Six months ago, my then six-year-old son fell off a set of monkey bars at the park and broke his elbow. As soon as I saw it, my nursing instinct said to get him to the emergency room fast as his arm was either dislocated or broken, and we’d need X-rays to tell.
It was, in fact, broken… right at the elbow. In technical terms, the lateral epicondyle of the humerus bone was completely fractured.
He had to be admitted to the children’s hospital and scheduled for surgery as soon as they could get him in. He ended up needing an open reduction surgery because the fractured bone segment was displaced which resulted in three steel pins inserted to hold the bone in place and a temporary cast to be worn for 3-4 weeks.
After surgery, the main concerns were that the bone would fuse back properly and that his growth plate wasn’t damaged. We were given instructions on how to manage the arm and cast at home and when to follow up with his surgeon for regular X-rays to see how the bone was healing.
As a natural-minded parent, I wasn’t thrilled with all the medications and X-rays my kid had received (and would continue to receive), but I recognized that in some situations, those things are necessary and beneficial. Nonetheless, I was determined to take my kid home and do the best I could to support his body during the healing process using herbs and nutritious food.
Today, I’d like to share how I used herbal infusions to support and strengthen his bones as they were mending.
Bones Are Made Up Of Living Tissue
Before I got into healthy, natural living, I never thought much about bones other than writing them off as “hard rocks.” Sure, in nursing school I learned that bones were made up of living tissues, but I didn’t think much about it beyond that.
It wasn’t until I started looking into how to help my children have healthy teeth from a natural perspective that I learned a lot more about bone health in general. It was then that I learned more about how bones heal and mend themselves when they are damaged, and that most damage can be corrected when given the right environment—one full of the right nutrients.
You see, bones are made up of three main types of bone material: compact bone, spongy bone, and bone marrow. Compact bone makes up 80% of bone and is what gives bones the strength and support the body needs to move.
Compact bone is made up of four different kinds of cells that build, maintain, and break down bone as needed. Three of these cells create the bone matrix.
The bone matrix is comprised of collagen and noncollagenous proteins, water, and mineral salts (calcium and phosphate). The proteins give bones their flexibility while the minerals give bones their hardness, and both are necessary for strong bones.
When a bone is damaged, new bone building cells called osteoblasts surround the damaged area and form new bone. Many of these cells become trapped in the newly formed bone where they turn into osteocytes. These cells transfer minerals and communicate with other cells within the bone matrix. Osteoblasts that were not trapped end up forming lining cells that cover the newly formed bone, and they too play an important role in letting molecules in and out of the bone.
(Introduction to Bone Biology: All About our Bones, n.d.; School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist, 2011; What Makes Bones Strong, 2015)
Nutrients That Assist In Strengthening Bones
When it comes to providing the body with the nutrients it needs to strengthen and even rebuild damaged bone tissue, nutrition will play a huge role.
Eating a healthy, well balanced diet will go a long way, but when damage has occurred, supplementing with nutritional and herbal supplements can be very helpful.
Phyllis Balch, in her book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, recommends boron, calcium, magnesium, glucosamine and chondroitin, silica, vitamin A, vitamin B complex (with extra B5 and folate), vitamin C, vitamin D3, zinc, and an amino acid complex when it comes to providing bones with important nutrients. Many of these nutrients do not affect the bone directly, but they work in other ways such as impacting mineral absorption, cell wall permeability, reducing inflammation, and increasing tissue repair (Balch, 2006).
Along with diet, a good multivitamin can help to provide many of these valuable nutrients. Extra nutrients that are needed beyond what a multivitamin can provide can be added in if needed.
When it comes to herbs, I’ve found that nutritive herbs (those that contain vitamins and minerals) are another great way to help strengthen bones.
Seaweeds like chlorella, spirulina, and kelp are full of minerals. The easiest way I’ve found to get my kids to take seaweed supplements is by adding them to smoothies.
Mineral-rich herbs like oats, nettles, red raspberry, dandelion, chickweed, lambsquarter, purslane, red clover, horsetail, parsley, and so many more can be used in meals and herbal infusions on a daily basis (Duke, 1997; Hoffmann, 2003).
Even herbs like hawthorn berry and all parts of the elder plant have been used to help with bone repair. Hawthorn not only helps to move calcium from the bloodstream into the bone, but it also stabilizes collagen and encourages formation of the bone matrix (Balch, 2012).
Elder is even beneficial for strengthening and building bone. Herbalist Stephen Buhner in a Facebook post about using elder for fractures says that, “The [elder] plant is used this way in SE Asia but nowhere else as far as I know and certainly not in the western world. It is the leaves, stems, bark, or root that must be used (see my extended monograph on the plant in Herbal Antivirals). Many phyto-hysterians in the US continually assert the leaves, stem, bark and root are poisonous—a complete untruth. They are emetics UNLESS the plant is boiled, which inactivates those constituents” (stephen.buhner, 2016).
The elder monogram from The Herbarium explains the poisoning concern a bit further stating, “Elder bark, leaves, roots, seeds and unripe berries contain hydrocyanic acid (HCN), which may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The emetic (vomiting) action occurs only if these plant parts are used fresh. Cooking (boiling) for 30 minutes reduces the HCN content dramatically” (Elder Monograph, n.d.).
My Bone Building Protocol
Now that you know how important nutrition is to the rebuilding of bones and how vitamins, minerals, and herbs can assist in providing these nutrients, I’d like to share the bone building protocol I used for my son each day as well as a recipe for a mineral-rich herbal infusion that can be used to strengthen bones any time.
- Real food diet with lots of bone broth, cultured dairy, and healthy fats (minimal grains and sugars)
- Extra gelatin/collagen
- Children’s probiotics
- Daily children’s multivitamin
- 1000 mg vitamin C
- 1600 mg vitamin D3 with 40 mcg vitamin K2
- Herbal mineral infusion (1 cup a day)
- Elderberry syrup (1 tsp. 3-4 x day)
- Elder leaf syrup (1/2 tsp. 3-4 x day)
Bone Strengthening Herbal Infusion
Adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s High-Calcium Children’s Tea
This infusion can be drank on a daily basis.
- Combine herbs in a glass jar and label.
- To use, fill a clean glass jar ⅓ full of herb mix, pour just boiled water over herbs… filling jar 1 inch from the top, cover and let this sit 4-12 hours.
- Strain and compost herbs. Lightly sweeten, if desired, and drink tea daily.
Adults: 2-3 cups daily
Children: ½ – 1 cup daily (age-based dosing is recommended)
Balch, P. A. (2006). Prescription for nutritional healing. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Balch, P. A. (2012). Prescription for herbal healing: an easy-to-use A-to-Z reference to hundreds of common disorders and their herbal remedies. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Elder Monograph. (n.d.). Retrieved on 4/20/2017 from http://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/1005
Gladstar, R. (2008). Rosemary Gladstar’s herbal recipes for vibrant health: 175 teas, tonics, oils, salves, tinctures, and other natural remedies for the entire family. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
Introduction to Bone Biology: All About our Bones. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from https://www.iofbonehealth.org/introduction-bone-biology-all-about-our-bones
School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist. (2011, February 03). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/bone-anatomy stephen.buhner. (2016, October 20). In Facebook [Personal profile]. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from https://www.facebook.com/stephen.buhner/posts/1137521529650133
What Makes Bones Strong? (2015, July 20). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from https://answersingenesis.org/kids/science/science-experiments/what-makes-bones-strong/