There are many benefits to teaching children about plants, especially herbs. It can empower them to be better stewards of Earth, while taking care of their health at the same time.
“Dr. Kitty is here with your herbal medicine.” True words spoken by my 3 year-old son during our play dinosaur battle a few weeks ago. Luckily, our stuffed cat’s herbal remedy was all my T-Rex needed to regain his strength and fight off the vicious Carnotaurus (for those who aren’t familiar, a horned dinosaur you do not want to mess with).
I guess you could say that I’ve been trying to teach my son a thing or two about herbs and their benefits. We have several in our backyard, and have spent time encouraging him to take nibbles of the goodness we grow since he could chew. His herb of choice? Lemon balm because “it smells like lemons!”
Children are absolutely fascinated by animals, and…. not-so-much by plants. I can’t blame them. We have created a culture of cute cartoon animals and field trips at the zoo. Animals are fun, but plants are AMAZING! Anyone with me? They are beautiful, many can cure maladies, and we exist because they give us oxygen! That makes a pretty special “pet” if you ask me.
Encouraging children to become more familiar with herbs and plants is fun and super easy to do. Plus, you can learn right along with them. Here are a few ideas:
1. Go on an Herb Hunt.
Turn your usual hike into a hunt for herbs! Before heading outdoors with the kiddos, it may be helpful to put a few guidelines in place. I like to remind my son to treat all of nature’s gifts with love and respect. This means giving thanks to all plants before we pick them and only picking what we need. It is also wise to avoid picking herbs near roads (as they may be full of pollutants) and herbs directly from your neighbor’s garden (unless you ask permission first!).
Older children can certainly be taught about the best times to “hunt” for particular herbs (for example, harvesting by season or for the best taste).
Some handy gear for your herb hunt may include:
- Pictures of herbs commonly grown in your area to help with identification. A book about herbs is extra helpful to reference the benefits of any plants you find.
- Garden scissors
- A basket to carry your herbal bounty in
2. Make Solar Herb Prints.
After our recent herb hunt, my son and I made solar prints out of the herbs that we gathered. We collected plantain, two types of basil, elderberry, yarrow, and lemon balm. I let my son arrange the herbs on solar print paper and we let them soak up the sun for a few hours. We had a great time looking at our final prints and tried to guess which herbs were which once the leaves were removed.
3. Let them Help with DIY Potions.
Childhood comes with its fair share of cuts, bumps, bruises, tantrums, fevers………and you get the idea. Luckily, there are many herbal remedies that can come to the rescue! Our favorite fun remedy is making teas, or “magic” potions.
Need a “go to sleep” potion? Diaper rash? Try chamomile!
Tummy troubles? Enjoy fennel!
Got the blues? Or a fever? Sip some lemon balm!
Rash got you itchy? Bee sting? Apply some plantain tea! (Plantains likely grow ALL around you! People typically think of them as weeds.)
I love the idea of growing your own herbal remedy garden with kids. You can read about 4 Easy Steps to Herb Gardening with the kiddos here.
4. Play a Board Game.
I have been absolutely geeking out over Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game from LearningHerbs. I am pretty sure I never stopped smiling the first time my family and I played. Here’s the scoop: The scenario is that you and your cousins are on an adventure to collect pails of blue huckleberries for your grandmother so she can make a pie. You must return before nightfall and bring back two buckets each. Along the way you encounter “troubles” (such as bee stings or blisters) and you must use various herbs you find along the way for first aid (represented by plant cards).
My son, at only three-years old, enjoys matching up the helpful plants to get rid of the troubles as we play. The board game and the educational story are beautifully interwoven to create a fun and unique way to introduce herbs to children and adults alike. If this wasn’t good enough, all of the materials used to make the game are Earth friendly, and a portion of the proceeds from each purchase goes to protect native medicinal plants.
5. Guess that Herb:
Once children are more familiar with various herbs, this game can reinforce their knowledge. Gather several different types of herbs and place each one in its own paper bag. While wearing a blind fold (or with eyes closed), have your child reach into the bag and select an herb. The goal is for your child to use their sense of touch (first), then taste and smell, to guess what herb they are holding. For an extra challenge encourage them to share a fun fact about the herb they guess!
6. Soak in Herbs at Bath time:
Hands down, our favorite book about herbs is A Kid’s Herb book for Children of All Ages. It contains pages upon pages of herbal remedies, fun facts, and recipes. One of our favorite ideas from the book is taking an herbal bath.
We fill a small cloth bag with calendula petals, tie the bag closed, and let it hang on the faucet under running water. This action releases the herbal essences into the bath. When my son takes a “flower bath” I remind him about the soothing and healing benefits calendula has on his skin.
Even if you aren’t familiar with herbs yourself, teaching your children is the best way to learn! How do you teach your children about the healing benefits of plants?