Chamomile. A little flowery herb you drink as tea when you need help getting sleepy. That’s all I thought it did too, once upon a time. But now I’m never without a jar of dried chamomile. That stuff is a whole medicine cabinet in a mug, and yet this misunderstood member of the sunflower family goes along in life being viewed as a dainty little flower whose only power is making you go night-night. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s the best and most versatile herb for babies and young children.
Chamomile tea is gentle and effective as an astringent for things like diaper rash and heat rash when applied directly to the skin. As a drink, it soothes a queasy or sore tummy and it helps halt diarrhea. Cradle cap bugging you? A little rinse in chamomile can help soothe the itch and scratch. It’s also good for a cough, bronchitis, staving off nightmares, and easing ulcers (for the nervous parent). But one of my favorite uses is for that crankity thing that happens to babies and toddlers when they teethe. If your child gets all squirrely and restless from teething like my son does, a little warm chamomile tea does amazing things. I give my son just a couple of ounces of warm tea when he’s all wound up from the discomfort of a new tooth, and I usually see a calmer, happier baby in about 30 minutes. Yes, the Chamomile Fairy comes and replaces my child with a quiet one. Okay, not really. But the transformation is often quite remarkable.
No matter how you use this magical herb, preparation is pretty much the same. Take two teaspoons of dried herb and using a tea strainer or tea ball, steep it in a mug of very hot water for about 10 – 15 minutes. Strain the tea well, and of course make sure it isn’t too hot to drink. For younger babies, I’d try using only small quantities, although I’ve not heard of any dangers. The only precautions would be these: Chamomile can have a binding effect, so if your baby is constipated, you may want to steer clear until her plumbing is back to normal. Also, any tea is diuretic so try not to give too much before bedtime or your sleepyhead will just wake up with a wet diaper. Lastly, I have heard of one child having an allergic reaction to chamomile, so no matter the age, try a small amount first to make sure there are no side effects. A swabbing of tea applied to the skin can be a good way to test – watch for redness or irritation. Other than these few small cautions, chamomile is by far one of the safest herbs. It’s definitely one of the most versatile!
So there you have it! A wonderful herb you can keep on hand as a replacement to several over-the-counter medications for children. Certainly one of my favorites. There’s been more than one tough day that has ended with the sight of me slumped on the couch with a mug of this in hand, waiting for its calming relief – and a sighting of the Chamomile Fairy.