My 12-month-old has a nasty bout of bronchitis. I'm desperate to give him something to relieve him, but I've heard there are a lot of cough medicines children can't take. Is there a plant medicine alternative?

It can be quite distressing to see our little ones battle respiratory infections. In the first instance, it is best to see a health professional to keep the condition monitored. The good news is that most respiratory infections including acute bronchitis are self-limiting and can be managed with the support of plant medicine.

You are correct that many over-the-counter cold and cough medicines are not suitable for young children. Young children can be particularly vulnerable to adverse reactions and unintended side effects of these medicines whilst their immune and detoxification systems are still developing. Medsafe NZ reviewed the safety and efficacy of these medicines and cautioned against their use in children less than 6 years of age. Products now carry warning labels to this effect.

Plant medicine works by supporting the immune response rather than suppressing it and provides a safe alternative for children. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a great herb for chest complaints in young children. Many people are familiar with it as a culinary herb but less are aware of its powerful medicinal properties.

It has a profound relaxing effect on the respiratory system, helping to alleviate coughs and spasms. Its expectorant action helps the child to expel phlegm and it is classed as a natural antibiotic due to the antibacterial and antiviral properties of its essential oil.

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Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) can be combined with the plants Mullein (Verbascum densiflorum), Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Marshmellow (Althaea officinalis) in a traditional cough syrup. Anti-inflammatory properties in these plants help to protect and soothe mucous membranes and further speed the healing process.

Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) can be used in cases where the cough worsens at night. It is a gentle sedative that reduces pain and bronchial spasm, and eases restlessness. Unlike chemical sedatives, it is safe for use in infants.

Be sure to keep children well-nourished and hydrated with small and frequent feeds. If symptoms worsen or there is no improvement, or if any signs of dehydration arise (dry nappies, refusal to feed) see your primary healthcare provider without delay.