I have distinct memories of the role plants played in my life as a young child. A neighbor gave me a Lily bulb for my birthday one May, and at the age of 8, I marveled as I watched it push through the earth and finally bloom into a lovely white trumpet flower. I was privileged to be able to play in a forest from dawn to dusk, looking long and closely at wildflowers in the spring and throughout the summer. Trillium to this day makes my heart sing. I’ve marveled at the vast variety of color, shape, texture and fragrance of our garden varieties as an adult, planting a number of flower gardens but being unaware of the medicinal properties any of them might have to offer. After all, plant medicine was something of the distant past, used by more primitive societies unable to access the wonders of Western medicine.
So when I wandered into a lovely herb shop in San Anselmo, out of curiosity, my life and association with plants took a dramatic change. Here was a beautiful shop filled with shelves of glass containers filled with herbs of every description. It was something like an artist’s pallet gone wild with so many colors, textures, and fragrances. Cheryl Fromholzer, owner of Gathering Thyme, was also exquisitely knowledgeable in their use. She offered a two-year course in herbal medicine. Now, as one of Cheryl’s students, I can’t help but look back and wonder what I could have done if all the gardens I had planted for pleasure had also been planted for medicine.
Herbal medicine, as you can well imagine, works in harmony with the body. You won’t see a list of twenty or so “side effects” when given a bottle of tincture , essential oil, salve or electuary. Some plants work with specific symptoms while others have a remarkable broad range of efficacy. One group that I am particularly fascinated with, adaptogens, are described as having a unique intelligence, being able to harmonize body systems thus enabling the body to better cope with stress, and restore balance.
So why wouldn’t this be a most wonderful world for children to explore, with adult supervision? How empowering it would be to take a gentle tea for a cough or fever, apply a poultice to stop a bee sting, mosquito bite, or extract a splinter, make a salve for diaper rash or chapped lips, make a honey electuary to fight off colds and flu, or apply a balm to stop bleeding? How fun would it be to make you own elder syrup, marshmallows, ginger-ale, dream pillow or warm tootsie bath? Armed with the help of A Kid’s Herb Book by Lesley Tierra, that’s exactly what we did!
We started our summer session with an infusion made of Lemon Balm, a leaf that is not only relaxing, but can also ease simple fevers or the cough from a cold. A medicinal lemon balm infusion can be made by taking 2 cups of hot water and pouring it into a tea pot into which 1 handful of fresh, or 2 teaspoons of dried herb has been added. Cover with the lid and let the tea stand for 15 minutes; strain the tea and drink. A little honey can be added for sweetness.
This, being our first herb of the summer, had a big impact. The leaves, when crushed, have a lemony smell, the infusion-cooling and relaxing. The children enjoyed its lightly refreshing flavor and took some leaves home to make a tea for their families.