Boosting Baby’s and Toddler’s Immune System, NATURALLY!

January 29, 2008 | 13 Comments

istock_sickkid.jpgWell, around the holidays my baby girl caught a cold two different times. We traveled on an airplane, were in a completely different climate than we are acclimated to, and (as I know some of you can relate), we didn’t really eat the way we normally do when we are home.

It is the season though. Bugs and viruses are all so common, that at any given week we are all sure to know of at least one friend that is feeling a little under the weather.

For me, as a mom, I just don’t like my little girl sick. The sight of her runny nose, and hearing congestion in her lungs makes me a little sad. But then I remember that it is OK for our babies/children to get sick. It actually makes them stronger, and builds better immune systems.

How we take care of these illnesses, on the other hand, can also make a difference in the development of our loved one’s immune systems too!

Natural Remedies for Sick Babies and Children

Sandra, being from Europe, has grown up with her family using everything from flax seed wraps to onions in the crib, as natural remedies for illness. When her baby comes down with something, Sandra has the ability of calling up her sister for recommendations on natural, time-tested ways to soothe her baby. Go Europe!

We are delighted to bring to you the wisdom of a studied herbalist when it comes to caring for our babies, NATURALLY! (Wow, I really wish I had this info. a month ago). This is one you will clearly want to keep on file!

Maria Muscarella has pursued her passion studying and teaching herbal medicine and medicine-making for over 10 years. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1997 with a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing and studied Midwifery in Ireland. Having studied with Aviva Romm, Peggy Ellis, and numerous other herbalists, Maria combines her medical knowledge with her eclectic herbal studies to offer a holistic view of health and healing.

Here is what Maria beautifully offers………

As parents, we all want our children to be healthy. We do all that we can to keep them well fed, warm, and thriving. Yet, one of our children’s ‘duties’ during childhood is to get ‘ill’ enough to build a strong immune system.

The Immune System of a Child

During childhood, the immune system begins to develop a system to recognize its ‘self’ versus ‘other’. Our immune system learns to protect and defend the body from disease producing organisms. Young children have an average of 6-8 colds per year, and that figure goes up to as high as 12 colds per year when children start school. (Adults have 2-4 colds per year.)

The majority of these illnesses come during the fall and winter months, when children play inside most of the day. In addition, many cold viruses thrive in low humidity. Thus, the dry air during the fall and winter months makes the nasal passages drier and more vulnerable to infection.

Building a Strong, Active Immune System

So, what can we do to help our children build a strong, active immune system?

  • Healthy Diets!
    This is one of the hardest things to define, as there are so many beliefs as to what constitutes a healthy diet. However, whatever your food beliefs, it has been shown that sugar can decrease the effectiveness of the immune response by up to 50%! It also increases their risks for behavioral issues, diabetes, obesity, and many more health issues. Let’s get the kids off of the sugar!! This is much easier said than done, I know. Kids can be such picky eaters. But, they will learn by experience if we set a good example for them.

    • Increase veggie and fruit intake as well as foods with Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) (nuts, seeds and fish), decrease dairy, refined and processed foods and increase local/organic foods.
    • As 70% of our immune system is in our digestive system, it’s extremely important that we keep our digestion healthy and feed ourselves good foods! Go for lots of colorful whole foods.
    • Vitamin D.In the winter, we don’t get outside as much so our bodies don’t make as much Vitamin D.Vitamin D is very important in the immune system… so get the kids out to play as much as possible.
  • Exercise!
    We all know that kids spend far too much time indoors these days! Let’s get them outside, running around. Again, we need to set the example. If we are spending all our ‘down time’ in front of the TV or computer, so will our kids. Get outside, in the fresh air, and take a hike, go for a picnic, play ball…
  • Have you heard of the “Hygiene Hypothesis”? The basic gist of this is that some of us are living in a world that is too clean. Children who live in a super clean house, using anti-bacterial everything, with no animals, and no dust bunnies bouncing around are more likely to develop allergies, asthma, and auto immune disorders. Kids need to have the chance to get dirty in order to build a stronger immune system.  The immune system needs to be stimulated in order to work properly. It is OK for our kids to get sick. It may be inconvenient for us, and our own schedules, but giving our children permission to be sick and allowing them the time to heal helps them build a strong/healthy/active immune system. Ditch the “antibacterial” products. All we are doing is over exposing ourselves to antibiotics and building more resistant bugs that we can’t defend ourselves against, because our immune systems aren’t up to par. Besides, most colds and flu’s are viral – not bacterial.
  • Herbal support – through syrups, baths, salves, teas, steams, tinctures, glycerites, herbal popsicles, powders, etc… A general rule for dosing children’s herbal remedies: divide the child’s weight by 150 (the average adult weight) and get the fraction of the dose to be administered. Ex: for a 30 pound child 30/150 is 1/5th of the adult dose.

Treating The Common Cold Naturally

Most Common Winter Ailments
The ‘Common Cold’ is generally caused by a virus, and lasts only a few days. Gentle support and love may be all that is needed for our children. Sometimes, colds can be accompanied by cough, sore throat, decreased appetite, irritability, stuffy or runny nose, and can progress to earache, sinusitis, bronchitis, laryngitis, or pneumonia.

So, what happens?
We are exposed to an infectious agent through the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, eyes, or skin. Generally it is a virus, transmitted through airborne droplets, carried on hands, or on clothing. The virus enters the body and pierces the cells of the mucous membranes that line the eyes, nose, or throat. The virus uses the body’s cells to replicate. Blood brings White Blood Cells (WBC’s) to the infected area to get rid of the virus. This influx of blood and WBC’s causes swelling and increases fluid secretions (“runny nose”). This inflammation and increased mucous can lead to cough, sore throat, nasal and chest congestion, fever (in response to the ‘invader’), etc…

Maintaining healthy cell membranes
Essential Fatty Acids!Fat makes up the cell membrane, so feeding the body healthy fats keeps the cells working most efficiently.My daughter loves to take her oils in the morning and reminds me if we’ve forgotten.I like to take the liquid form, but my husband likes the capsules.So, my daughter decided she wanted to try daddy’s oils one day.I told her they have to be swallowed and she said, “nope, I will chew it”UGH!!Now, every morning, she asks for her chewy oils instead.yuck :-)

So, how do we support the immune system while decreasing the bothersome symptoms?

Kitchen Remedies for The Common Cold

At the first signs of a cold:
Kitchen remedies….

  • Increase fluid intake, decrease sugar, dairy, wheat, and oranges (they are all mucous producing in the body, and we won’t need any more of that!)
  • Pumpkin seeds! Eat ‘em up! They are high in zinc, which can help decrease viral infection at the onset.
  • Berries and Sour Fruits! High in Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, these fruits can aid in the immune response.
  • Garlic is a great anti-viral food. Add it to your meals; raw or lightly cooked.
    Garlic Lemonade:

    -Finely mince three cloves of fresh garlic and place them into a one-quart mason jar.
    -Fill the jar with boiling water and cover for 30 minutes.
    -Strain garlic and to the liquid add the juice of one whole lemon.
    -Sweeten with honey or maple syrup and serve.
    -Ginger and Cinnamon would also be a nice warming and blood moving addition to this drink if you so desire.
  • Thyme is another great antiviral spice that you can give as a tea or add to your food.
  • Onion Syrup:
    You will need 1 medium onion, sliced and 1-2 cups of raw sugar.
    Layer onion slices and sugar in a glass jar until full. Let sit in a cool place for 1 to 2 days while the sugar dissolves. Strain out the onion, bottle the infused honey, and keep in the refrigerator. Use 1/2 to 1 tsp, 3 times a day for cough, congestions, and oncoming cold symptoms. (I know this has sugar in it, but it is a fantastic recipe and not something you would use all the time or long term.)
  • Emergen-C’s are sold in the health food stores and can be a nice thing to keep with you when traveling. They provided lots of vitamins and minerals that can support the immune system in times of stress. Just be sure to get the low sugar ones… they have kids doses too.

Herbal Remedies for Children With Colds

  • Elderberry Syrup:
    3 cups fresh elderberries, or 1 cup dried berries (Sambucus nigra)
    3 cups filtered water
    1 1/2 cups honey (or less)
    1 ounce fresh ginger root, grated
    Juice of 1 lime
    1 ounce Echinacea tincture (optional) (Echinacea purpurea)
    1. Combine berries, ginger and water in stainless steel or glass pot. Heat on medium until simmering.
    2. Continue to gently simmer uncovered until reduced in volume by half.
    3. Remove from heat. Strain well through a cheesecloth, squeezing the juice from the berries. Allow the liquid to cool slightly.
    4. Measure liquid and combine with equal parts honey (or less; equal parts of honey may be too sweet for you).
    5. Add all the lime juice.
    6. When cooled completely, add Echinacea tincture.
    7. Pour into glass jar, label with date, and store in the refrigerator for up to a year.Take one tablespoon twice daily (adult dose) during the cold and flu season. For children ages 2-5, one teaspoon twice a day. Dose for ages 6-12 is two teaspoons twice daily. Nursing mothers can take one tablespoon 5 minutes before nursing to pass the benefits along to the baby.
  • Echinacea tincture or glycerite. One drop per 2 pounds of body weight every three hours during the first signs of a cold.
  • Licorice (Glyzyrrhiza glabra) root sticks – Have your child suck on the licorice stick, or make a tea with it. It is a wonderful antiviral, as well as immune supporting and soothing to the inflamed tissues.
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)– Add it to soups or teas. Another great immune supporting herb.

For Specific Cold Symptoms:

Natural Remedies for a Cough

A cough is an effort by the body to rid itself of mucous and /or pathogens. It is not always beneficial to suppress a cough because you want the mucous to move up and out. But, if it is causing decreased sleep or irritation, you may need to soothe the cough.

Kitchen Remedies

  • Sage Tea calms a cough
  • Thyme and Anise Seed makes a great tea for a wet, productive cough to help move the mucous out. 1/2 tsp. each in 2 cups of boiling water. Steep 20 minutes. Kids can drink up to 1 cup, 3 times a day.
  • Onion Syrup (See Above Recipe)
  • Prop the head up on pillow if the cough is worse at night. This will help the mucous drain more effectively.

Other Herbs / Teas

  • Licorice Sticks (See Above Recipe), Plantain Leaf (Plantago major, P. minor), Mullein leaf and flower (Verbascum thapsus), and Marshmallow Root (Althea officinalis) are wonderful for a dry cough.
  • Elecampane Root (Inula helenium), Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus serotina), and Hyssop leaf (Hyssopus oficinalis) are wonderful for a wet cough.


When the adult dose is one teacupful:

< one year old …………….2 teaspoonsful

1 – 3 years………………… 3 teaspoonsful

3 – 6 years………………… 1 tablespoonful

6 – 9 years………………… 2 tablespoonsful

9 – 12 years………………. 3 tablespoonsful

12 – 15 years…………….. 4 tablespoonsful

15 – 18 years…………….. 5 tablespoonsful

> 18 years …………………adult dose

When the adult dose is one teaspoonful or 60 drops:

< 3 months………………. 2 drops

3 – 6 months…………….. 3 drops

6 – 9 months…………….. 4 drops

9 – 12 months…………… 5 drops

12 – 18 months ………….7 drops

18 – 24 months ………….8 drops

2 – 3 years……………… 10 drops

3 – 4 years……………….12 drops

4 – 6 years……………….15 drops

6 – 9 years……………….24 drops

9 – 12 years……………..30 drops

12 – 15 years …………..38 drops

15 – 18 years………….. 45 drops

> 18 years ……………adult dose

Natural Remedies for a Sore Throat

Viruses cause 90% of sore throats.

Kitchen Remedies

  • Onion Syrup (See Above Recipe)
  • Carrots – Carrots are cooling and soothing to a sore throat. They also help decrease inflammation in the throat and swollen glands.Grate 2 large carrots, spread them on a flannel cloth and wrap it around the neck. Fasten the cloth in the back so it remains on. Cover all with a warm or cold towel (which ever feels better at the time) and leave on for 30 minutes.
  • Humidifier – Keep the air most. Dry air dries out and cracks the mucous membranes making it easier for microbes to invade.
  • Thyme and Anise Seed Tea (See Above Recipe)
  • Cloves in Warm Apple Juice – A nice pain reliever; 8 cloves in 1 quart of juice, sip as needed

Other Herbs

  • Licorice (See Above Recipe)
  • Usnea (Usnea spp.)– both a wonderful antiviral and antibacterial used specifically for respiratory infections.
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis) flower tea or tincture is soothing, antiviral, healing, and helps move the lymph
  • Slippery Elm (Ulmus spp.) bark as a powder or in lozenge form is very soothing to a sore throat and cough.
  • Plantain leaf tea helps to sooth and coat the throat.

Natural Remedies for Congestion

Congestion can be in the upper (nose and throat) or lower (lungs) respiratory system, resulting from the increased mucous production and inflammation. Use similar remedies as for a wet cough to help break up the mucous and move it out of the body.

Kitchen Remedies

  • Onion Syrup (See Above Recipe)
  • Thyme/Anise Tea (See Above Recipe)
  • Horseradish or wasabi, and ginger – if your little ones happen to like sushi like mine does, make some sushi with ginger and wasabi to help break up the respiratory congestion.
  • Humidifier – don’t forget about moisturizing the air…add 2-5 drops of Eucalyptus or Rosemary essential oils to the water (or to a bath or steam)
  • Fennel Tea – 1teaspoon per cup of boiling water, steep 20 minutes and give 1/4 to 1/2 cup 3 times a day to help break up mucous.
  • Cut out the dairy and citrus fruits – both can be very mucous producing.

Other Herbs

  • Horehound herb (Marrubium vulgare), Hyssop leaf, and Licorice root are wonderful aids to clearing respiratory congestions
  • Wild Cherry Bark – Not necessarily a decongestant, but it helps to dilate the bronchioles to increase mucous movement and aid in breathing.

Congestion that gets stuck in the sinuses can lead to sinusitis. When the mucous can’t move, the air in the sinus cavity can get reabsorbed into the blood stream creating a vacuum in the sinus cavity. This leads to sinus pain. This blocked sinus cavity becomes a perfect breading ground for bacteria which leads to increased pain, pus, and pressure. (Some children may have chronic sinusitis resulting from allergies that cause constant nasal congestion)

Kitchen Remedies

Cut an onion in half and blanch it in boiling water for 30 seconds. Wrap the onion in a thin cloth and hold it up to the aching sinus (be sure it is not too hot on the skin) for ~15 minutes. The sulfur compounds in the onions help to break up the congestion and get the mucous moving out.

Other Herbs

  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) – 20 drops in 1/2 cup of warm water can be used to irrigate the nasal passages after breaking up the congestion with an onion.

Natural Remedies for Earaches and Ear Infections: Baby and Child

The #1 reason kids visit the doctor is earaches and ear infections.
Sinus congestion can lead to blockage in the ear canals resulting in an earache and possibly infection. Ear canals in children aren’t fully formed until ~3-4 years old. So they do not drain as well. This causes stagnant mucous which breeds bacteria.

The best remedy is Garlic Oil!! (This is wonderful remedy by itself, but is even better with Mullein flowers and St. John’s Wort flowers.

How To Use Garlic For Ear Infections

Garlic Ear Oil

  • One whole bulb of garlic, chopped
    1 oz Mullein flowers (Verbascum thapsus)
    1 oz St. John’s Wort flowers (Hypericum perforatum, H. punctatum)
    1 pint olive oil

Place all ingredients in a glass jar and infuse in a warm place for 7 days. Strain and bottle the oil. If you can’t wait for 7 days to make the oil, place all the ingredients in a pot over low flame and gently heat for 30 minutes. Then strain and bottle.

To use it: Warm the oil by placing the bottle in a warm water bath. Use 5 warm oil drops in each ear placing a cotton ball in the ear after the oil. Use 4-6 times a day, until symptoms resolve. If symptoms have not decreased or disappeared within 5 days of use, see your health care provider. Do not use the oil if there are signs of ear drum rupture (drainage, bleeding, decreased hearing, or severe pain).

  • Blanched Onion to the ear can also help break up and pull out the congestion.

Natural Remedies for Fever

Let’s not forget – fever is not the illness, it is a sign that the body is working to get rid of an illness. It is the body’s way of making itself an inhospitable host for the microbe.

How high you let a fever get is up to your comfort level. Most children run hot and tend to get high fever even though they may not show other symptoms. If you are comfortable nurturing your child through a fever, it is ok to let it run its course (usually 2-3 days) as long as the child stays hydrated and is not extremely uncomfortable.

If you need to bring a fever down…

Kitchen Remedies

  • Potatoes! Grated potatoes placed on the soles of the feet will pull the fever down. Grate a potato and place it on the feet, then wrap the feet in a cloth to help keep the gratings on the skin.
  • Egg Whites used as you would potatoes will also draw the fever down.

Other Herbs
Catnip herb (Nepeta cataria), Elder Flower (Sambucus nigra), Mint leaves (Mentha spp.), Lemon Balm leaves (Melissa officinalis), Chamomile flower (Matricaria recutita), Yarrow flower, (Achillea millefolium) – All of these herbs are wonderful fever reducers, as tea, tincture, or glycerite.

Tea – 1 ounce mix of fever herbs in one cup of boiling water. Steep 20 minutes and give 1/4 cup as needed.

Tincture or glycerite – give as directed on the bottle.

Some kids may get nauseous or vomit with fevers. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Ginger can help with these symptoms. It is best to give it as a tincture or glycerite as the tea may not stay down.

Natural Remedies for Diarrhea

  • Keep your child well hydrated! Use of electrolyte drinks (such as tea with maple syrup, Gatorade, Emergen-C’s) is recommended as children may be loosing electrolytes with diarrhea.
  • Blackberry leaf or root tea or tincture can be very effective in tightening the bowel mucosa and keeping in the fluids. (One ounce of leaf or root in 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for 20 minutes and give 1/4 to 1/2 cup of tea 3-4 times a day.
  • A good food during illness is white rice cooked mushy with salt and butter and 1Tbsp of Meadowsweet powder (Filipendula ulmaris) mixed in.


The Influenza virus causes similar, but more severe symptoms, to the common cold. Along with high fever, possible sore throat and coughing, there may also be a headache, exhaustion, and body aches.
Support the immune system! If you know that the flu is going around your school, play groups, or place of work, keep your immune system strong by using your Elderberry syrup and Garlic! Both are strong antivirals. Elderberry has an enzyme that ‘melts’ the hemaglutanin receptor binding site on viruses so that they can’t infect the host cell and replicate!

With any illnesses, if you are uncomfortable with your child’s condition or feel that it has passed beyond your scope of knowledge, never hesitate to call your doctor or herbalist! The most important thing is keeping them strong and healthy and you are to be commended for taking your family’s health into your own hands!

Winter Tonic Soup Recipe

  • 2 quarts vegetable stock (Chicken stock can also be used)
  • Handful of Sea Veggies
  • 2 Pieces of Astragalus Root (Astragalus membranaceus)
  • 1 Burdock Root (Arctium lappa)
  • Ginger – 1 inch piece, peeled and chopped
  • Garlic – 4 cloves, chopped
  • 1 Onion – choppedCook all at a low simmer for 1 hour. Take off of the stove and add 2-4 Tbsp. Miso (to taste). Freezes well!

On a final note from Maria about herbs and infants, and on maximizing effectiveness

As for herbs for infants, I believe that any age is appropriate, but the dosage would greatly vary. Also, if the mom is breast feeding, then mom can take the herbs to get them to baby. Just take herbs 15 minutes prior to feeding.

I always recommend that parents work with an herbalist when using herbs with their kids. One of the biggest issues I see with parents using herbs for kids is that they don’t dose correctly… either not using enough, or using the wrong herbs for the child’s condition. Then the herbs don’t help and the condition gets worse and they end up going to the doc.

A good place to find an herbalist is on the American Herbalists Guild website.

I hope that you all enjoyed this information one as much as we do! It is a beautiful thing that we can use the healing powers of nature to safely build and restore our baby’s immune systems. No parent likes to see their baby ill, but with Maria Muscarella’s advice, we can now safely and naturally nurture our little angels into even stronger beings!

Please show a little love and LIKE this post at the beginning or end of the article if you found it helpful.  We always appreciate your comments and read each and everyone. LIKE us on Facebook too.

Maria Muscarella

Maria Muscarella is an active member of the United Plant Savers, the North Carolina Chapter of The American Herbalist’s Guild, and is the founder of Full Circle Herbs Company. Maria offers clinical herbal consultations and co-manages the Apothecary at Viriditas. She also spends time teaching at Asheville Buncombe Technical College and is part of the core faculty at the Mountain Spirit School of Herbalism. A strong believer in sustainable living and community healing, Maria runs her homestead, with her husband and young daughter, on 25 wooded acres just outside of Asheville, NC.


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Category: 0-1 yr, 1-3 yrs, 3-5 yrs, 5+ yrs, Drinking, Feeding, Immune Boosting, Natural Remedies

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  • Julie

    What do you think of using sinupret for a baby under 2 years old?

  • Rose

    I’ve been looking for alternatives to drugging my kids when they’re sick. This site is perfect. Thanks for the wonderful info.. and the dosing for children. Thanks you!

  • Elle (@Cleverlychangin)

    This article is very thorough, and much needed for parents. Thank you for doing the research and posting this information. Please stop by my blog and pay me a visit.

  • Jennifer

    I came across this website looking for natural ways to build my one year old’s immunity. Very very useful information. Thanks.

  • Anna

    Thanks so much for this info, my little baby is 5 months and it is his first time being congested. The traditional methods make me feel like I am hurting him,(trying to use a bulb to extract boogers). So I am excited about using the Fennel Tea to help his congestion. I already was doing Baby Vic Vapor Rub, it the bathroom with hot steam going, but am going to add either Rosemary oil or Eucalyptus oil. So Thanks again, I know I will be back for more tips next time he happens to get sick again.

  • Naa ama

    Thank you, I am eager and ready to try these remedies for my son. The drugs are getting out of control.

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  • Barbara freedman

    What would u suggest for baby girl who has allergies and baby eczema. She is breast feed now 14 mths old but very tiny . Drs have her mother off so many foods and the baby has so many limitations .
    They have been told to keep the eczema at bay they have to use cortizone cream.
    I was thinking that instead of looking at what she can eat should the family yet to boost her immune system as a priority.
    As a grandmother I am worried about my daughters well being also .
    Your opinion would be greatly appreciated .

  • Jan Murray

    Great article. More parents need to be aware how important and natural germs and dirt are for their developing children. Thankyou

  • safbaby

    Dear Barbara. I would recommend your daughter sees a good Holistic and/or Homeopathic Doctor. Cortizone is not treating the cause but only the symptoms. All my bes – Sandra, SAfbaby mama

  • sanswa

    Thank you so much for all the information .this sure would come very handy!!

  • Ayu

    Can I use the above remedies for my 3 months old? He caught a cold and is currently very congested :(

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