Mar 162012

Kids, Common Infections, Herbs & Antibiotics

Excerpted from the now available Spring 2012 Issue of

Plant Healer Magazine

by Aviva Romm

September 1, 2011, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report on the problem of unnecessary antibiotic prescribing for kids. They found that doctors are unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics for kids more than 50% of the time, most often for upper respiratory infections (colds, coughs, ear infections, sinusitis, and sore throats).

Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing is the primary cause of antibiotic resistance, which is a major global public health problem. Further, medical science is waking up to the fact that pediatric antibiotic exposure is not benign for the individual, and may lead to asthma, eczema, and the development of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease later in life. Finally, antibiotics that make their way into the environment whether through industrial manufacturing, use in animal husbandry or human excretion, also have an impact. While antibiotics can be lifesaving when necessary, when overprescribed and misused, the consequences can be deadly!

Antibiotics are often given unnecessarily for common pediatric infections because doctors think that parents want or expect them. Indeed, I’ve had to talk dozens of parents out of an antibiotics prescription, they are accustomed to doctors giving meds and they are afraid and don’t want their kids to suffer. Doctors also prescribe antibiotics because they are worried about missing a serious diagnosis, and then there is also fear of litigation for the rare missed or under-treated infection.

I’m a big advocate of avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use, and the fact is, for common pediatric infections, they’re unnecessary. And herbs can play a huge role in supporting health and comfort while avoiding unnecessary medications. It’s amazing, though, how many herbalists and naturally inclined folks are confident using herbs until it comes to their young‘uns getting sick. The fever of 103 degrees, the cough that lasts for 2, 3, or 4 weeks, or the middle-ear infection can bring even the bravest hearts to their knees at the pediatrician’s office. You find yourself tentatively taking that antibiotic prescription that is handed out as freely as candy on Halloween. And then there is the ensuing dilemma when you get home– do you give the antibiotic or do you stick with the herbs just a little longer? Too often fear trumps evidence and intuition.

Herbal Care or Medical Attention?

Here are symptoms to worry about. If you see any of these, a doctor’s appointment is appropriate and medications are likely warranted:

•Any baby less than 1 month old with a fever requires immediate medical attention!

•High (> 103.5 F) or persistent fever in any aged child

•A child is having to work extra hard to breathe or if her breathing is as fast, labored, or accompanied by stridor, whooping sounds, or wheezing

•Persistent pain (nothing relieves it) such as an earache, sore throat, severe headache or stomach ache

•Frequent vomiting or diarrhea if a child us unable to keep down enough liquids to urinate at least once every six to eight hours… this could be a sign of dehydration

•Thick eye discharge that doesn’t get better during the day

•A stiff neck, extreme lack of energy or the illness seems to be getting worse rather than staying the same for more than five days

•Blood in the vomit or diarrhea

•If the child has been exposed to a contagious disease such as mono, pertussis, measles, the flu, or has travelled out of the country recently

•If your treatment for a mild condition is not helping, and the condition persists or worsens

Reassuring signs that you can, in good confidence, continue to treat an illness botanically include:

•The child, in spite of not feeling well, continues to play and act generally normally, and is able to be awake, and alert even though he or she may be more sleepy than usual

•The child’s appetite may be decreased from normal, but he or she continues to take fluids and perhaps a small amount of food

•The child is peeing a normal amount compared to usual

•The symptoms slowly improve over the course of several days



A cough is a reaction to airway irritation or inflammation, usually caused by viral upper respiratory infection (also called a cold) or something in the environment (i.e., dust). Asthma and gastroesophageal reflux can also cause cough. This is a discussion of cough due to viral infection. Coughs can last from days to even weeks. In fact, you might have noticed that sometimes after a cold, a child can have a lingering cough for even 6 weeks. This can actually be completely normal, is called post-viral airway reactivity, and is due to persistent irritation in the upper airway.

Antibiotics do not treat coughs due to viral infections and are almost never indicated for coughs due to colds.


Aunty Aviva’s Cough Syrup Blend

This remedy is effective and pleasant for use with children.

•1⁄2 ounce dried mullein leaves (Verbascum thapsus)

•1⁄2 ounce marshmallow root (Althea officinalis)

• 1⁄2 ounce licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

• 1⁄2 ounce thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

• 1⁄2 ounce anise seeds (Pimpinella anisum)

• 1⁄2 ounce wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina) •1⁄2 ounce slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra) •1 quart of boiling water

Combine all the herbs. Put 1 ounce of the mixture in a glass jar, add the boiling water, cover, and steep for 2 hours. Strain the liquid into a pot and simmer gently until it is reduced to 1 cup (discard the plant material). Sweeten with H cup of honey (for children under one year, omit the honey and replace with maple syrup or sugar to taste). After the syrup cools to room temperature, store it in a jar in the fridge. It will keep for up to 2 months.

Dose: 1-2 teaspoons as needed for children one to three years old, 1 tablespoon as needed for older children.

Quiet Cough Formula

This sweet-tasting, glycerin-based tincture is relaxing, expectorant, and antimicrobial for the respiratory passages.

•1⁄2 ounce anise seed tincture (Pimpinella anisum)
•1⁄2 ounce cramp bark tincture (Viburnum opulus)
•1⁄2 ounce thyme tincture (Thymus vulgaris)
•1⁄2 ounce elecampane tincture (Inula helenium)
•1⁄2 ounce red clover blossom tincture (Trifolium pretense)

•1⁄2 ounce black cohosh tincture (Actea racemosa syn. Cimicifuga racemosa)
•1-ounce vegetable glycerin

Mix all the ingredients in a 4-ounce dark amber bottle. Shake well before each use. It will store indefinitely. Refrigeration is not necessary.

Dose: Give 1/2 to 1 teaspoon up to every 30 minutes for 2 hours for acute coughing bouts, or two to four times daily for milder or chronic coughs.

When to Consult with a Doctor

•All babies under 1 month old with persistent cough should be evaluate by a doctor
•If the child is wheezing and has no history of asthma

•If the child has asthma and wheezing that is causing him significant difficulty breathing, with no relief from prescribed medications.
•If the child’s breathing is rapid and labored (fever by itself can cause breathing to be faster than usual, but it should not make a child work harder to breathe).

•The child’s lips or mouth are turning blue due to labored breathing or shortness of breath.

Ear Infections (Otitis media)

Ear infection is the most common reason for a pediatric office visit, and one of the most common conditions leading to antibiotic over-prescription. Antibiotics treatment is considered appropriate (though not always necessary) for babies under 6 months old with known or suspected ear infections, and sometimes for children ages 6 months to 2 years with severe infection.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving parents the option of waiting 48-72 hours to see if symptoms resolve on their own before using an antibiotic. Approximately 80% of kids with acute otitis media get better without antibiotics!


•Garlic-Mullein Oil (Allium sativum and Verbascum Thapsus) The classic herbal remedy for ear infections is garlic-mullein oil. In 30 years of herbal practice, I’ve rarely had to turn to anything else. Garlic is a natural antimicrobial, addressing infections of both a bacterial and viral nature. Mullein is an analgesic, relieving the pain associated with earaches. Never put anything in the ear if you suspect eardrum rupture or if there is drainage from the ear.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) Oil is a natural antiviral and analgesic, and can be used as an alternative to garlic-mullein oil, though I prefer the latter.

Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia piscipula) – Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) tincture (a 50/50 combination) is a reliable alternative to ibuprofen or Tylenol for pain relief. Give 5-10 drops to children under 5; 10-20 drops to children 5-12, and 2-3 mL to older children. Repeat the dose in 15- 20 minutes, then every 2-4 hours as needed. Jamaican dogwood is said to cause respiratory paralysis in excessive doses; do not exceed the above doses and keep out of reach of children.

When to Consult with a Doctor

•Pain that won’t resolve

•High fever and persistent ear pain

•Drainage from the ear

•Neck pain or stiffness

Herbal pediatrics is an important but under utilized art because so many folks are afraid to treat kids, especially young children. It is critically important to know when medications are necessary, and also equally important to know when they are not. The health of the individual and the balance of the planet are at stake when medications are inappropriately and over used. Paying close attention to healthy kids, and spending time around kids when they are sick will help you to learn the difference. A family physician or pediatrician in your community can be an ally for you and your family or patients, and you an asset for him or her as many physicians treating kids want to know how to use alternatives but don’t know where to learn or who/what to trust.


To read the entire informative article, subscribe or resubscribe now to:

To learn more about botanical pediatrics or to ask questions, go to Aviva’s website at:

  9 Responses to “Kids, Common Infections, Herbs & Antibiotics by Aviva Romm”

  1. Excellent article with great guidelines. As an herbalist and mother of two, I can attest to the gentle, strengthening power of using herbs for helping children during illness. We have been through all kinds of adventures as a family and I have found that using common sense combined with herbal medicine brings about relief and a strong recovery for my kids. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Great article! I agree with Aviva and Angela, I’ve managed to avoid antibiotic use so far with my two young children through the use of herbs and common sense lifestyle modifications like limited sugar intake, plenty of fresh air and adequate sleep. I worry about the long-term effects of antibiotics on immature immune systems and tiny guts. Thanks for offering alternative information for parents.

  3. Awesome article and LOVE your site!! My little one has an ear infection and we have been using the garlic oil for over a month to no avail. The doctor told us her eustacian tube is so small that her ear cannot drain. I’ve taken her to a naturopath for acupressure and used peppermint essential oil for lymph massage. I’m super frustrated and she has now been on 2 anitbiotics in the last month. Our next step is tubes. Anything else besides the oil you can recommend?

  4. Wonderful article! I have an almost 3 year old and so far we have managed to avoid antibiotics for him. There is a lot of fear that can come up when a doctor is pushing for antibiotics. It is hard to feel confident making another choice. The guidelines here are very helpful! Rachel – an ear infection for over a month seems concerning. One thought that came to me was steaming – just to help loosen things up a bit? When my son is very congested in his head, I will take a pot of boiling water into the bathroom, place it in a safe place where it can’t be knocked over, close the windows and doors, run the shower hot to steam up the bathroom, and throw a handful of herbs into the pot such as Thyme, Lavender, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Sage, Rosemary…it’s decongesting as well as antimicrobial. And also relaxing. 🙂 And we just hang out in there, maybe read a book, sing songs, whatever. I don’t know if the steam could help with ear drainage or not, but I doubt it would hurt. Another thing to consider is that in cases of chronic ear infection, there is a higher likelihood of a food allergy being part of the equation. Dairy is common. Wishing you and your little one all the very best! Looking forward to hearing other people’s responses here…

  5. Thank you for this common sense approach…not only of natural care but also clear suggestions on when to consult a doctor. No fear, no extremes…just common sense!

  6. Thanks Lauren! Yes, we’ve cut out dairy and done it all!! Her ear tube is so small that the oil won’t even drain. 🙁 I’m afraid, tubes are in our future. I’m a holistic health coach so it feels icky when I am curing other people’s children and can’t “fix” my own. I even did an article on the top 12 ways how to cure a cold.

    I have one other method (Oregano, lemon grass and peppermint essential oil) to the bottom of her feet that I am going to try. If not, tubes it is.

  7. Wonderful article!

  8. I have five children ages 23 – 4, only my eldest has ever had antibiotics and any other medication up to the age of five. In fact due to their strong immune systems we only have need to go to the doctor for yearly well checks. I feel preventative care is the most powerful tool; we eat a healthy diet and combat illness early with herbal natural healing methods. Not all illness can be prevented but most can if the parents are willing to live holistically ~ in balance with nature.
    Thank you for this wonderful and useful information!!

  9. Great post! I am passing this on to my daughter who has a two month old baby boy!

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