Easy ways to teach children about plants and herbs
I love making things with my kids. We make a lot of art together but lately we’ve been getting creative with herbs and plants. We have a community garden plot and they enjoy coming with me to see what is growing and to harvest tomatoes and flowers.
This summer we have had fun noticing what is in bloom throughout the spring and summer and examining things up close--pulling the petals off dandelions to examine the seed head, popping open a milkweed pod to spread the downy seeds, rubbing tulsi flowers between our fingers to release the gorgeous scent. I remember taking plantain stalks as a child and pulling my fingers over them to release all the seeds into my hands then throwing them up into the air for the birds.
It’s so important to me to teach my kids that plants are everywhere, they are useful, they are medicinal, they are beautiful, and they should be noticed and celebrated! Interacting with nature on a micro and macro level is such an important part of childhood and one that teaches children to respect and love the natural world around them. What follows are three easy DIYs you can do with your kids to get them interested in and excited about plants.
MAGIC JEWELWEED POTION
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows all over the U.S. and Canada and blooms here in Vermont towards the end of the summer. It’s found in partially sunny spots that are close to marshes or wetlands. This plant is so fun to examine with kids because of its pretty orange flowers and its very pop-able seedpods. Late in the summer the pods get fat and magically pop and curl, sometimes with just the slightest touch. It’s fun to find a large stand of them and pop away. My kids and I do this activity so often we call this plant “poppers.” The tiny seeds that come out are edible and they taste a bit like sunflower seeds--another reason why this plant is fun for kids.
We hiked up into the woods behind our house and found a great patch of it with fat seedpods and lots of bumble bees so I was able to show the kids pollination in action. Jewelweed is traditionally known as a remedy for poison ivy and other itches, so here is a simple recipe for making a soothing itch tincture. As always, be sure to harvest only from an area where you know you have permission and one that is not on a busy road, to avoid contaminants.
You will need:
- 8 oz mason jar and lid
- 8 oz of witch hazel
- Enough jewelweed to stuff into the mason jar so it is packed and full, though not too densely compressed; you want room for the witch hazel (harvest the whole plant)
- Your favorite essential oil (optional)
Harvest an armful of jewelweed and let your kids crush it up a bit with their hands, especially the stalks. You want as much juice possible (that is the medicine). Chop the jewelweed into small pieces. I let my kids do it on their own (they are 6 and 8), using a kid-friendly nylon knife.
Stuff jewelweed into the mason jar so it is somewhat compact and continue to crush it a bit with a pestle or fork. Cover it with witch hazel. Let it sit in a dark cool place for 2-3 weeks. The liquid will turn to a beautiful amber color. Then strain out the jewelweed, being sure to remove all the plant material (use cheese cloth or any fine strainer). Add 5 drops of lavender or citrus essential oil if you choose.
This infused witch hazel is a great remedy for poison ivy or poison oak as the jewelweed helps the itch and the witch hazel dries the rash. Apply with a cotton ball or put into a spray bottle. Also great for bug bites!
MUGWORT DREAM SACHETS
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is an herb that grows like a weed on the side of the road here in Vermont. There is a large stand of it outside our house. From afar it is just another tall, weedy plant that sways in the wind alongside highways but when you grab a bit of it and rub the flowers in your hands it releases a heavenly scent.
There is a lot of traditional lore around mugwort, which is named for the forest-dwelling goddess Artemis. Artemis is regarded as a protector, healer, and skillful hunter. Mugwort herb supports us in being present in our lives and helps to soothe away tension, making room for greater joy.* As an aromatic this herb was traditionally used before sleep to enhance dreams, and a sachet is the perfect vessel for that use.
This is a great plant for kids to get their hands on because of how the flowers grow, like little seeds. Similar to plantain, there is a long stalk with lots of little buds that never really fully open into a flower. A child can grab the stalk with their palm and run their hand up it, collecting the flowers and releasing the lovely scent. This plant also grows very tall, so kids can get lost in a stand of it—great for hide and seek! We stopped at the patch near our house on the way home from school and collected enough flowers and leaves to fill a bowl.
What you’ll need
- Dried mugwort flowers/leaves (a small bowlful or more)
- Dried lavender, chamomile or rose petals to mix with the mugwort
- Squares of fabric (any size you like, we made small 3” x 3” sachets)
- Needle and thread
Collect your mugwort then let it dry out for a few days or more in a sunny place to remove moisture. You can remove the flowers from the stalk anytime, though it’s a bit easier when dry. Put dry flowers into a bowl and add other dried herbs to the mugwort.
Take squares of fabric that are the same size and place the right sides of the fabric together so you sew the square inside out. You can hand sew or use a sewing machine, either works fine since it’s a simple project. Sew almost completely around, leaving about an inch opening, then turn the fabric right-side out, using the opening.
Stuff mugwort mixture into the sachet so it is full but not so full that you can sew up the opening that remains. Keep the sachet next to your bed or under your pillow. Smell before falling asleep and slip into the dream world!
Elderberry syrup is something we have on-hand all year long, but it is most important in fall and winter, especially here in Vermont. It is a great herb for keeping your immune system supported and also a fun herb for kids, because the berries are delicious and the plant itself is so interesting to examine.*
Elderberries ripen in late summer. They grow in beautiful, intricate clusters of deep purple red. The flowers that precede them are equally gorgeous—delicate white blossoms with a subtly sweet fragrance. The tiny flowers look like floral snowflakes. It is a great plant for kids to watch the transition from flower to berry. (Incidentally, Rosa rugosa is another great plant for kids to look at—it smells lovely, has pretty flowers that turn to fat rosehips later in summer.)
Gummies are a kid-friendly way to get elderberry plant medicine into your kids! There are many ways to adjust this recipe to your child’s taste. We used fresh, pureed blueberries, which gave the gummies more texture. Some children may not like this in which case you may want to substitute a clear juice instead. Any kind of berry juice would work well here, though natural/organic is always our preference! I mixed Traditional Medicinals Echinacea plus Elderberry tea into this recipe to give it an extra boost.*
- A silicone gummy mold or a baking pan with sides
- ½ cup fresh blueberries plus 2 tsp water (OR ½ cup organic juice—berry or cherry would work well)
- ¾ cup echinacea plus Elderberry Traditional Medicinals tea (brewed with 2 teabags)
- 1 tbsp honey (local is wonderful for immune systems!)
- 2 tbsp elderberry syrup (make your own or find in your local natural grocer or online)
- 3 tbsp gelatin (grass fed is a healthy option if you can find it)
Brew the tea and dissolve the honey as it brews. Meanwhile puree the berries with the water and elderberry syrup (if you are using the fruit puree) with an immersion blender or regular blender. If you are using the juice option just whisk the elderberry syrup into the ½ cup juice.
Once tea is done steeping, mix with the berry puree (OR juice if you chose that option). Put in a small pot on stove and bring to a low boil. Add the gelatin and mix rapidly with a whisk until fully dissolved. Taste with a spoon to be sure the sweetness is to your liking. Add more honey if not.
Pour this mixture into the gummy molds or pan. If using small molds it may be a bit messy. I made sure my kids washed their hands well and they used their hands to spread it out. My kids love messy stuff so this was a fun step for them, but we did it outside.
Put into refrigerator for 30 minutes to gel. Remove and enjoy! If you used a pan, cut the gummies carefully into cubes and gently remove with a spatula to keep their form. These will keep for about a week if stored in the fridge.