Herbs for Kids (cont.)

Herbs can also indirectly harm children if parents use them in place of prescription medications. "When a child has a serious condition, you don't want to take away proven remedies in favor of untested alternatives," Kemper says.

Kemper only recommends easy-to-recognize herbs of time-tested value. For instance, a child with an upset stomach might feel better after a cup of chamomile and peppermint tea or some juice with a quarter-teaspoon of ginger grated into it. Then again, she says, a little Pepto-Bismol would help, too, but only if the child doesn't have a fever: Pepto-Bismol isn't recommended if kids have fevers because of the risk of Reye's syndrome. If parents still want to take a chance on questionable herbal treatments, capsules, powders, and potions, Kemper suggests sticking with brands manufactured in developed countries -- especially the United States and Germany -- to reduce the risk of contamination.

Clearly, many parents are willing to take a risk on herbal remedies, and many are glad they did. Sunny Mavor, founder of Herbs for Kids and co-author with White of Kids, Herbs, and Health, says she has a huge stack of "love letters" from satisfied clients, and she's never received a complaint about unwanted side effects.

Final Advice

Skeptics and herbalists do agree, however, that parents should use caution with herbs, which means keeping all herbal products out of children's reach and never giving more than the recommended dose. (In general, the dose for a child should be one-third to one-fourth of an adult dose, according to the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colo.) Most important, parents should tell their pediatrician about every herb their child takes.

All sides also agree that scientists aren't likely to settle the questions and uncertainties about herbs any time soon. If parents waited for scientific trials to prove herbs worked for kids, Mavor says, "it would keep herbs out of the mouths of children forever."

Of course, not everyone would say that's a bad thing.

Chris Woolston is a freelance health and medical writer living in Billings, Mont. He writes for WebMD, Consumer Health Interactive, and Time Inc. Health.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005 10:38:38 PM