Reducing Your Family's Exposure to Toxins

The results of a recent study show that prenatal exposure to phthalates is associated with language delays in children, which is the latest in a long list of medical conditions associated with these nasty chemicals. (You can read more about this study here).

Phthalates are found in food packaging, cosmetics, perfume, hairspray, plastic straws, vinyl flooring and wall coverings, and much more. Avoiding them can be overwhelming, but small shifts in your daily life can benefit the entire family.


Here are my top tips to reduce your family’s exposure:

1. Avoid plastics with a 3, 6, or 7 in the triangle label (usually on the bottom or side of the container).

2. Look for personal-care products with "phthalate-free" on the label (EWG's Skin Deep database is a fantastic resource).

3. Avoid synthetic fragrances (listed as “fragrance” in the ingredient list). Look for products that are fragrance-free, unscented, naturally-derived, or plant-based.

4. Use glass bottles and silicone nipples for feeding baby.

5. Drink filtered water, and use glass or stainless steel water bottles.

6. Buy organic food whenever possible, join a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) group, shop at a farmers’ market, or grow your own.

7. Toss old toys and plastics obtained before 2008, when phthalates were banned.

8. Use glass or stainless steel containers for food storage, and never reheat food in plastic containers.

9. Ditch plastic wrap and bags in favor of reusable options. They're a bit of an investment initially, but you'll save money in the long run. I love

The Children’s Environmental Health Network has a great FAQ section for you to learn more about plastics (including phthalates) and how to avoid them.

Elderberry for Immune Support

Elderberry is one of my favorite herbs for upper respiratory support. Elderberries are a potent and evidence-based option for reducing the severity of colds and the flu. You can buy elderberry syrup, but making your own is simple. I always keep stock on hand year-round, but I make extra for the winter months. Below are a few of my favorite kid-friendly recipes, information on this beneficial plant, dosages, and contraindications.



  1. Basic Elderberry Syrup

·      ¾ cup dried elderberries

·      3 cups of water

·      ¾ cup raw honey (not appropriate for children under 1 year of age)

·      Optional ingredients to boost healing properties:

·      2 tbsp. fresh ginger or 2 tsp. ground ginger

·      1 cinnamon stick or 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

·      ½ tsp. whole cloves

·      Sprig of thyme

·      Sprig of rosemary

Combine elderberries, water and optional herbs and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes. Strain liquid using a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth and discard berries and herbs. Stir in raw honey and store in glass jars. The syrup should keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

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2. Elderberry Gummies

·      1 cup elderberry syrup

·      4 tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

Heat elderberry syrup and slowly whisk in gelatin until fully dissolved. Pour into silicone molds and let set in the fridge.

Coat the molds with a thin layer of coconut oil to make removal easier. Use a medicine dropper to fill the molds, which cuts down on the mess.

3. Elder Berry Popsicles

·      1 cup elderberry syrup

·      1 cup organic apple juice

·      Juice from 1 lemon

(You can substitute lemonade for the apple juice and lemon)

Mix all ingredients and pour into popsicle molds and freeze. These are perfect for kids and soothing sore throats.

4. Elderflower Tea

·      2-4 fresh flowers or 1 tbsp. dried flowers

·      Boiling water

·      Raw honey (optional)

Pour water over flowers and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain flowers. Sweeten with honey if desired. Enjoy!


Elderberry Monograph
by Jessica Titchenal

Botanical name: Sambucus nigra (the blue/black berry group)

Common name: Elder, elderberry, European elderberry, black elder, black elderberry, sambucus

Family: Adoxaceae

Parts used: Berries and flowers

Form: Dried, whole berries, fresh flowers, dried flowers
Most sources recommend avoiding the raw berries, bark, leaves and roots due to toxicity, but well-trained herbalists indicate preparation is key to the safe use of all parts of this healing plant.

Native origin: Elderberries are shrubs native to Europe, but have become naturalized in many parts of the world, including the United States.

Main cultivation area: Grows throughout North America, Europe, western Asia, northern Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. Elderberry is a hardy perennial that can survive in USDA zones 3-8. It likes sun or partial shade. They tolerate most soils but prefer moist, fertile, well-drained soil.

I have a bush in my backyard that thrive without much effort on my part. The hardest part is beating the birds to the berries.

Production: The white flowers appear late spring to early summer, depending on the region, and should be harvested when they are fully open. Be mindful of how many flowers you harvest, which can impact how many berries are produced. The berries are harvested when they’re ripest and are a dark, rich purple/black in color, usually between mid-August to mid-September, depending on the region. The bushes are most productive starting their second year.

Storage: Elderberries are best stored frozen or dried, and the flowers can be used fresh or dried. When dried, the flowers and berries should be stored in glass containers in a cool, dark location.

Energetics: The ripe berries are purple black in color and have a tart, slightly sweet, sour, and bitter flavor. The white flowers are slightly bitter and pungent. Both are thought to have cooling energy.

Constituents: Applications of elderberry can be attributed to the chemical composition, which includes essential oils, essential fatty acids (EFAs), flavonoids and their glycosides, phenolic acids, carotenoids, vitamins and minerals. They are especially rich in polyphenols, anthocyanins, and flavonoids.

History: The ancient Greeks thought elders were the primary plant of the god Pan, and believed it could cure all the ills of humankind. The ancient Celts believed a spirit lived in the elder who must not be angered. It was planted around homes for protection from lightening, and near the graves of their loved ones. They believed the blossoms were evidence of happy souls. In old England, they believed you could see witches if elder juice was smeared around your eyes. Pregnant Celtic and Germanic women would kiss the elder to ensure their babies would have good fortune. In the language of flowers, elder flower means purification and love, or compassion and zealousness.

Actions and medicinal use: The beneficial properties of Sambucus nigra include antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antiallergic, vasoprotective, anti-carcinogenic, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, antitumor and antihepatitic.

Both elderberries and elderflowers have a long tradition in herbal medicine of being used to reduce inflammation, diabetic symptoms, as diuretics, and in the treatment of colds and flu. The flavonoids in elderberry extract inhibit Human Influenza A (H1N1) infection, and consumption of the juice may contribute to the prevention of several degenerative diseases such as cancer, inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. In one study, elderflower infusions had higher antioxidant activity than those prepared from berries.

From an Ayurvedic and folklore perspective, it is an antioxidant, immune tonic, astringent, expectorant, diaphoretic, digestive, carminative, and relaxant. Sambucus nigra is not as widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Dose: Elderberry syrup—2-4 tbsps. every 2-4 hours during the initial stages of a cold or flu, or 1 tbsp. daily for general immune support
Flowers--Standard Infusion 2-4 ounces, 3 times a day
Leaves--Cold Infusion 1-2 ounces, 3 times a day

Culinary and other uses: Elderberries and flowers are used in food and beverages, infusions, tinctures, syrups, winter cordials, and medicated wine. Cosmetic uses of elder flowers include reducing facial wrinkles, lightening freckles and age spots, helping heal skin rashes, eczema, measles, diaper rash, and in salves for chapped hands and sunburns.

Contraindications: Can cause gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. Avoid use during pregnancy and lactation. It is also recommended that patients with autoimmune disorders avoid elderberry due to strengthening and modulation of the immune system. Sensitivity varies from person to person.

Fun Facts: Elder has a history of use for musical instruments due to the flexibility of the wood. In the popular Harry Potter fiction series, the Elder wand is considered the rarest and most powerful wand.



Buhner, S. H. (2013). Herbal antivirals: natural remedies for emerging resistant and epidemic viral infections. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Chowdhury, S. R., Ray, U., Chatterjee, B. P., & Roy, S. S. (2017). Targeted apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells through mitochondrial dysfunction in response to Sambucus nigra agglutinin. Cell Death & Disease, 8(5), e2762–.

Dass, V. (2017, November 19). Elderberry for Immunity. Retrieved from

Gladstar, R. (2012). Rosemary Gladstar’s medicinal herbs: a beginner’s guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Grant, A. (2015, December 30). Harvesting Elderberry Fruit – When Are Elderberries Ripe. Retrieved from

Ho, G. T. T., Wangensteen, H., & Barsett, H. (2017). Elderberry and Elderflower Extracts, Phenolic Compounds, and Metabolites and Their Effect on Complement, RAW 264.7 Macrophages and Dendritic Cells. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(3), 584.

Johnson, J., ND. (2015, December 22). The Joy of Harvesting and Using Elder Flowers. Retrieved from

Koby, T. (2010, November 5). Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Retrieved from

Kress, H. (2006, January 16). Elder toxicity. Retrieved from

Moore, M. (1996). Herbal materia medica: outlines of over 500 major botanical medicines ... Albuquerque, NM: Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.

Sweet Dreams: 7 Nutrition Tips to Help Your Child Sleep

Did you know nutrition can play a huge role in how well (or poorly) your child sleeps? One reason I chose nutrition as a career path is that my second-to-youngest child didn’t sleep through the night for the first 3 1/2 years of his life. Yes, you read that right. 3 1/2 YEARS.

If you have a child with ADHD, autism or SPD, you know how challenging it can be to help them sleep. We went to multiple doctors, tried everything you can think of, and endured plenty of well-meaning but ignorant advice on what we could do better. His health (and mine) suffered greatly before I made changes to support a better night’s sleep. Read below for some of my favorite tips to help your child sleep better.

1. Make sure they consume enough minerals. Magnesium gets a lot of attention because it plays an important role in over 300 functions in the body. It not only helps kids relax before bed, but it can also reduce anxiety, muscle cramps and growing pains, hyperactivity, and constipation. Food sources include avocados, nuts & seeds, dark leafy greens, and black beans.

Have them soak in an Epsom salt bath, try a magnesium citrate drink before bed (like Natural Vitality Calm), or a magnesium lotion or oil. If you use the lotion or oil, test a small patch on your child’s skin first. It can sting a bit, so start with small amounts.

Calcium and zinc are equally important. Most people think of dairy when they want to increase their calcium, but dark leafy greens, sardines, and sesame seeds are also rich in this important mineral. It’s not uncommon for neurodiverse kids to be deficient in zinc. Foods rich in zinc include grass-fed beef or lamb, pumpkin seeds, lentils, chickpeas, cashews, and turkey.


2. Feed them high-quality protein. This important macronutrient contains important amino acids that support mood, and it helps keep blood sugar stable. Dysregulated blood sugar can impact sleep, exacerbate mood and behavior, and more. Try hard-boiled eggs, nuts, fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, legumes, organic poultry, or grass-fed beef.

3. Rule out food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities. If your child reacts to foods that fall into any of these categories, it could contribute to inflammation, impaired gut health, mood and behavior issues, and sleep disturbances. Work with your pediatrician and nutritionist to identify problem foods.


4. Try kid-safe herbs. I love teas and tinctures with gentle herbs that promote rest. Some of my favorite recommendations include Mountain Rose Herbs Quiet Child tea, Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea, BioRay Kids NDF Sleepy Herbal Drops, and Gaia Herbs Calm Restore for Kids.

5. Don’t feed them right before bed. Our bodies need time to digest food, and going to bed on a full stomach can prevent your child from settling into sleep. Aim for their last meal to be 2-3 hours before bed. If they do need a small snack, offer a hard-boiled egg, a handful of nuts and blueberries, hummus with a few veggie sticks, or a banana with sunbutter.


6. Supplement with Omega-3s. These essential fatty acids (EFAs) support brain health, improve mood, and help with sleep quality. If your child will eat fish, opt for wild-caught salmon, sardines, trout, or herring (avoid high-mercury fish like tuna). Supplements are an easy way to make sure your child gets enough. Nordic Naturals has great options for all ages, include an algae-based version for kids who can’t take fish oil.

7. Avoid foods that disrupt sleep. This includes processed and junk foods, added and unnecessary sugars, sugary beverages, and caffeine. Besides disrupting sleep, these foods promote inflammation, dysregulate blood sugar, impair gut health, and can exacerbate issues with mood, behavior, and focus.

You might have noticed I didn’t include supplementing with products like melatonin, 5-HTP, or GABA or other amino acids. These are all great options, but they need to be tailored for each child because some can interact with medications. Please work with a qualified nutritionist who can guide you on appropriate products, dosages, and offer personalized support.

Also, look at your child’s environment. Some children are especially sensitive to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). EMFs are emitted from your child’s favorite electronics, so it’s good to remove devices from the bedroom, turn off the wireless router at night, and cut off screen time 2-3 hours before bed (the blue light emitted from these devices also disrupts sleep). Also consider using a diffuser with calming essential oils, a white noise machine, a weighted blanket, and incorporating a relaxing routine, such as a warm bath followed by a story and snuggle.

If none of those options work, your child might benefit from additional support, which could include a sleep study or a visit to a pediatric chiropractor or functional medicine pediatrician.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep!