As a new mom, I was overwhelmed and desperate to find sensible solutions to my baby’s life-threatening allergies, frequent infections, croupy coughs, and sleepless nights. I was discouraged by the guidance of the many conventional doctors I visited. They diagnosed him with allergic colitis, eczema, and asthma. Their prescription: steroids, inhalers, and antibiotics. But all that just seemed so harsh for his small, developing body. Was this the best way to help my baby?
The Ayurvedic office visit
My son was three years old when we walked into the Ayurvedic practice of Dr. Nita Desai in Boulder, Colorado. Her tiny office was warm and inviting, filled with the aroma of herbs. Despite my hesitation to use an alternative approach, I knew I was in the right place.
Desai was a physician, an Ayurvedic practitioner, and a mom of two young daughters—and she brought all of those perspectives to her practice. While many pediatrician visits lasted a few minutes, our first visit with Dr. Desai lasted an hour and a half. She listened attentively, took many notes, and used Ayurvedic pulse reading to identify my son’s dosha (constitution) and imbalances. He had a dual dosha (vata–pitta), she said. When in balance, he could thrive as a creative, social, and charismatic vata, as well as confident, determined, and sharp-minded pitta.
Balancing the doshas
Our first task was to get my boy in balance. Dr. Desai prescribed herbal remedies, home therapies, healing foods, and lifestyle changes. Before we left the office, she looked into my eyes and said a few words that changed my experience with motherhood: “He will be fine, and you take good care of yourself.” Her words gave me hope that this approach was going to work for my son, and permission to pay attention to my own health and well-being as well.
Over the next months and years of working with Desai, I found the answers to my child’s health challenges, as well as health-promoting solutions for myself and my family. My husband had been skeptical in the beginning, but he came around to Ayurveda for kids after seeing my son’s health improve. My younger son was born into our Ayurvedic lifestyle. We learned about his dosha right away and took Desai’s advice on how to keep his vata–kapha constitution in balance.
As my children have grown up, I’ve used many Ayurvedic remedies, home therapies, cooking recipes, and lifestyle recommendations. They helped my son to heal and my family to thrive. I’ll be forever grateful for the health-giving wisdom of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda for kids
Most Ayurvedic prescriptions are gentle for kids and effective for adults. Here are a few remedies that I’ve sworn by over the years.
Turmeric and honey paste was my go-to remedy as soon as my children started to show any signs of sickness. I mixed equal amounts of raw honey* and turmeric powder and added a pinch of black pepper for better absorption. I made enough paste to last for 2–3 days and fed my children a teaspoon every 2–3 hours until their symptoms were gone.
If a dry cough was a problem, we put them in steam showers and used aromatherapy in the bedroom. Any combination of eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, cinnamon, and tea tree oil helped ease their breathing.
*Honey should not be used for children under two years of age
Sniffles and seasonal allergies
My kids loved a sweet, delicious herbal jam called Chyawanprash. It was easy to eat (from a teaspoon or on a cracker) and provided many vitamins and minerals. The main ingredient, Indian gooseberry (also known as Amalaki), is world’s richest source of vitamin C and is used to boost immunity.
To clear their stuffy nasal passages, I taught my kids how to use a Neti pot, dissolving a little salt in warm distilled water and pouring it through their nasal cavity. This was followed with a drop of oil in each nostril to lubricate the tissue. For this, we used Nasya oil—sesame or olive oil infused with Ayurvedic herbs (gotu kola, calamus, skullcap) and essential oils (eucalyptus). Nasya is not recommended for very young children; cold-pressed sesame oil works well for them.
We treated earaches with warm ear oil. It can be purchased in pharmacies or health food stores, but I often made it on my own. I added a few drops of garlic oil and tea tree oil to cold-pressed sesame or olive oil, and mixed it well in a dropper bottle. I placed the bottle in a glass of warm water to warm the oil. Once it felt warm, but not hot, I put a few drops in each ear to relieve earache and prevent ear infections.
Herbal teas seemed to work like magic for my children. I’ve used fennel tea for colic and bloating, ginger for nausea and constipation, and mint for upset stomach and diarrhea. I’ve made chamomile tea to ease stomach and intestinal cramps and CCF tea (cumin, coriander, fennel) to improve digestion. A cup of herbal tea and a warm water bottle placed on an aching tummy was often enough to relieve symptoms.
“Golden milk” was part of our evening ritual. Milk in Ayurveda is considered a superfood, and milk with added herbs and spices is medicinal. I had to use non-dairy milk (oat, coconut, hemp, almond) because of my son’s dairy allergy. I mixed a cup of milk with a quarter of a teaspoon of each: turmeric, Ceylon cinnamon, and ginger. Depending on my mood and what I had in my spice cabinet, I added a pinch of cardamom, clove, nutmeg, or vanilla. I brought the spiced milk to a boil, removed it from the heat, and added a teaspoon of ghee and half a teaspoon of raw honey. This was just what we needed to sleep well at night.
Stress and anxiety
Being ill is stressful for a child; having a sick child is stressful for the parent. Ashwagandha (Indian winter cherry), an adaptogen herb, helped tame my stress and my son’s. We took ashwagandha powder mixed with a bit of honey (for taste) first thing in the morning for the peaceful energy we needed to perform during the day. Then we took a little more before bedtime to help us sleep well at night.
One of the top Ayurvedic prescriptions to calm the nervous system is abhyanga, or self-massage. It’s the practice of applying warm oil to the entire body before a warm shower or bath. My son let me massage him until he was about five years old. It was lovely ritual that balanced his dosha and kept his skin soft and healthy.