January 28, 2015

Grow Plants to Treat Childhood Illness - Photo by iStock/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)

Living with two young children is a constant adventure. One of the most interesting aspects of development—and the most impactful to family life—is the young immune system. For parents leaving the house everyday for work, this time period is a tough one.

In our culture, getting sick is shamed. It seems now that we’re supposed to get through childhood without illness. The parents who continually need a day off because their kids are sick are talked about around the water cooler and over coffee at playgroups. This is an inevitable result of our decades long germ warfare. Somehow if we as parents allow germs to get into our homes and infect our children, we’ve failed. Vaccinations are given to prevent anything from mumps to the flu. Children are dutifully bubble-wrapped before taking part in daily activity. If they become injured it is no longer seen as a normal part of childhood; instead, it’s now a possible case of neglect.

The immune system is just like a muscle. We don’t expect children to be able to sit up or hold up their own heads until their muscles have had time to strengthen, so why should we think their immune systems, intended to protect them from catastrophic illness, should come out of the box fully assembled? It seems strange to me. In reality, it’s all the small illnesses that allow a child’s body the chance to build a robust immune system. I hear parents boasting that their children have never been sick. It’s odd to me to think that this is a good thing.

My kids are raised on whole, organic food. This certainly doesn’t mean that they are never sick. They’ve both had a couple colds and one incidence of the flu. We are fortunate in some ways that our office is here on our property and we’re in charge of sick days. But in other ways, we’re even more apt to be judged. Those living outside of a natural lifestyle like ours love to jump on the fact that our kids are sick as some sort of proof that our way of living is not successful. In my mind, illness is not to be feared. Even the childhood illnesses of old that have become so stigmatized.

A few weeks ago, my daughter came down with a high fever. She was acting off for a day before the fever started. When I noticed the heat in her forehead, I started looking for secondary symptoms. Her cheeks were flushed red, but around her lips was white. I asked her to stick out her tongue and saw that it was dotted with raised red bumps. We didn’t have it tested, but I suspect she had a case of scarlet fever. My next book, Heal Local, is coming out in April, and I was able to pick up my notes and follow my very own advice. 

Scarlet fever is an illness to take seriously. It’s very important to keep an eye on the fever. The real danger here is if the Streptococcus bacteria grow unchecked and fill the body with their toxins. While I watched her fever I mixed together some licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), elder (Sambucus Canadensis), ginger (Zingiber officinale) and Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), all of which have action against this particular bacterium. We addressed the issue at home, but had her fever gone higher or if she had become dehydrated or disoriented, we would have taken her to the doctor for a prescription.

In two days, my daughter’s fever was gone, and we were fighting with her to keep quiet and rest. Parents with young children should be sure to grow some of the herbs that are needed for the most common childhood illnesses. All of the herbs I used for my daughter are easy to grow either directly in the ground or in pots. If you have a plan in place, a good pediatrician just a phone call away and a good nervine tea to keep yourself calm, there is no shame in the times that your children are exercising their immune systems. You may come out of the experience with a few more gray hairs, but they’ll come out of it with a stronger body that will protect them for a lifetime.

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