The introduction of healing herbs into any family usually begins with an adult. The benefits can be felt at every age level, but the enthusiasm is often not that easy to spread. I have a 3- and 4-year-old in my home, and I’m often devising ways to get healing herbs into their food so that there’s no argument. The herbs have so much more to offer us, though, than what we get when we eat them. If you find yourself sneaking things into the food of your children on a regular basis, you may wonder how you can get them to buy in to what you are doing on a greater level.
My children tend to get more excited about new things when they can get involved. Here are two of my strategies for making friends with our herbal food:
Throw a Tea Party
Photo by Dawn Combs
In my herbal classes, I always introduce my students to the herbs one at a time by making a small amount of tea. Recently it occurred to me that I should be doing this with my children, as well. Starting with nutritive, tonic herbs that taste nice will give you quick success. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), spearmint (Mentha spicata), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and rose (Rosa rugosa) are great herbs to introduce.
Turn your tea party into an afternoon event with special cups and snacks. If your child likes to dress up, add that in. Don’t be shy about sharing with them all each plant has to offer, no matter what age group. Tell them that lemon balm in the plant in the garden with light-green leaves and pale-yellow flowers. Tell them that it’s a very important plant for their nervous system and can help them feel calm and relaxed.
Over time you may choose to introduce herbal tea blends at your party. You’ll even be able to bring bitter and strong tasting teas to the table because you will have ignited the natural curiosity of your child in a fun way.
Start a Children's Garden
Photo by Rachael Brugger
I have not met a child yet that is not fascinated with the wonder of watching a plant grow from a seed. Here on our farm we have given our children their own garden plot for the past two years. If you have the space, this can be great fun.
You have to have a lot of patience and really mean it when you say it’s "all theirs.” In their own garden, they will harvest too much, they will accidentally snap off plant parts and they will weed the wrong things. They will also learn by leaps and bounds. An adult "hands off” space like this, whether you have ground to offer or just a pot indoors, is invaluable. Be sure that you don’t just offer vegetable seeds. Teaching children that herbs are valuable companion plants in the garden gives them an understanding of small-scale sustainable gardening right away.
As we all itch for spring, why not make it an afternoon project to spread the newspaper on the floor and get out the dirt! Egg cartons make the perfect seed-starting containers. Have your child help with moistening and mixing the soil and pre-soaking seeds. Explain every step. Even if it seems like they are not listening, children tend to absorb so much more than we realize.
For little hands I recommend you start with an herb like cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) because it’s a little larger and easier both to handle and to see on the soil. Give them the job every day of watering and watching for the first signs of life. When dinner calls for cilantro and you have gone out together to pick the herbs that they planted all on their own, they will proudly clean their plate and ask for more.
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