Enjoying food and drink with family is one of my favourite ways to connect. Herbal medicine can be part of this, and is a wonderful way for families to come together in creating and benefiting from the medicine that nature provides.
One simple way to engage in the ceremony of nourishment is with a warm pot of tea, filled with calming herbs that will reduce stress and allow us to enjoy each other’s presence. We can also get creative with the way we incorporate herbs into food and drink: creating chocolates is one of the most delicious (and simple) ways to do this. These can be fun and meaningful activities for children to engage in, and there are a few that are wonderfully beneficial for children.
Some herbs I recommend for everyone in the family, from toddler to grandparents, are Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Catnip (Nepata cataria), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). The herbs are generally gentle and safe* while still packing a punch when it comes to medicinal properties.
Lemon Balm is a member of the mint family (here’s a fun hint on how to tell a plant is in the Mint, or Lamiaciae, family: check the stems are square). Many Mint family herbs, including Lemon Balm, are generally carminative, meaning they reduce digestive discomfort, like bloating and gas.
I love using the fresh, fragrant leaves of Lemon Balm, and it is an easy plant to grow indoors. Harvesting the leaves together with children can be fun and educational. Once you have your cheerful Lemon Balm plant on your windowsill, simply steep a couple leaves in a cup of boiled water, cover for 10 minutes, and enjoy!
On top of being soothing to the digestive system, it is relaxing for the nervous system, great for children’s anxiety, and it is anti-viral (especially toward the herpes virus causing cold sores). Sharing a cup of lemon balm tea with your child can be a great way to help ease their stomach pains or anxiety, and a wonderful way to reduce immediate stress.
Chamomile is another yummy herb wonderful for children. Attempting to aid my toddler in his wind-down routine at night, I’ve started making him a weak cup of warm Chamomile tea in his bottle.
To my surprise and pleasure, he loves it! It’s warm like the breast milk he’s used to and it has relaxing effects. This is another carminative herb, so it relaxes tension in the digestive tract and helps relieve gas.
Catnip is most known as the herb that gets cats excited, but it has the opposite effect in humans. It is mildly sedative and calming. It soothes digestive tension, constipation, hyperactivity, and insomnia. Ashwagandha, which we discussed last month, is another herb I love to give to children in small amounts.
If you would like to get a little creative, producing healthy chocolates with your family can be an excellent way to come together and do something fun. I like to infuse calming herbs into the chocolate to add those medicinal benefits. The main ingredients in these homemade simple chocolate treats are coconut oil and cacao or cocoa powder, both super foods. Cacao is antioxidant and rich in magnesium. However, it can also be stimulating, so combining it with relaxing herbs can help make these delicious, healthy treats calming and soothing to the nervous system.
Homemade Herbal Chocolate Recipe 2/3 cup of Coconut oil ½ cup of Cacao powder 1/3 cup of Maple syrup (or raw honey – but be sure not to add the honey when the oil is too hot)
Pinch of Sea or Himalayan salt Coconut flakes or other treats (nuts, rose petals, berries, raisins, etc) Herbs of your choice (I used catnip and lavender, with some Ashwagandha powder)
You may wish to use a tea bag of chamomile or another herb of choice to make the straining process easy. Have silicon moulds ready to go (if you don’t have these, ice cube trays should work). Melt the coconut oil (I used a make-shift double boiler, but in a pot would work as well). Add the herbs of your choice here, and let them steep for 5 to 10 minutes in the melted oil. If you used a powdered herb (like the Ashwagandha I used in my recipe) you won’t need to strain it out.
For herb pieces (like the catnip and lavender I used), strain the oil into another clean glass container.
Add the maple syrup, then the cacao and the little bit of salt. And mix until smooth consistency. I put coconut flakes into the mould. Pour the chocolate mixture into the moulds and pop in the freezer for 20 minutes or more. Then pop them out of the moulds and enjoy or store in the fridge.
(*always consult a Medical Herbalist or Physician if you have any health conditions or are pregnant)
Lauren Truscott Waddell, RHT, CHHC