Herbs for Baby: Lemon Balm, Chamomile and Caraway
Parents are paying increasing attention to the way they treat childhood ailments, particularly of very small children and babies. While some of the recent health scares that caused parents such anxiety have proved unfounded in science, it’s been a wake-up call to many to investigate gentler options for simple problems. Sometimes medicine is necessary and it’s always essential to seek expert advice from a doctor, health visitor or midwife. On other occasions there are natural alternatives that have been tested over centuries and which provide relief from symptoms that are part of growing up.
Chamomile For CalmnessMany little ones go through one or more periods of colic which can be distressing to them but even more upsetting to their parents. A fussy, crying, irritable baby can create an atmosphere that fills a whole house! There are two ways that a colicky baby can receive the benefits of chamomile: if the mother is breast-feeding, she can drink a strong infusion of the herb herself, six times a day. If the baby is bottle fed, a lukewarm infusion of the tea can be given three times a day. Ensure that you use the dried herb German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or teabags that contain this herb and nothing else. Boil water and pour a mug full on two teabags or half a handful of the dried herb. Steep for five minutes, allow to cool and add just enough sugar to sweeten to taste. Give in a bottle or spouted mug up to five times a day. Dispose of any remaining infusion after 24 hours and start again.
Children with coughs and colds often benefit from chamomile tea too, and the reason for this is likely to be the way that the tea increases levels of antibacterial compounds that help fight infections and viruses.
A 2005 study in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that this form of chamomile helped volunteers who had various forms of stomach upset. Their urine, while drinking the tea and for two weeks after, showed increased levels of hippurate and glycine. The former helps increase antibacterial activity in the body and the latter is an amino acid that relieves muscle spasms and acts as a nerve relaxant. So it seems chamomile may both help the body’s immune system and ease the pain of stomach cramps and unsettling coughs.
Caraway For Healthy TummiesIn 2005, a study at the University of Tehran found that what folklore had known for many centuries was provable. The research, published in the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, found that herbs traditionally used in Iran to treat stomach disorders had an inhibitory effect on one of the most common gastric pathogens, Helicobactor pylori. It’s long been known that caraway seeds help fight flatulence and they are a common ingredient in rye bread. Our grandparents also baked them into the seed cakes that were fed to children in the nursery – probably because they knew the seeds helped fight upset stomachs.
Caraway infusions are easy to make – buy dried caraway seed (Carum carvi) and crush around 15ml in a mortar and pestle to release the and pour around 250ml of boiling water on top. Leave to steep for fifteen minutes then strain, allow to cool, sweeten as necessary, and give to babies in a bottle or older toddlers in a cup. Dispose of any remaining infusion after 24 hours and start again. For older children, say four years old and above, caraway seed can be added to muffins, biscuits and breads baked at home. If you have a child who dislikes the smell of ‘greens’ such as cabbage or Brussels sprouts, adding a pinch of the crushed seed to the cooking water can disguise the offensive odour as well as helping cut down on the risk of bloating and gas that some people associate with eating brassicas.
Lemon Balm The Serenity HerbThis pretty but invasive herb is the easiest of the three to grow at home. Buy a plant of Melissa officinalis from a garden centre or nursery and make sure you keep it in a large pot or trough as this member of the mint family can be invasive!
For adults, this is a lovely herb to crush or chop into iced tea, and the flowers can be frozen into ice-cubes to add to iced summer drinks. Like caraway it has a good antispasmodic effect when drunk, although again for adults, it’s important to note that this herb increases the effect of barbiturates so check your prescriptions before indulging!
To make a tea to ease the stomach and calm a fretting baby, take one heaped tablespoon of the dried herb or two of the fresh leaves and steep in 250ml of boiling water for ten minutes. Strain and sweeten if desired. For babies this can be given in a bottle, while older children may enjoy having it as an iced drink in a tall glass. Dispose of any remaining infusion after 24 hours and start again.
Lemon Balm has other uses: the essential oil is very calming and can be used to massage the feet and hands of anxious children to help them sleep – use two drops of the oil to 10 ml of sweet almond oil and smooth gently into hands and feet. If the child is ticklish, just rub lightly on the tops of the feet and avoid the soles and toes. Some parents find an oil burner with Lemon Balm and Chamomile oils used half an hour before bedtime can calm excitable children. Never leave an oil burner or any candle in a child’s room though – it’s better to use the oils in a family room before bedtime, where access to naked flames can be supervised by adults.
The dried leaves and flowers can also be used in potpourri with lavender and cinnamon to create a warm soft fragrance that encourages deep sleep.