In a review study published in this month's Journal of Pediatrics (volume 146, number 3), Dr Gail Mahady and colleagues at Karl-Franzens-Universitaet in Graz and the University of Illinois found studies supporting the pediatric use of some herbal, but said that many popular herbal supplements could not be included in the review as they have not been evaluated in trials.
For example, insufficient data were available on the use of chamomile, feverfew, ginger and gingko in children.
The researchers were also unable to find systematic scientific evidence to support the efficacy of cranberry juice or supplements to combat urinary tract infections in children, garlic for cardiovascular problems and Echinacea for colds.
Recent studies estimate that between 28 and 40 percent of children may be exposed to herbal products to help alleviate the symptoms of asthma, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, insomnia and respiratory infections.
The growing popularity of CAM amongst adults, especially women, is also thought to be creating an upward curve for its use children, since they administer products that they believe work to those in their care.
"Unfortunately the administration of herbal products to children is often not discussed with attending pediatricians," wrote the researchers.
"This trend presents both interesting opportunities as well as dilemmas for healthcase professionals and parents, as many of these treatments have not been clinically tested for safety and efficacy in pediatric populations."
Despite the drawbacks of the study, the researchers did find and assess useful information relating to some herbal supplements.
These include the use Angrographis paniculata for common cold, flu and respiratory infections, where a 70 percent reduction in the number of colds was seen in the third month of supplementation and a reduced risk of upper respiratory infection was also suggested.
Studies indicate that evening primrose supplements may improve the severity of dermatitis in children, and may also be associated with an improvement in performing certain tasks by hyperactive children.
Boys with development deficiencies and hyperactivity problems also appeared to benefit from nightly doses of valerian over a two-week period, experiencing an increase in total sleep time and quality.
Ivy leaf may improve airway resistance in children with asthma, and one third of children receiving ivy leaf cough tablets reported relief from the symptoms of chronic bronchitis.
Even where botanicals' potential for specific pediatric disorders was demonstrated in studies, however, the researchers were cautious, calling the results "at least promising".
"Further well-designed randomized, controlled clinical trials should be performed to evaluate these therapies," they said.