Most likely we all remember our own fascination or our child’s look of awe as we relate the apple scene in the tale of Snow White. In this memorable fairy tale, the witch dips an apple into a cauldron of potion and creates an apple that puts Snow White to sleep. However, even if the pot does not contain potion, mixing substances together retains a magical quality. To a toddler, water and mud become a natural finger paint or perhaps even a face mask. Mothers often hear “can I stir it?” as a child reaches preschool or kindergarten age. When it is soup day in our grade school classes the children clamor to chop and throw various vegetables into the big iron pot over the fire. As a child reaches the upper grades they fill their notebooks with “secret formulas” and “potions” of their own creation.
It will not be any surprise, then, that the teacher/parent will find endless enthusiasm when they present a lesson in herbal preparations to a child. There are many levels of herbal preparation that can be presented to the child depending on their age. For toddlers to kindergarteners herbal preparations should be fresh from the ground, simple and tasty. For first graders to fifth graders herbal preparations can have the same qualities but can also add the concept of being useful or part of a meal. Once a child reaches sixth grade they are ready to look at herbal preparations in a more abstract way. From this age onwards they can tackle more advanced preparations that involve dried purchased herbs, exotic herbs or more complex preparations.
Herbal Preparations and the Young Child
Toddlers, Preschoolers and Kindergarteners live through embracing their senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. The sanguine early childhood years are all about the sensual experiences that life brings — from how it feels to wade in a puddle after the rain to how it smells to bake cinnamon rolls. Because of the stage the young child is at it is most appropriate to get them involved in herbal preparations in a way that uses all their senses.
Two favorite recipes for children this age are rhubarb snacks and flower puffs. To make rhubarb snacks the child only needs to find some wild rhubarb (refer to Part One: Herbal Identification for more information) or a tart wild berry like wild cherries, mulberries or elderberries that grow in your area. Once they gather these wild plants they should be washed, cut into pieces (or separated if berries) and dipped in a natural cane sugar. Rhubarb pieces can be stuck onto toothpicks and then dipped in sugar.
To make flower puffs the child and parent/teacher can gather various edible wild flowers (reference a plant identification guide or purchase Herbs for Kids) like roses, dandelions, marigolds, violets or honeysuckle. Once the flowers are gathered they should be washed and dipped in a beaten egg or yoghurt. After they are dipped in the liquid they can be dipped in a flour mixture of one cup of flour, two tablespoons of sugar and one tablespoon of cinnamon. These flower puffs can then be fried or baked.
Teaching Herbs to the Early Grades
Children in the early grades have gone beyond the fantasy of the early years and are progressively acquiring more useful life skills such as knitting, weaving, cooking and building. First graders learn how to read and write for the first time. Second graders learn knitting skills, third graders build shelters, fourth graders learn cooking skills and traditional Native American crafts, and fifth graders learn advanced gardening and harvesting techniques.
Integrating the usefulness of herbs into these tasks can be a natural part of a lesson that is already planned. A child in this age group can be introduced to how herbs can be used as simple healing tools or how they can be used to enhance and add health and healing benefits to the menu. Herbal teas can be a part of the daily breakfast, snack or bed-time routine and the child should participate in the making of the tea.
Every young child should be taught the correct method of creating an herbal infusion rather than taught how to put a tea bag in water. To make an herbal infusion one should boil one cup of water and pour it gently over one teaspoon of dried herb. The herbs should be allowed to steep in the hot water for fifteen minutes and should then be strained out. After the herbs are strained out honey can be added to the tea. Healing teas that are popular with children are peppermint (for headaches, trouble sleeping, fevers and colds), hibiscus (for fevers or over-heating, colds, the flu and vitamin C supplementation), or chamomile (to cure tummy aches, create sweet dreams and calm anxiety).
Children of this age should also learn to use fresh herbs in their cooking. Herbs already included in a recipe should be obtained from a garden, the nature trail, or fresh plants. When absolutely necessary herbs can be purchased in fresh dried form from a store or online source. “Herbs” that are found in the small bottles at the grocery store should not be used. When herbs are not a natural part of the recipe kids can be encouraged to be creative in adding herbs to various foods. Some fun ideas are: Rosemary or Peppermint-Lemonade, Lavender Vanilla Pudding or Cheddar Chive Bread. These foods are made by taking a favorite recipe and adding a tablespoon of the herb to the recipe. In the case of the Cheddar Chive Bread one fourth cup of fresh chives can substitute for the tablespoon of dried herb.
Once a child reaches the sixth grade their mind is ready to focus on a more logical way of thinking. A child of this age desires to put thoughts in order and explore the reasons behind why things work. A favorite activity at this age is creating “potions” and keeping them in a notebook. To make the task more exciting and mysterious the child can also use the Latin words for the ingredients.
Although the sample recipe below may look complicated it is simply a recipe for peppermint drops. Mentha Spicata is the Latin word for spearmint and Apis Mellifera is the Latin word for bumble bee:
Take three dried leaf of mentha spicata and crush them with a mortar and pestle. Mix this dark green powder with excretions from the Apis Mellifera until it forms a sticky paste. Add powder of Comfrey root until you have a dough. – Botany Main Lesson Book, G6, Sofi
Children of this age can also learn formulas for decoctions, syrups, tinctures and capsules. The parent/teacher should start the child out with the basic formulas and allow the child to ask questions and be creative to move beyond these. From here discussions of the herbal properties and basics of chemistry can also be discussed. Children can learn chemical properties like the fact that the qualities of herbs are extracted most efficiently and completely in glycerin.
As the lessons progress, a child may learn the formula for elderberry syrup in glycerin or honey which is useful for runny noses and then ask “can other herbs be made into a syrup?” At this point they will be delighted to discover that any herb can be made into a syrup and will often come up with “potions” of their own. They could even create a slumber potion to help a younger sibling during nap time.
I hope you feel inspired to create and teach herbal preparations to your children of all ages.
Kristie Karima Burns, MH, ND is a Master Herbalist and Naturopathic Doctor who enjoys teaching all ages about healing. She teaches classes for adults through The Avicenna Institute which gives adults the opportunity to earn certification in a number of natural healing practices and start a new career or enhance an existing one. Students at the institute include doctors, dentists, herbalists, reflexologists, teachers, mothers and homeschoolers. The Instiute is recognized by a number of International organizations. Kristie also offers classes for children as part of her Earthschooling Lifetime Member program, or through individual classes at Herb n Kids.com.