Being a parent is exhausting enough without throwing a sick child into the mix. A simple cold is enough to throw most parents into a tailspin! Given that we’re in the thick of winter keeping our LO’s immunity systems strong is top of mind for many of us.
“It’s helpful to think about the immune system, and most systems in the body, as something that we want to be balanced, rather than boosted,” says Rachelle Robinett, an herbalist, educator and the founder of Pharmakon Supernatural. “An overactive immune system can be helpful in certain circumstances, like when fighting off an acute illness, but it can be problematic when chronically elevated (enter auto-immune diseases).”
Keeping our system from being chronically inflamed and supporting a strong immune system can be done with food, herbs, lifestyle and mindset.
“Food is always first for immunity, so starting there is highly advised,” says Robinett. But breathing and trying to stay calm in chaos is key, too. “Diffusing essential oils in the home or during a shower or bath is a fantastic way to get herbal relief without having to eat or drink anything funky-flavored. Try eucalyptus for the respiratory system, sage or rosemary for head-clearing, lavender for peaceful sleep or any mint for refreshing a space or face. It’s also been shown that using essential oils or burning natural incense can be very helpful for decreasing airborne bacteria in a room.”
So, next time you’re in the kitchen chopping up dinner, plop a diffuser on your counter! As for what you should be chopping, luckily some of our best immune system supports are common kitchen ingredients.
We already know that herbs and spices are key, but keep reading for Robinett’s lesser known favourites.
“Try it freshly juiced or blended and strained, mixed with a little orange juice or into tea. If there are garlic fans in the house, this is also fantastic for immunity.”
“Elderberry is a wonderful immune system stimulant and so best used for acute care. It helps that it’s commonly found in syrup form but as always, make sure the syrup is used with natural sugars only. Vegetable glycerin, which is commonly used to extract herbs, honey or fruit is best. It’s counterproductive to consume sugar when trying to support your immune system, so I never recommend adding it, even in cases like honey, unless it’s the base of your medicinal herbs. “
If you prefer to skip the syrup all together then Robinett suggests aiming for echinacea instead. As with all herbs for kids, you’ll want to adjust the dose based on weight.
“Examples of these include miso, bone broth or my vegan immunity broth. They are excellent vehicles for healing. Add great salt, dulse flakes if your kids will accept sea veggies, nutritional yeast for umami and great quality miso for gut health. I always recommend extra warmth in cold-flu season and especially if sick and needing to sweat anything out.”
“Zinc is essential for all of us and especially helpful for cold and flu season. Find it in gummies or lozenges, but look for those made without added sugar.”
Speaking of sugar, Robinett underlines that minimal to no sugar is major. “I don’t advocate for white sugar or healthier sounding alternatives like honey. Despite it being antibacterial, there are plenty of other equivalents that aren’t in the form of sugar. This may be hard for kids, but there are great alternatives like fresh fruits, which are naturally sweet. Taking a break from it can be hugely helpful both in preventing illness and getting over infections very quickly.”