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Natural Awakenings Boston

Robust All Winter : Boost Kids’ Immunity Using Nature’s Medicine Chest

Oct 28, 2013 01:59PM ● By Katja Swift

Natural remedies really can make a difference through the cold and flu season, but they must be consumed regularly and in sufficient quantity to be effective, which is a lot easier to do if they taste good. Here are some remedies that even kids will be willing to take.

ELDERBERRY SYRUP: Elderberries have been long used to boost immunity, and scientists are now learning that elder contains compounds that inhibit the ability of viruses to replicate. Put elderberry syrup in a small glass and savor it straight up three or four times a day; its that delicious. A tablespoon of elderberry syrup is great in tea instead of honey, and it goes particularly well with ginger tea, another great immune booster. Drizzle elderberry syrup over pancakes for breakfast, include in a smoothie or over nuts for a tasty dessert.

GARLIC: Another great immune booster, but the strong flavor isn’t appealing to everyone, especially kids. Try pickled garlic, which kids can help make and will generally eat, too. Pickling gives the garlic a sweet and sour taste and is much less likely to produce bad breath. Simply peel the cloves of several heads of garlic. Put them into a jar and pour enough apple cider vinegar to barely cover the garlic. Next, add some honey (about half as much honey as vinegar is a good starting point). Allow the jar to sit on the counter; it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. After a few days, the garlic and its infection-fighting compounds will turn blue and green. After a week or two, the cloves will be ready to eat when the color changes to a honey-vinegarybrown color. Have one with lunch and one with dinner to give the immune system a natural boost.

THYME: A familiar herb for cooking, it also has excellent immune boosting qualities. In fact, it doesn’t need to be consumed to be effective; thyme is excellent as a steam. At the end of the day, add thyme (sage and oregano work also) to boiling water. Inhale deeply to move the therapeutic properties found in the highly anti-microbial volatile oils of thyme into the respiratory tract where most viruses live.

SLEEP: Of course, boosting immunity is incomplete without getting proper amounts of sleep. On average, Americans don’t get enough of it. Adults require nine to 10 hours of sleep every night, varying slightly with the seasons, and children need even more. With today’s busy lifestyles, it is sometimes difficult to get enough sleep, but it is especially important during cold and flu season.

FOOD: Proper nutrition is our first line of defense to illness. As little as two ounces of sugar (a little more than a candy bar or a medium soft drink) reduces the production of white blood cells by 40 percent for up to five hours after consumption. More people are now realizing they have intolerances to certain common foods. Even without traditional allergy symptoms such as hives, intolerances cause an immune response. Eliminating troublesome foods allows the immune system to devote all its resources to fighting the flu. Gluten, dairy, corn and soy are some of the most common foods that cause immune responses; avoiding them, along with sugar, during illness allows the body to focus on getting well. To help build a strong body, eat good quality protein and fats, vegetables with lots of colors such as beets, squash and collards, and low-sugar fruits such as apples, pears and berries. Additionally, fermented foods such as kimchi or kombucha provide a probiotic boost. Chicken soup really is a cold-fighting remedy. Broth made from bones (chicken or otherwise) is very high in minerals, which are often lacking in modern diets and are vital to the body’s immune response.

It can be inconvenient and no fun to have a sick child at home, but when they are hit with an illness, staying home gives the compromised immune system time to recover. It’s a reminder that sleep is required and good nutrition matters, so give them a good book to read and help them settle in—their body will thank you for the rest.

Katja Swift is a Clinical Herbalist and the director of the CommonWealth Center for Herbal Medicine located at 25 Saint Mary’s Ct., Brookline. For more information about herbal remedies, call 617-750-5274 or visit

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