the morning, afternoon and at bedtime. Cover with a cotton shirt.
 Continue treatment until congestion loosens and your child is more comfortable.
 You may expect a slight reddening of the skin due to the oils’ circulatory enhancing effect. If your child exhibits more than just a slight reddening or a rash, discontinue use.
 Several drops of the congestion oil may be used in a bath.
 For inhalations, add a few drops of the congestion oil to a pot of hot water, encouraging your child to breathe deeply over the water.
 Several drops of the oil may also be added to a vaporizer.


Echinacea’s immune-enhancing properties may be called to action to help the body fight off the respiratory infection. Its chemical properties help to slow the spread of infection while enhancing immune function in the lymphatic system and mucus membranes.
 Give oral doses of echinacea every 2 hours until the symptoms diminish, and 3 times a day thereafter until your child is totally well.
For an in-depth discussion of echinacea, see CHAPTER TWELVE: IMMUNE SYSTEM ENHANCERS in my book, GENTLE HEALING FOR BABY AND CHILD (Simon & Schuster).


Upper and lower respiratory symptoms respond well to the healing properties of the herbs contained in this soothing, decongesting tea. A large quantity of the dried herbs can be mixed and stored in an air-tight jar.
 4 parts echinacea
 2 parts sage leaf
 2 parts eucalyptus
 1 part ginger root
 1 part thyme leaf
How effective is this natural tea? Let’s run down the all-star list of the ingredients’ properties.
 echinacea stimulates the immune system and is anti-microbial;
 sage leaf detoxifies and decongests;
 eucalyptus leaf decongests and is anti-microbial;
 ginger root detoxifies and stimulates circulation;
 thyme is a decongestant and anti-microbial.
To prepare this tea:
 Steep 1 teaspoon of the combined herbs in 1 cup boiled water, covered, for 15 minutes.
 Several cups can be made at one time, warming as needed.
 Initially, an ounce or two may be given every 15 minutes, until relief is experienced, and then 1/4 to 1/2 cup every 2-3 hours, as needed.
 Natural honey may be used to sweeten the tea.


To bring down a high fever, especially when associated with bronchial congestion:
 Put enough fresh cloves of garlic in a blender to make a paste that will spread ¼” thick on gauze.
 Lightly coat the soles of your child’s feet with olive oil so the garlic does not irritate them.
 Affix the garlic gauze pads to the soles of the feet with roller gauze; cover with cotton socks.
 Leave on overnight; provide plenty of water to drink; and watch the fever go down.
 If necessary, more garlic paste may be applied as it is absorbed by the body.
By the way, garlic is so powerfully absorbed throughout the soles of the feet that, in short time, your child will have garlic breath!


Consisting of fresh garlic juice, apple cider vinegar, and other potent anti-microbial herbs, it is an excellent therapy for active respiratory infection. This syrup is also an excellent post-infection support for the body as it recuperates.
 From infancy to age 4, give 1/8-1/4 teaspoon 3 or 4 times a day.
 Ages 5-10 should receive 1/4-1/2 teaspoon.
 Ages 10 and older, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon.
 This syrup has a strong taste and is more palatable diluted in a bit of juice.


The best and most important fluid for the body is good quality water. At all times, but especially during periods of illness, the body’s need for water must be met to enable the proper manufacturing of proteins, enzymes, and hormones. When the body is physically compromised, it must be kept well hydrated so that its chemical processes facilitate healing and the flushing of toxins--and this is especially true for infants and children.

Andrea Candee, MH, MSC, is a master herbalist with a practice in South Salem, NY. She lectures for corporate wellness centers about taking charge of your health naturally and will bring her workshops to you. Her book, Gentle Healing for Baby and Child (Simon & Schuster), was awarded The National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval. She may be contacted through her website,

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