Bidens pilosa (image Tom Rothsey)
Part of the movement of self-empowerment in personal and family health care is the use of herbal medicines, many of which are invasive plants that are readily available. There is no reason not to treat children with herbal medicines, as long as some basic guidelines are followed.
To state the obvious, children are smaller than adults. It stands to reason then that we adjust the adult dosage down, but how much? Do we just guess, wing it, or take a stab in the dark? Of course not! Thankfully, there are three rules for determining the child dose of a herbal medicine, and one of these will best suit the way each individual’s head deals with numbers, and whether or not their child is typical or atypical in body mass for their age. For children who are much larger or smaller than is typical for their age, use the first rule (determines by weight). For average kids, the other two rules using age are fine.
The weight of the child in pounds divided by 150. One pound = 0.4535 kilogram, to find the weight you know in kilograms in pounds, simply doubling the figure will give a rough but slightly lower figure (not so bad underestimating here), or you can take the kilogram weight and divide by 0.4535. So for a 50 lb child, Clark’s rule is 50/150 = 0.33, or one third the adult dose (adult dose divided by 3).
Example: Due to stress and malnutrition from years in refugee camps and internment centres, Aziz is small for his age. He is 14 years old and 34 kg, and has developed a golden staph (MRSA) infection in his gastro-intestinal tract that antibiotics have failed to resolve. Upon consulting the literature you decide to use a tincture of Usnea barbata (Old man’s beard), and have obtained (or made) a 1:5 tincture, the adult dosage of which for acute non-systemic infections is 30 – 60 drops up to 4 times a day. 34/0.4535 = 74.9, round up to 75 lbs. 75/150 = 0.5, so Aziz will need half the adult dose, lots of TLC, and some good fermented food or probiotic supplements to restore balance to his gut.
This rule is for children more or less typical in size for their age. Take the age of the child at their next birthday, then divide by 24. For a child 7, turning 8, divide 8 by 24 which gives us 0.33, or one third of the adult dose.
Example: Kofi lives in Ghana, and is taking his daughter Ruby on a business trip to a part of Nigeria notorious for malaria. He consults a local nurse who advises him to start Ruby (and himself) on a prophylactic treatment of powdered Sida (Sida acuta) leaves. The adult dose is 2 tsp of leaf powder in 6 oz of water just off the boil, steep for 15 minutes, have 1 to 2 cups per day. Ruby is 12 on her next birthday, 12/24 = 0.5, or half the adult dose. Kofi starts himself on the high adult dose of 2 cups a day, and gives Ruby a half cup twice a day also. Happily, they return home malaria free, perhaps the Sida played a part there, and Kofi gives his nurse friend a present by way of thanks.
Again, for children of typical size for age. The age the child is now is divided by (12 + the age of the child). Assuming again a 7 year old child, we have 7 divided by 7 + 12 (19) which gives us 0.36, or close enough to one third the adult dose that we would just use one third for ease of measurement.
Example: Jonnie had seemingly recovered from a virus that targeted the mucous membranes of his respiratory tract, but he keeps relapsing, getting well under care, then relapsing again. A naturopath recommends Bidens tincture to Jonnie’s mother, adding that in his book ‘Herbal Antivirals’, renowned herbalist Stephen Buhner recommends this remedy for the healing and protective action of compounds within Bidens pilosa on the mucous membranes and ciliated cells that are so important there. The adult dose in Buhner’s book is ¼ - ½ tsp of tincture, up to 6x daily. Jonnie is 9 years old, 9/(9 + 12) = 0.42, a little under half the adult dose. Jonnie has lost some weight during the illness, so his mother drops the dosage slightly again, giving him a quarter of a teaspoon 4 times a day for 2 weeks. When treatment stops, the infection does not return.
Contraindications are reasons to be careful with, or to avoid a herbal remedy altogether, and each plant and person will be different here, so some consultation or research is needed. Let’s look at our three case studies to see what they might potentially be.
There are 3 potential contraindications for Usnea. One applies to use of the powdered lichen to treat skin infections, where it may rarely cause contact dermatitis. This is not relevant here. Internally, Usnea is not recommended for use during pregnancy, again, not relevant here. Lastly, the lichen must be collected well away from sources of industrial pollution, as it will uptake and store heavy metals readily. A good quality tincture from a reputable supplier will be safe, and if you collect it yourself, you now know where not to collect.
Kofi was concerned when a friend remarked that he had heard Sida contains ephedrine. He contacted his nurse friend for reassurance. Certainly, very low levels of ephedrine are found in Sida acuta she replied. The only times this would be an issue would be if Ruby were taking pharmaceuticals with similar effects, or if she was of an extremely nervous disposition. Being a professional, she also adds some more detailed information. Sida is hypoglycaemic, so may interact with medication for, and blood glucose levels in, diabetics. The herb is used to prevent pregnancy in bush medicine she advised, and so also must be considered a potential abortifacient. As Ruby is not diabetic, pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, none of these apply.
Bidens may alter blood glucose and insulin levels with high or long term use, so care must be taken with diabetics. The fresh leaves contain silicate hairs, and when eaten fresh (as it is in many parts of Africa), moderation must be exercised to avoid silicosis. Bidens also stores heavy metals, so harvest away from pollution. A note for Bidens, relating to the first example. If Aziz had a MRSA infection of the blood, a systemic, rather than non-systemic natural anti-bacterial remedy would be called for. Systemic remedy simply means the active compounds are delivered everywhere that is supplied by blood. In this case, since Bidens is a systemic remedy, Usnea would be replaced by Bidens.
Children are precious, and we want to be confident that we know what we are doing if we treat them at home. If you are ever in any doubt, then please contact your accredited practitioner of choice. When collecting plants for your own medicine making, be 100% certain of your plant ID, and collect from clean, uncontaminated sites. When conducting your own research, give preference to primary source material (peer-reviewed scientific papers published in reputable journals), and sound secondary source material including books and other publications that reference primary material. Obtaining information from websites can be hit and miss, so double and triple check the information from different platforms, being careful to spot cut and pasted text blocks that indicate you are fundamentally checking the same source in different places.
This information is for research purposes only. It is not intended to be used or construed as medical advice in any way.
Usnea himantodes (image Tom Rothsey)
Properties of Sida species
Adaptogenic, analgesic, anthelmintic, antimoebic, antibacterial, anticancer, antifertility, antiinflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antipyretic, antiulcerative, antivenin, hematoprotectant, hematoregenerator, hematotonic, hypoglycemic, insecticidal.
Properties of Usnea species
Analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiinflammatory, antimitotic, anticancer, antioxidant, antiparasitic, antiprotozoal, antiseptic, antiviral, biofilm inhibitor, drug synergist, immunostimulant.
Properties of Bidens species
Antibacterial, antidiabetic, antidysenteric, antiinflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, blood tonic, carminative, diuretic, galactogogue, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, immunomodulant, mucous membrane tonic, neuroprotectant, prostaglandin synthesis inhibitor, styptic, vulnerary.
Note: these plant remedies are all members of globally distributed genera with many, many species contained therein. Most or all of the properties are to be found within all species of the genera, only the levels of individual compounds will vary, with some compounds unique to each species. Generally, from a herbalist viewpoint, the species that grow closest to you will be more energetically aligned, and so more potent for you.
Alacorn-Aguilar FJ et al. (2002) Investigation on the hypoglycaemic effects of extracts of four Mexican medicinal plants in normal and alloxan-diabetic mice. Phytotherapy Research 16(4):383-86.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod (2012) Herbal Antibiotics: natural alternatives for treating drug resistant bacteria (2nd ed.). Storey Publishing, MASS.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod (2013) Herbal Antivirals: natural remedies for emerging and resistant viral infections. Storey Publishing, MASS.
Cao JH et al. (1993) Studies of the chemical constituents of the herb huanghuaren (Sida acuta Burm. f.). Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 18(11):681-703.
Elo H et al. (2007) Potent activity of the lichen antibiotic (+)-usnic acid against clinical isolates of vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Naturwissenschaften 94(6):465-68.
Karou D et al. (2003) Antimalarial activity of Sida acuta Burm. f (Malvaceae) and Pterocarpus erinaceus Poir. (Fabaceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 89:291-4.
Karou SD et al. (2007) Sida acuta Barm. f: a medicinal plant with numerous potencies. African Journal of Biotechnology 6(25):2953-59.
Khatoon S et al. (2005) HPTLC method for chemical standardization of Sida species and estimation of the alkaloid ephedrine. Journal of Planar Chromatography 18:364-67.
Londonkar RL (2009) Phytochemical and contraceptive property of Sida acuta Burm. f. Ind. In albino rats. International Journal of PharmTech Research 1(4):1260-66.
Njume C et al. (2016) Studies on bioactivity and secondary metabolites of crude extracts of Bidens pilosa L. (Asteraceae): A medicinal plant used in the Transkei region of South Africa. Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 29(3):877-885.
Silva JJ et al. (2014) In vitro screening antibacterial activity of Bidens pilosa Linn. And Annona crassiflora Mart. Against oxacyillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (ORSA) from the aerial environment at the dental clinic. Revista do Instituto de Medicina Tropical de Sao Paulo 56(4):333-340.