If you have kids, then you have colds. According to WebMD, children aged one to three will experience six to nine minor illnesses each year, while four- to six-year-olds will fall ill four to six times yearly.
As a parent, you also know that viruses and bacteria love a crowd. Chances are you’ll be next in line once your child comes home with body aches and a runny nose. If your children have siblings or attend school or day care, then they will likely fall ill ten times or more each year.
Your kids are going to get sick no matter how hard you try to prevent it. However, there are many natural remedies you can use to not only boost your immune system, but lessen the length and severity of illness if you or your kids do get sick. Combine these with healthy meals for kids for even better results.
Kids and Colds – Practical Prevention
Every year, the medical community urges parents to keep kids healthy with the following advice: stay hydrated, get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly. Keeping humidity levels at a comfortable level (usually around 40% to 50%) in your home, especially during the winter, will also help you stay healthy, as dry air lowers your resistance to infection.
One of the best ways to keep illness at bay can also be the most challenging for children: hand washing. Keeping hands clean and away from the face is probably the single best way to avoid illness. If you have especially young children, however, you might find this almost impossible. I know I do.
Even the healthiest families get sick once in a while. If your kids are anything like mine, they’re going to get sick on a Friday at midnight when the only option is 24-hour urgent care. I’ve learned that having a well-stocked medicine cabinet, which includes both over-the-counter products and a variety of natural medicines, helps us avoid or overcome most of the illnesses my children come home with.
Do they still get sick? Of course. But we go through far fewer illnesses than other families we know, and I think it’s largely due to the natural remedies we use.
Best Natural Remedies For Kids to Stay Healthy
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Benjamin Franklin. This wisdom is especially true when it comes to our health. Spending just a little bit of time, money, and energy on maintaining good health will go a long way towards staying healthy all year long. The natural remedies below will help boost your immune system safely and naturally, helping you and your family to overcome an illness quickly if you do get sick.
1. Elderberry Syrup
People have been using elderberry syrup for centuries to boost the immune system and reduce the length and severity of illnesses, such as the flu.
I discovered elderberry syrup after my first son was born, and we use it throughout the year to stay healthy. We’ve found it to be especially effective at knocking out an illness once we begin to experience symptoms.
The medical community has also found elderberry syrup to be an effective and safe natural remedy for colds and the flu. A 2004 study in the Journal of International Medical Research found that influenza patients recovered an average of four days earlier and required less “rescue medication” than those taking a placebo.
Another study, published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that elderberry extract possessed antimicrobial properties against Strep bacteria, and displayed an “inhibitory effect on the propagation of human pathogenic influenza viruses.” In other words, once you’re infected with a virus, elderberry syrup can slow down its reproduction.
You can take elderberry syrup daily to boost your immune system, or you can keep a supply on-hand and use it when you think you might be getting sick. Elderberry syrup is expensive compared to other over-the-counter cold and flu medicines, averaging around $16 for an eight-ounce bottle.
However, it’s cheap compared to the cost of doctor visits and lost productivity at work and school. If you have access to raw elderberries, it’s also fairly easy to make your own elderberry syrup. This will reduce costs significantly.
It’s also a good idea to take elderberry syrup two to three days before you and your family travel, and to continue daily doses while you’re away from home. This can help you and your kids stay healthy when you’re exposed to a wider variety of germs, bacteria, and viruses.
Another perk to elderberry syrup? It’s delicious, and your kids will likely beg for more when you give them a dose.
2. Oregano Oil
The medicinal properties of oregano oil are amazing. It’s antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, and full of antioxidants. Oregano oil can help protect you from illnesses like the common cold or flu, and more serious and life-threatening illnesses, such as cholera, chicken pox, or typhoid. It can also help reduce or eliminate symptoms of allergic reactions.
Oregano oil is incredibly effective at eliminating the symptoms of food poisoning. I tested this myself a couple of years ago after eating some bad sushi. Within an hour, my food poisoning symptoms were significantly less severe, and I felt completely well the next morning.
According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, oregano oil is gaining popularity as an alternative to antibiotics for livestock. However, it’s also an effective treatment for us humans. A 2008 study published in PRI Bioscience found that Origanum vulgare oil (oregano oil) possessed the highest and broadest antifungal activity compared to other oils in the study.
If you decide to add oregano oil to your medicine cabinet, it’s important to buy the highest quality oil you can find. You want an oil with a high carvacrol concentration; this is one of the active ingredients in oregano oil. The higher the concentration, the more effective the oregano oil will be. I use Oregenal, which has 73% carvacrol. Some brands have an 85% or higher carvacrol concentration, but of course, these will be more expensive.
How much will you spend on oregano oil? You’ll pay around $30 to $40 for a one-ounce bottle. But quality oregano oil is extremely concentrated, so you only need to use three to four drops under the tongue for an adult dose. I’ve had my two-ounce bottle for years, and it’s still half-full. It’s worth spending more to get quality oregano oil from a reputable company.
Keep in mind that the taste of oregano oil is very strong. It’s hard for many adults, much less children, to handle. For an adult dose, add a few drops of oil to a tablespoon of honey to help it go down. I have found no guidance on how much oregano oil is safe for children, so I only give my sons one drop in a tablespoon of honey when they need it.
3. Immune-Boosting Foods
Many foods help boost your immune system naturally, and the three below are also kid-friendly:
- Probiotics. A 2006 study in International Microbiology found that consuming two strains of probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus gasseri and Lactobacillus coryniformis, enhanced the immunity of participants compared to those who ate regular yogurt. While any yogurt will help boost your good gut bacteria, probiotic yogurts and drinks, such as kefir, might further help ward off colds and flu. Your kids might turn up their noses at plain kefir (which has a strong taste), so opt for flavored kefir.
- Oats. The humble oat is full of goodness. It’s high in fiber, it can help lower cholesterol, and it contains beta-glucan, which helps our blood cells fight infection. It’s also high in zinc, which further boosts your immune system. Whole oats, which are far less processed than quick-cook oats, provide more immune-boosting benefits. There are plenty of overnight oat recipes if you’re pressed for time in the mornings.
- Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, an essential vitamin for healthy skin. Skin is our first defense against infection, so keeping it healthy is a priority when it comes to staying well. Offer your kids mashed sweet potatoes with a bit of maple syrup or oven-baked sweet potato fries sprinkled with cinnamon several times a week to keep their epidermis in flu-fighting shape. Other orange-colored foods, such as carrots and pumpkin, will also do the trick.
Cinnamon has been used as a spice to flavor foods for thousands of years. It’s rich in antioxidants and has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It’s also a great immune booster thanks to one of its essential oils, cinnamaldehyde.
A 2008 study in Bioresource Technology found that cinnamon has excellent anti-inflammatory properties, and a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that cinnamon oil was effective in limiting the growth of many bacteria, including Staph and E. coli.
There are many ways you can incorporate more cinnamon into your children’s diet. One of the easiest is to add it to their morning oatmeal, which gives them a double dose of benefits. You can also mix 1/4 teaspoon with a tablespoon of honey, another immune booster outlined below, as a morning treat.
Cinnamon also comes in supplement form. The advantage to supplements is that you’ll get a highly concentrated dose of cinnamon without having to eat roughly nine bowls of cinnamon-flavored oatmeal. The disadvantage is that supplements cost more, and getting your children to take a pill can present its own challenges. Personally, I get my sons to eat more cinnamon by adding it to food and hot drinks, and I feel they get enough this way.
5. Honey and Propolis
According to WebMD, laboratory tests have shown honey to be effective in hampering the growth of E. coli, Salmonella, and the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, among others. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that propolis, which is the sticky compound bees use as a coating to build their hives, can help stimulate antibody production.
Propolis can be especially effective in boosting the immune system. It’s very high in polyphenols, which are antioxidants that fight disease. You will ingest some propolis when you eat honey; however, you can buy propolis in liquid or capsule form to get a higher dose.
Honey is also an effective home treatment for coughs. In a 2013 article published in the Journal of Family Practice, doctors found that two teaspoons of honey given at bedtime reduced cough frequency and severity, and improved sleep for children.
To maximize the health benefits of honey, look for darker-colored varieties. The darker the honey, the greater its antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits.
Getting your children to ingest more honey shouldn’t be too difficult, as its sweetness almost guarantees that it will go down with a smile. Try adding honey to Greek yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast. It’s delicious on a peanut butter sandwich or simply eaten by the spoonful.
Important Note: Never give honey to infants under one year. Their immune systems are not developed enough to protect against the botulism bacteria, the spores of which can sometimes be found in honey.
You might have heard that ingesting local honey (honey made from flowers found in your particular area) can help treat seasonal allergies. And when you have children that suffer from seasonal allergies, you’re ready to try anything to get them relief. However, honey is ineffective in treating allergies for two main reasons.
First, many people are allergic to wind-borne allergens, such as ragweed and grass, and these are not found in honey. Another misconception is that honey contains enough pollen from local flowers to help your body build up a resistance. But honey is made from flower nectar, not pollen. Very little pollen finds its way into honey, which makes it ineffective for treating seasonal allergies.
Honey is best used as a nutritious and delicious boost for your immune system.
When I’m up with one of my sons in the middle of the night, his face like a burning coal from fever, it’s hard to remember that all these illnesses do serve a purpose: building and strengthening their fragile immune systems. Without all the exposure to germs, viruses, and bacteria, their immune system would never get strong enough to keep them alive through adulthood.
If one of your children does get ill, consider trying a natural home remedy for cold and flu. Home remedies often work just as well, or better, than over-the-counter medicine.
What do you do to keep your kids healthy all year long?