Feature Archive

Herbs for Kids: What's Safe, What's Not

WebMD Feature

June 26, 2000 -- Take a walk through a health food store and you'll probably see a mind-boggling array of herbal products aimed at children. The remedies come in many different packages with many different claims, but the same ingredients often show up again and again on the labels.

What does science have to say? Kathi Kemper, MD, director of the Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research at Children's Hospital in Boston, has weighed the evidence behind each of the herbs most commonly given to children. And as she reported in the February 2000 issue of the journal Pediatrics in Review, in most cases the jury is still out.

Here's the latest scoop on the herbs that most often show up in child remedies, based on Kemper's review and the opinions of other leading herbal experts:

  • Catnip. While its power over cats is unquestionable, catnip has never been scientifically tested on humans. Still, it is often used to treat children's low-grade fevers, upper respiratory tract infections, colic, headache, nervousness, sleep disorders, and indigestion. It also has a reputation for easing menstrual cramps. Serious side effects seem to be rare, but Kemper reports that at least one toddler became excessively drowsy after taking it.

    Bottom line: Probably safe, but no proven reason to try it.