Kitt Acott the Towpath Herbalist. Travelling on a narrowboat around the English Inland waterways, herbalist, roving canal trader.
I have been a qualified medical herbalist for 22 years and a herbalist for 30.
I was a country child and grew up familiar with the wild flowers and plants around my home.
The daughter of beatniks, (a novelist and a civil engineer), I grew up in a commune and was brought up within the principles of peace, cooperation and sustainability.
Only ever gardening and farming organically I learnt Permaculture principles in the early 80s.
I left home and became what was dubbed as a New Age Traveller. It was on the road I first began using herbal remedies, learning from other women, reading books and using plants. We learnt fast and I quickly realised how efficacious plants were.
I came off the road and put my energy into growing and learning herbs and in 1991 I began my training at the College of Phytotherapy.
I taught for the College of Phytotherapy and worked as a clinic supervisor in Edinburgh.I have guest lectured at Napier University, UCLAN and Lincoln College.
I worked in Festival First Aid for many years, working at Green Gathering, Glastonbury and many others that have come and gone.
Currently I teach postgraduate CPD independently, exploring issues beyond that taught on the syllabus and still regularly teaching paediatrics. Over the years I have moved towards a more traditional style of practice, using the plants that grow in the hedgerow.
Healthy Kids over the colder, darker winter months
It can seem like a really ongoing struggle through winter as your child picks up cold after cold after cold and seems to have a constantly runny nose.
We ask ourselves why, and wish we could do better, and it’s yet another stress to deal with and feel inadequate as parents. Constant colds are commonest in very small children and by 8 or 9 they are starting to ‘grow out of it’. There is a strong suggestion that minor illnesses build up children’s immunity over time. There is little we can do to avoid the many social situations such as nursery where kids get every cold going, but there is plenty we can do to help their developing immunity and ease the symptoms.
Development of immunity
A child’s immunity develops over time and supporting the body as it grows is how I work as a herbalist. Lots of outdoor play is a really healthy place to start. As well as exercise a child relaxes whilst playing and stress is compromises immunity. Chill out time is also important.
Build time into the day where screens are absent and the options are books and toys, this allows much more space for imagination and creative play. Some time simply spacing out on the couch is also a good space for kids to rest. Kids need to rest as much as adults though the challenge of getting them to do that can be difficult. One of the best ways I found to do that was reading long stories aloud, I found that right up into teen years, reading a story drew everyone in and chilled us all out.
The body is particularly vulnerable to falling ill around the season changes. It’s easy to get a chill from being outdoors in cold weather that wasn’t anticipated, which renders the body vulnerable to picking up a virus.
Keep kids warm and especially pay attention to getting them to wear a hat. Warm feet, warm hands and warm head really help to keep out drafts.
Ginger is a pleasing circulatory stimulant, when kids have gotten cold and wet a drink of fresh ginger tea will help warm them from within. Take a flask full on a long walk, or crystallized ginger if they will eat it, or ginger biscuits with a good bit of fiery dried ginger in. I often add herbs to foods when I want to give them to kids. Adding ginger into homemade fruit bars or biscuits, garlic bread made with olive oil and masses of garlic very lightly toasted, herbs added to smoothies. It helps to blur the line between food and medicine.
It’s so easy to suggest a good diet for kids, and yet for many that can be so demoralizing to actually achieve, some kids are simply fussy about certain foods and vegetables are a often a big no no.
Plenty of fruit helps. I found mine would be very happy to have fruit when we were out on walks when they were hungry and wanted something to grab. There are also less alternatives to give in to on a walk. Set an example and eat fruit yourself with them.
A vitamin supplement can also help.
In holistic medicine we always want to work at the deepest basic levels, so as well as treating colds I’m also looking to nurture the growing body of the child. I use herbs that nurture tissue and blood.
Chief amongst these are the herbs plantain ( Plantago lanceolata ) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Plantain is a herb we usually see as healing and astringent for damage and poor function but it also supports healthy tissue, as a child grows this type of herbal support encourages strong tissue formation.
Yarrow is a herb we associate with the blood, it is a healer of wounds, stops bleeding, improves circulation. It’s a plant that has, a deep affinity with blood and regulating circulation. Healthy circulation is fundamental to strong immunity, taking oxygen and nutrients to every cell in the body and this helping to facilitate the function of the immune system itself. The lymphatic system also supports the immune system and cleavers (Galium aperine) is another gentle herb ideal for children.
A popular everyday remedy for preventing vital infections is elderberry syrup, I make mine with honey and add a few sprigs of yarrow to the recipe.
However hard you try though, kids are gonna get colds!
My go to tea for colds is a very traditional remedy, elderflower, yarrow and peppermint tea. Don’t worry about getting your child to drink a whole cup of herb tea, add a dessertspoonful to a glass of water or whatever your kid normally drinks, or add it to a vitamin C rich fruit smoothie.
Elderflower, Yarrow and Mint act to reduce temperature and fight virus, this tea can often fends off a cold at the very first sign.
When a fever is a problem I like to use Catnip, (Nepeta cattaria), it is a really helpful remedy for reducing fever, I often combine it with elderflower as a tea and give it to the child cold. Catnip has long been recognised in many cultures as an effective herb for bringing down fevers it is also useful for febrile convulsions and I would recommend consulting your herbalist if this this is a problem for your child
Treat runny noses with plantain. It’s astringent action reduces mucus production and tones the mucous membrane itself.
If you use dairy products, cut them out at the first sign of a runny nose or cold. Dairy products encourage the production of thick mucus which is harder for the body to clear and increases the possibility of the infection moving down onto the chest.
Elderflower is also helpful, my kids used to love hot elderflower cordial, an easy remedy to use and keep in the store cupboard.
I love to use Thyme for coughs. It’s a powerful antispasmodic and has strong antimicrobial properties. This makes it ideal for shifting mucus on the chest. Thyme can also combine well well with Liquorice. These herbs can be used as a tea or a syrup. Marshmallow can soothe an irritable cough and help very tight mucus to loosen and be easily coughed up up.
A chest balm can also help and may be easier to use if a child is reluctant to take herbs internally. I would combine thyme and pine in a plantain ointment which can be applied easily to the chest. Pine is another herb antimicrobial herb which can be used to alleviate coughs.
Sore throat swollen glands
Sore throats are best treated using a combination of soothing herbs to coat the throat with a demulcent action combined with an antimicrobial action. Herbs I like to use for this include sage marshmallow and liquorice combined as a tea the mucilaginous properties coat the throat tissue, soothing the pain and rawness.
A chronically swollen lymph node should always be checked out, but they often prove to be just a simple swelling. Support for lymphatic tissue will usually clear up a simple problem and I use Cleavers to help with this.
Chronic Runny Nose.
A chronic runny nose may be an indicator that your child has an allergy, possibly to a food. It is worth trying and elimination diet to see what may be causing a constant runny nose very common culprits include dairy products or wheat.
It is well worth exploring whether her foods could be causing an allergic reaction as your child’s overall health will improve if allergens are removed
Every child will pick up common colds and viruses it’s part of growing up. Using herbs to make this journey simpler and less miserable is something I have found has really helped my children’s journey through childhood health issues.