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Adolescence and Herbal Care

Adolescence and Herbal Care

Navigating the Teenage “Crucible” with Herbal Care

The teenage roller coaster

It’s no secret that teenagers face unique challenges that can affect their overall health and well-being; indeed for most, the adolescent transition from childhood into adulthood isn’t the easiest time. Fraught with physical, emotional and social changes; the carefree and playful days of being a kid have passed and a new layer of self consciousness is experienced. Chaotically shifting hormones can create fractious moods and feelings of isolation with overwhelming self-doubt or awkwardness while negotiating different social and educational pressures and responsibilities. Of course within this rollercoaster ride of the rapidly changing biology and mindscape; if the teenager does not receive adequate emotional support and the necessary wholesome nutrition and healing, balanced with an active leisure time in Nature, many unhealthy symptoms can start to develop.

Laying the ground to avoid future suffering

The teen years are a time when many chronic illnesses are diagnosed with health concerns arising for the first time because of these rapid changes. This is a sensitive and crucial time to assert healthy habits to ensure long term wellbeing, because insalubrious patterns established during adolescence usually guarantee suffering as a much older adult. Most teenagers thrive with a natural, holistic approach to address their health issues and attain optimal wellness. This is why naturopathy and herbal medicine offers such a sensible alternative to conventional medicine for today’s teens. The truth is, allopathic medicine often comes with associated complications which are not what the young adult-in-the-making needs during this important biological and psychological transition. The individualised approach with natural treatments offers a sound, long-term solution for most teenage health issues to prevent chronic disease and set them up for a much happier, less stressful future

The teenage brain is different

Teenager’s brains function quite differently when entering puberty and go through a rapid growth spurt with the rapidly changing hormones. Research shows that the parts of the brain connected to emotion (the limbic system) react more strongly in teens than in children or older adults. Meanwhile, the frontal cortex, the rational and calming part of the brain isn't fully mature either in adolescents. So their actions are guided more by the emotional and reactive amygdala and less by the thoughtful, logical frontal cortex. Images of the brain in action demonstrate how adolescents' brains work differently than adults when they make decisions or solve problems.

Beginning at puberty, the brain is reshaped. Neurons (gray matter) and synapses (junctions between neurons) proliferate in the cerebral cortex and are then gradually pruned throughout adolescence. Eventually, more than 40% of all synapses are eliminated, largely in the frontal lobes. As the frontal lobes become more developed, two things happen. Firstly, self-control develops as teens are better able to assess cause and effect. Secondly, as more areas of the brain become involved in processing emotions, teens become better at accurately interpreting others' emotions. Different children's brains develop at different speeds, just like their bodies do; not only that, brain scans show that different parts of the brain mature at different rates. In fact, some parts of the brain, like the prefrontal cortex, do not appear fully mature until 24 years old!

Diverting attention to the uplifting and positive

It is important to encourage the curious and creative minds of young people by helping them make sound and sustainable health decisions. It means steering them away from deleterious habits like junk food, alcohol and recreational or pharmaceutical drugs that will inevitably manifest in long term health issues. Naturally the best way to influence teens positively is through example and modelling the salubrious behaviour we want them to emulate. The teen years are ideal for establishing a stable mindset about preventative health.

It is always better to prevent disease than find ways to cure it.

This is the intelligence that we need to awaken in our young people and not encourage an early co-dependance on a medical system that does not deliver health, because it is built on illness. Of course the medical system will have a valid place when necessary, but it is not our first option and can be used when needed as a diagnostic data gathering exercise. The first and most important thing teenagers or any of us can do to ensure optimal health and well-being is to live a balanced lifestyle. 

Curbing their craving

Teenagers are attracted to fast food, sugary junk substances and drinks to boost their voracious appetites and lagging energy levels. By the time children reach adolescence, the nutritional patterns for their lifetimes have been firmly established, making it of paramount importance for our teenagers to gain nutritional knowledge. This includes learning some basic ways in which they can integrate herbs in their myriad varieties into their daily self-care routines. Intelligently curated meals with a broad variety of plant based foods and herbs provide the nourishing building blocks necessary to support teenager’s rapid growth. If the diet itself contains myriad high-quality, fresh, organic, foods from all food groups, there will inevitably be less craving to fill those nutrient gaps with junk food.  Keeping teenagers busy is paramount, bored minds seek solace in fast food options. Some teens may better respond to eating small and frequent meals to prevent spikes in hunger and certainly consuming plenty of fiber will help stomachs feel fuller and help with digestive and constipation issues. It might be wise to not keep trigger foods in the house and have plenty of healthy snacks readily available.

Baseline health protocols

The baseline for  teenage health is eating an organic, whole foods and mostly plant-based diet that is rich in a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, nuts and seeds and if meat is required only wholesome wild caught fish or pasture-raised animal products. It may seem to cost more than chemically-treated so-called “food” that is devoid of any nutrition, but in reality it will save heaps on medical costs down the track. Teens need some form of movement everyday to stay healthy and happy, whether that is walking, yoga, dancing, or strength training. Last, but not least, it is essential for their growing bodies and minds to get around 8 hours of quality sleep every night. Gentle herbs can be reliable sleep buddies.

The teenage rite of passage

Adolescents are forming a sense of who they are, who they want to be, what they need to do to get there and how they fit in the world. Uncertain, they often feel compelled to know what their future careers should be which creates conflicting thoughts. Teens are subjected to massive peer pressure and cultural expectations especially with social media, while negotiating change in relationships, ie marriage break ups, shifting to new schools or cliquey groups of friends. They often have a lot going on with school, sport and other activities, part-time jobs and socialising. Stress from study, navigating relationships and societal issues like technology can become overwhelming and it all takes its toll on their wellbeing.

Of course we want them to gradually gain independence, develop their own thoughts and  build confidence, however this presents a major challenge for so many of our young people who are no longer children but not quite adults. The many physiological and psychological changes in adolescence also means that the way they think and feel changes. It is normal for them to also feel self-conscious about their changing body and newly emerging sexual feelings, especially at a time when fitting in with their peers feels so important. Perhaps we need to bring back ritual into their lives, to celebrate the importance of becoming a man or a woman. We can create a protective, supportive and fertile learning environment within the family, at school and in the wider community to mark the adolescent transition as a sacred rite of passage.

When things go awry

When we neglect to provide a sense of place, safety and a stable source of healthy living for our teens, we start to see patterns that impede their natural progressive evolution. Such patterns include social media overuse, to distract from painful feelings. Substance or alcohol abuse, as self-medication for anxiety, trauma or depression. Self-harm, as a way to release feelings of pain, tension and anxiety. Disordered eating as a form of self-control when teens feel out of control.  Sometimes it’s the basic things that help the most here; unconditional loving and one-on-one attention with plenty of hugs and humour and, of course, the high quality diet.

It can really make a positive difference for teens to use simple herbal remedies like nervine teas, calming plant scents and for them to cultivate a healthy functioning gut-biome which is central to well-being. A calm environment at home helps teens feel like we have their back when life gets rocky and providing ample opportunity for teenager’s creative expression is essential. Of course using herbs and essential oils contribute greatly to cultivating the home as a place of serenity and peace. Whether it’s creating art, photography, dancing or music, it can all help with mindfulness and stress relief.

If we want to physically and spiritually nourish are teenagers we need to establish times to disconnect them from their devices and get them out into Nature and get Nature into them.

Common maladies of the modern teenager

Acne, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions




ADHD - Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder

Eating disorders

Obesity or appetite loss

Colds & Flu and  Bronchitis

Depression and behavioural issues

Digestive complaints – stomach pain, IBS, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea

Fatigue and low energy

Headaches and migraines

Hormonal imbalances

Menstrual pain and difficulty

Hypothyroid and hyperthyroid

Insomnia and sleep disorders

Sexually transmitted diseases

Herbal preventative help

It is wise to use holistic herbal medicine with wholesome nutrition as the first port of call to treat adolescent health issues; otherwise the medical system will set these young adults up with drugs like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, painkillers, antidepressants, ADHD medication etc. Once entrenched in the system with such medications, it becomes very difficult to extricate the teenager into an independent health homeostasis, whereby their body maintains its own intrinsic balance. Herbalism provides a safe, gentle and effective alternative to conventional medicine that empowers teenagers to take charge of their health, developing lifelong habits of self-care that will serve them well into adulthood.

Natural medicine can help teenagers understand their own bodies better and allows them to participate in their own healing process. While conventional medicine may focus on treating specific symptoms, herbal medicine aims to address the underlying causes of health issues. This natural approach emphasises disease prevention and can teach teenagers healthy habits to can carry with them throughout their lives. The long-term benefits of herbal medicine for teenagers includes improved immunity, better mental health and a reduced risk of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes.

Healing themselves with herbs

We can teach teens simple herbalism to treat common ailments that periodically arise such as treating skin rashes with calendula balm, easily soothing earache, perhaps from swimmer’s ear, with Mullein infused oil, or rinsing their mouth with myrrh tincture after dental work. Teens can diffuse essential oils in their bedroom or special space to help with sleep with chamomile or lavender oil, enhance memory and focus with basil and rosemary, perk them up with citrus oils or if they have a cold, to clear a congested nose with eucalyptus, cedarwood or peppermint. We divert them from the toxically sweet, synthetic alternatives readily available to only the pure essential oils that are derived uncorrupted from plants. In this way they will become more discerning with their tastes and recognise immediately artificial smells and only choose those that derive from the botanical world that denote authentic quality.

Like children, adolescents, move in close knit groups, sitting in school and playing sport which makes them quite vulnerable to catching every cold or flu that is going around. Fortunately, rather than going down the pharmaceutical path, involving flu shots and antibiotics etc, herbs and aromatherapy offer excellent remedies to both protect and resolve whatever virus or lurgy might be lurking. Herbs reign supreme here for boosting immunity and nipping colds and flu in the bud, before they worsen and entrench in the lungs. Echinacea, yarrow, peppermint, mullein, elderflowers and berries, elecampane, rosehip, thyme, ashwagandha & liquorice will be very helpful.

Many teens start to develop a newfound interest in skincare and if they develop rashes or acne, their inflamed troubled skin can be a source of embarrassment.

If the teenager understands that their skin is a live organ that reflects what they put into their bodies and how clean and resistant they are internally; they will naturally seek out more wholesome herbal skincare, herbal teas and use aromatherapy to treat their skin issues. It is important that the teenager learns to be discriminating with their skincare choices. Quality herbal skincare should not contain dyes, non-botanical fragrance and parabens or any other chemical additives that can irritate dry and sensitive skin or exacerbate their acne, or worse, mimic and disrupt hormones as it seeps through the bloodstream.

Choosing natural plant perfumes and deodorants

We have all probably reeled on occasion from the overwhelming toxic overload of too liberally applied teen deodorants and perfumes. Teens too often reach for their cheap perfumed products, especially to counteract their hormonally spiked body odour. Human skin is permeable and common commercial deodorants and synthetic perfumes contain a host of insidious petrochemicals and preservatives that creep deeper into the body to play havoc with human health.

Apocrine glands release sweat into a hair follicle instead of a duct when our body temperature rises, but also when we are under stress. These glands remain inactive until puberty when they begin to produce sweat. It's really only after puberty begins that body odour suddenly becomes an issue. The sensitive period of adolescence is a good time to start the healthier habit of using simple effective plant based deodorants which would certainly help deal with body odour and avoid hormonal disruption.

Cultivate teenage gut health

The foundation of a healthy, happy gut enhances optimal function for the entire body. Training teenagers to protect and nurture the integrity of their gut biome is essential if we want them to maintain their own health. This means encouraging their gut’s own digestive system to produce their own probiotics, that are the live yeasts and good bacteria that live in the body. Sometimes supplemental probiotics can help but it is always best harvest probiotics from food sources to optimise digestion. This means eating plant based and fermented foods such as sour kraut, pickles, yoghurt, kefir, tempeh. We can also make sure our teenagers are eating plenty of prebiotics that are a food source rich in indigestible inulin, to feed and sustain the gut's healthy bacteria. Dandelion, burdock, banana, beetroot, turmeric, liquorice, elecampane will help.

We give teens soothing demulcent herbs like marshmallow, slippery elm and liquorice, that heal the gut lining. We choose anti-inflammatory and cleansing herbs to clear out harmful bacteria and reduce pain. Chamomile, lemon balm, yarrow and turmeric, liver tonics, milk thistle, burdock, dandelion, to help digestive function and evacuation. All these marvellous gut loving herbs can help with bloat, distension and gut discomfort. Other digestive herbs include peppermint, fennel, ginger, meadowsweet, mugwort, star anise, nettle, calendula & black pepper.

The special teenage teapot

It is a great idea to let our teenagers choose their own individual teapot in which they can brew their own special healing herbal teas. Allow them to take an active part in selecting the particular herbs or herbal blend that suits their unique health issues. They can enhance already blended teas with lemon-balm fresh from the garden placed directly in the pot if they like. Your fussy teen can sweeten their brew with honey; add an immune boosting or cognitive enhancing elixir to make their healing regime their own. A cold decoction of their special herbal tea, that they made themselves can go in an insulated bottle to take to school to drink during the day. In this way we are encouraging our young adults to start taking responsibility for their own health and adopting natural safe methods to help them feel and perform better.

Herbs for promoting Mental Health

Teens can too often experience stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders that significantly impact their daily lives. Plant medicine for brain health typically provides support in the form of enhancing blood flow in the brain, acting as a nootropic and providing nutrients for cognitive functions. Herbal treatments help decrease anxiety, improve sleep and reduce depression symptoms. They are our first choice before resorting to pharmaceutical anti-depressants, sedatives and sleeping pills. Herbs such as ginkgo biloba, panax ginseng and matcha green tea have been found effective in boosting cognitive activity and nervous system health. Research shows that sage and rosemary can have impressive cognitive-enhancing effects. They are high in many potent plant compounds, including luteolin, rosmarinic acid, camphor, quercetin and apigenin, giving them impressive medicinal properties.

Safe and effective herbs for teenage anxiety include chamomile, skullcap, ashwaghandha, rhodiola and lemon balm used in teas, tinctures or elixirs. Other herbs like valerian, passionflower, L-theanine (in green or black tea) can be of valid help especially with treating sleep difficulties. Omega-3 and -6 supplements can significatly improve several ADHD symptoms in children, including inattention. Oats are considered an excellent brain food and are especially supportive for improving focus and concentration when combined with other nervines such as Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), Linden (Tilia europaea) and Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

Nootropic herbs can increase energy, focus, concentration, memory, recall and more making them ideal for the studying teenager. Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) is a nootropic that can help reduce inflammation as a strong antioxidant and has shown potential for regulating neurotransmitter activity and increased blood flow to the brain. Gotu Kola has similar antioxidant properties while also increasing mental function, memory and cognition. Gotu Kola has these actions not through a stimulating effect, but rather through a mild relaxant effect that calms and settles. Lion’s Mane mushroom is an efficacious adaptogen, nervine, and nootropic whose benefits are still being discovered. It contains essential brain nutrients like choline and has profoundly beneficial effects on the brain. It can stimulate NGF (nerve growth factor) and improve the health and regeneration of myelin sheaths.

ADHD the modern disease

We could all use a little extra support to help us focus and stay on task, however for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it’s about more than difficulty concentrating. Amongst other symptoms, people with ADHD tend to have high energy levels, struggle with focus and tend towards impulsivity. Factors that affect those with ADHD include genetics, the micro biome, nutrition, lifestyle and more. Because there are so many factors contributing to someone with ADHD, a purely pharmaceutical approach may not always be the most effective method. As an Ayurvedic approach to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ashwagandha has been shown to improve reaction time in people with ADHD and can also improve attention and impulse control.

Ashwagandha which is non-addictive, helps reduce stress and anxiety in young adults, improving focus and concentration. Ayurveda would also personalise the teen’s diet to improve their condition.

Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) can be beneficial in managing the symptoms of ADHD as it can help improve our body's intellectual and cognitive functions. It is a traditional Ayurvedic brain tonic that has been used to treat a variety of brain disorders, including ADHD. Studies show that brahmi can greatly improve concentration and focus, as well as reduce hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. Other adaptogenic herbs that have been used to provide support for those with ADHD include Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea).

Remarkable rhodiola

Adaptogens are herbs that increase the body’s overall resistance to stress by encouraging the nervous system to be in a parasympathetic dominant state, also called the ‘rest and digest’ state (as opposed to ‘fight or flight’). One superb adaptogen that has been used to support those with ADHD is rhodiola. Clinical research indicated those with ADHD have deficient levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Rhodiola has been used to increase levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Additionally, rhodiola can help balance out any excess stress hormones such as cortisol that contribute to hyperactive behaviour. Additional research indicates that this herb supports attention, memory and mental fatigue. Rhodiola is considered a gently stimulating or energising adaptogen. Sustainability is a concern with this slow growing succulent, so it is important to judiciously source from responsible suppliers.

Emerging sexual beings

Teenagehood is an active learning ground for the burgeoning sexual being. The pubescent girl begin’s her menstrual cycles and feels overly sensitive with mood swings and anxiety. The pubescent boy struggles to keep in check his raging hormones and awakened sexual impulses (too often stimulated by graphic sexual content online). Showing interest in things they care about and how they see themselves will help open them up so they feel comfortable discussing personal issues in their experiences at school and in their social life with us. At this age, we can talk about sexuality, romantic relationships and sexual affection, sexual or gender identity, consent, respectful relationships, sexting and pornography. The key is listening, talking and answering questions honestly and non-judgmentally. 

How can we teach so many young men that their desensitising, dopamine-depleting addiction to pornography, that is rampant in current times, is an exploitation of their sexual nature? In a cultural climate that normalises this behaviour it is wise to bestow any understanding of how damaging and self-sabotaging pornography is for the future male adult. We explain to him how porn addiction weakens his psyche and ability to forge any authentic, meaningful connection with another. Reducing screen-time may help but only when accompanied by open, truthful communication. Herbal medicine can also be helpful to help smooth out erratic, chaotic male hormones whilst going through puberty; try the following herbs: damiana, saw palmetto, valerian, St John’s wort, wild yam, raspberry leaf and skullcap.

Teenage girls who suffer from menstrual discomfort, irregularity or period pain will benefit greatly from monthly use of the following herbs: Raspberry leaf, uva ursi, lady's mantle, chamomile, black cohosh, shepherd's purse, lemon balm, yarrow and ginger. Here are excellent menstrual supportive herbs that ease discomfort and pain and help to regulate hormones in female teens. There are also a plethora of marvellous herbal nerve tonics to keep extreme mood swings in check, like passionflower, ashwagandha, skullcap and lemon balm.

Empowering our Youth

It is important that we empower our teenagers to make the best decisions for their future selves; we can guide them, but if they feel bullied or pressured they will react and resist our best intentions. The best way is to include them in decisions, let them choose their own herbs, blends and the type of relaxation and exercise program that suits their individual personality. Yes, competitive sports keep teens active, focussed and build team skills, but they do not address the urgent need for deep relaxation, releasing stress, promoting sound sleep or maintain calm in the midst of inevitable demanding situations. Initiating young people into their own spiritual practice with simple beginner programs will be the most powerful and effective way to give teenagers emotional resilience and a more peaceful, rational perspective on their lives. It will help our teens to develop self-awareness and cultivate more authentic and deeper connections with others and Nature. 

Cultivating spirituality

Some kind of simple daily routine involving silent contemplative time perhaps, or a simple meditation or conscious breathing practice will nurture emotional maturity and curiosity for understanding the spiritual nature of existence and the unlimited potentiality within limited embodiment. Young people like to create their own sacred space, it may involve building a small alter or shrine, to place their treasured objects or beautiful finds from Nature. This is where they can go to be alone and ponder the great mystery of life in peace and quietude and recover some equanimity. It is from this abiding inner calm that they will come to understand their unique soul purpose (dharma) in this life and know they can return to this innermost peaceful  sanctuary anytime even in the midst of confusion and conflict.

There are multitudes of Apps to support any of these practices and technology can sometimes make it more appealing for many teenagers. They can practice a guided body scan relaxation to notice what thoughts come to mind as they focus on a specific body part, or a sound healing session to enhance their sensory perception. It is more effective if the practice resonates with the teen.

Teens can diffuse pure plant scents that open up their psychic faculties and enhance engagement with the unseen energies of the Universe. They can intentionally clear negative energies and elevate mindsets with plant incenses and perfumes to foster inner peace and contentment. These are doable, interesting and wholesome tools with which teens can enjoy exploring. Yoga can help our teenagers become more grounded, body confident and relaxed. When practicing yoga with teens, we encourage them to be kind in their actions, thoughts and words to themselves and others. We inspire them to understand how an enriched spiritual life is as important to develop as a wholesome diet and will bring clarity, make them a wiser and a more relatable, interesting person to be around.

Practices to begin in adolescence: Yoga, yoga nidra, meditation, breathing exercises, Tai Chi, Qigong, mindfulness, Nature immersion. 


Homeopathic Remedies:

Belladonna. This is indicated for red, hot, swollen acne and blemishes.

Gelsemium. If teenagers are worried about what others think, this remedy is good for  anxiety of the anticipatory nature. 

Ignatia. This remedy is good for any loss and sadness with friendships and relationships and even can apply to moving schools.

Bryonia. Use this if your teen is grumpy, ill-tempered and easily aggravated.

Tissue Salts

Silica. This tissue salt is good for healthy hair, nails and teeth and also for healing blemishes.

Kali Phos. Use this remedy for support during study stress. It can be used for focus headaches and also nervous tension.

Calc Phos. Traditionally calcium phosphate was used in tonics and believed to have a tonic effect at times of rapid growth and to improve the absorption of nutrients. 

Mag Phos. This is good for cramps and muscle pain, particularly after exercise and a lack of water or around menstruation for girls.

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