Don’t let continual coughs, colds, splutters and sniffles derail your child’s health (and the family’s equilibrium) this winter – it’s time to introduce some naturally bolstering remedies

We rarely feel prepared for it – one moment we are caught in late summer’s generous warmth, the next, the mercury plummets, and autumn has begun. The segue between warmth and cold is rarely managed well in the West. In the East, there is a more nuanced understanding of how to prepare the body for what may lie ahead, and to prevent, rather than cure.

So, with two primary school-aged children, as autumn begins to shift into winter, I try to equip myself and my family with the most natural foundation of good health. Of course, the children still get ill – they need to, or they’ll never develop strong adult immune systems – but it’s how ill they get, and how quickly they recover, that is a good sign of their flourishing immunity.

It is not about counting vegetables or force-feeding fruit. Bolstering a child’s health involves modern research-backed additions to the family diet and, more importantly, an understanding of how and why we should eat differently as the seasons change.

“How quickly they recover is a good sign of their flourishing immunity

We often hear that our immune system is situated in our gut. What this means is that 70 per cent of the antibacterial and antiviral cells within our body are situated in the walls of the stomach and intestines. Our stomach also produces acid, which kills off most pathogens and our small intestine produces mucus, which blocks further potential pathogens from entering our bloodstreams. So, when your gut lining is weakened, your immunity will also be compromised.

I really cannot overstate the importance of a healthy gut in the pursuit of good overall health. Biokult Infantis, £11.95 (boots.com) is the first proven and safe-from-birth probiotic, which can be rubbed onto the nipples to boost the baby’s immunity in line with your breast milk, or added to bottle milk. Probiotic powder is also a great way to boost the system of a child who is repeatedly poorly. The Organic Pharmacy Strawberry Probiotic Powder, £21.50 (theorganicpharmacy.com) and Wild Nutrition Multi-Strain Biotic, £25 (wildnutrition.com) are great for sprinkling into milk, water, juice and onto cereal.

Also try brewing up cinnamon, cardamom pods, ginger and turmeric root, let it cool a touch and then add honey (don’t heat honey, it kills off any goodness). My kids take this diluted tea in their water flasks and sip during the school day, in lieu of water.

If they are not already, try to get your children used to nourishing spices. Spices are the most effective immunity boosters in the world. If they’re fans of porridge, sprinkle sweet-smelling things into the pot too – cinnamon and nutmeg go down well – and both are high in antioxidants and boost immunity. Drizzle raw honey over the top – it contains anti-bacterial properties and studies have shown that it helps soothe sickly coughs and irritated throats too.

Likewise, if making pancakes, use them as a vehicle for immune-boosting spice, and sweeten after cooking with raw honey. I’d add here, that though I am in no way maligning dairy for children, when a child has a tendency towards mucus-y coughs and colds, it’s helpful to go easy on the white stuff. Dairy has been unequivocally shown to increase mucous production – you may want to try organic rice, oat or nut alternatives instead.

We forage for local elderberries in late summer and boil them up into a thick, concentrated syrup; if there’s a shortfall, we love Pukka Elderberry Syrup, £12.46 (pukkaherbs.com). With Manuka honey, it is also chock-full of thyme, ginger, aniseed and black pepper – all gold-standard immune-boosters.

Let common sense prevail too. While it may be cold outside, keeping poorly young ones inside with central heating ablaze and bug-filled air recirculating, isn’t helpful either. If children are too poorly to run around, encourage them outside, well wrapped up, for a gentle walk. Or, if on bed-rest, keep windows open while the child is well wrapped up and warm, to ensure that fresh air comes in while they sleep and recover.

And while I am loath to recommend hand-sanitising sprays or washes (given that we are made up of myriad colonies of bacteria, it seems anathema to kill off 99.99% of it with a scattergun spray), regular hand-washing, particularly after school and before eating, can help keep those easily transferable bugs away – and natural soap (I like Dr Bronner’s Pure Castile Bar Soap with Tea Tree, £3.99 biggreensmile.com) and water does that job best of all.

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