Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: How to build your child's immunity

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These natural remedies may help your little one feel a lot better. Photo / Getty Images
These natural remedies may help your little one feel a lot better. Photo / Getty Images

I've recently put Miss 3 into day care, and she's come home sick twice already. I know it's is pretty common for colds to get passed around at day care, but is there anything I can do to keep her immunity up? She feels so miserable!

A young child's immune system is still developing and it's common for them to experience frequent illness. The average child can get between four to 10 colds per year!

This is especially to be expected when they're in close contact with others. Children explore the world in sensory ways: eating things off the floor, poking their fingers into their friend's mouths and tasting anything and everything from the playground, edible or otherwise!

While exposure to bugs can lead to increased illness, it's also an important part of building up a child's adaptive immune system.

This is the part of the immune system that holds memories about bugs we've encountered in the past and develops the best ways to combat them quickly and effectively in the future.

Being able to successfully fight infections in childhood is essential for a healthy immune system later in life.

Plant medicine can be used preventatively during the school term and restoratively when unwell to support this developing immunity. Some of the best herbs for children include:

Echinacea root (Echinacea purpurea): Echinacea is a fabulous plant for both preventing and treating infections as it helps to increase the number and activity of immune cells. This results in a more efficient attack on invaders such as viruses and bacteria. Echinacea can reduce the severity and duration of colds and the flu.

Studies on children with respiratory tract and ear infections have shown that it is both safe and effective.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): A powerful, natural infection-fighter, Thyme's essential oils fight bacterial, viral and fungal infections. It's great for coughs as it helps to bring up sticky phlegm.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Licorice is a proven antiviral medicine, and it's wonderfully soothing, sweet taste not only makes other herbs taste better, it also soothes a sore throat and helps with a cough. Additionally, Licorice helps the body adapt better to stress, including the physical stress of an infection.

Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis): An important herb to relieve dry, unproductive coughs and bronchitis due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica): Traditionally used to help relax children, Californian Poppy enhances restorative sleep by reducing their pain and restlessness. This is especially helpful when little ones are feeling unwell.

Plant medicine for children is best given in a traditional oral liquid for taste and compliance. Children respond best to smaller, frequent doses of medicine (up to five times daily), rather than one or two larger doses.

Another great option for children is to make a pot of medicinal immune-boosting tea and sweeten it with a little honey. This can be taken warm or alternatively cooled and sent to school in a drink bottle to be consumed throughout the day.

If any cold or flu-like systems persist or worsen, please consult your lead medical provider.

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis ( offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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