The stomach flu.
On a scale of one to burn and salt the earth, moms rate this calamity just below lice. We’re not exactly ready to burn the house to the ground, but we do seriously consider torching all sheets, towels, and soiled pajamas in lieu of washing them.
If you’ve never experienced this phenomenon yourself it consists of twenty four to seventy two hours of emptying your entire intestinal tract top to bottom all the while wondering two things. Why has your god forsaken you, and why can’t you just die already. If you’re a mom watching this from the sidelines you enjoy the added dread of, “Oh shit, what happens when it my turn? We’re all going to die!” Except of course you won’t, you’ll just wish you did.
What’s even more alarming is when you call the doctor and they say, “Oh yeah, it’s the season for it. It’s going around strong this year. But don’t worry, you’re only contagious through contact with vomit and fecal matter.”
Wait. Just stop. There a season for poo hand?!
Wash your hands, people. That’s all I’m saying. Wash your hands.
And since we can’t really control who does or doesn’t wash their hands before the million interactions we have on a daily basis in the world, let’s talk about what exactly gastroenteritis is and how we can speed this little infection along.
Gastroenteritis is just a more professional sounding way of saying the stomach flu. It’s not a flu at all. It is actually an inflammation of the lining of the intestines caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasites. Viral gastroenteritis is the second most common illness in the U.S. It spreads through contaminated food or water or by contact with an infected person. The most common preventative action for this type of infection is handwashing.
But let’s look at this from a whole body perspective. If we take that definition from above and simplify it to a child’s understanding it becomes clear that can do a little more than just washing hands. Here’s how I’ve explained it to my kids.
Basically, gastroenteritis is caused by some bad bully tummy bugs. They come into the neighborhood (our intestinal tract) and start shoving around our good tummy bugs. If we don’t have a bunch of good tummy bugs, it’s pretty easy for them to just move in and turn the neighborhood mean. But if we’ve made sure that our intestinal tract is well populated with good tummy bugs, those bullies don’t stand a chance…or at least don’t stick around for long before the good tummy bugs run them out of town. Since our body relies on our good tummy bugs to keep things running smoothly, it panics a little bit when the bad tummy bugs start taking up residence. Have you ever noticed right before you throw up how your whole body seems to go haywire? I think that’s because it doesn’t really want to throw up any more than you do but it recognizes that these bad bully bugs need to go.
So what does that tell us? Well, for starters it means that we should definitely be eating a regular diet of probiotic (good tummy bugs) foods. I’m honestly not good at this one. I supplement our diet with a little pixie stick style probiotic that also contains prebiotics. Prebiotics are just basically the food for those good tummy bugs. The best sources of probiotics are fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and miso. You can keep your good tummy bugs happy by eating a variety of whole, natural foods. Your appetite is a pretty good indicator of tummy bug population. If you think vegetables are the greatest thing ever, you’ve probably got some good tummy bug action on. If you crave sugar and think fermented foods are totally gross…you’ve probably got a pretty barren, or worse, tummy bug outlaw landscape.
Of course that is super simplified but it does get us thinking, right? So what do we do if we actually get one of these bully bug infestations?
First, don’t panic.
These things normally run their course fairly quickly. Twenty four to seventy two hours. I recommend giving everyone in the house a good sized tupperware or bucket to sleep with. I know it’s weird but trust me, it will cut down on the laundry immensely. You might have enough time to make it to a toilet but why chance it? My experience has shown that especially children don’t think about getting to a place to throw up so much as coming to tell Mommy or Daddy that “I don’t feel so….insert vomit sounds.”
Dehydration is actually the biggest concern during these episodes so anything you can do to hold down water, like sucking on ice chips or drinking an electrolyte replenisher, is going to be your friend. When we were kids Gatorade was the standard, but I try to steer away from that if for no other reason than the dye that it contains. You can try making your own electrolyte drink with this recipe from Marie St Ours. You can also try replacing some or all of the water with any of the herbal teas listed below to make it even more effective during bouts of vomiting.
Citrus and Sea Salt Electrolyte Replenisher
Yields: 2 servings
- 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/8 tsp fine-grain sea salt
- 1 tbsp grade B maple syrup
- 4 cups water
Stir all ingredients together in a quart-sized mason jar. Pour into individual glasses to serve. This recipe can be doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled as needed.
-Excerpted from The Simple Guide to Natural Health.
Second, head to your trusty home apothecary or spice shelf. It’s time to get witchy.
There are several common herbs that are absolute lifesavers during bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. You want to concentrate on herbs that support the digestive system, specifically those with anti-emetic and antispasmodic properties as well as those that are antimicrobial. Another good thing to grab are your essential oils. Start clearing the air while preparing the herbs to cleanse your body.
This is where I insert my disclaimer and say that all links go to my storefront over at www.thewitchygypsyapothecary.com. I appreciate your patronage if you choose to purchase something from me, but if not, I still hope that you find this information useful. We also use, and have available for purchase, Young Living Essential Oils. For more information on essential oils, shoot me a message on the apothecary shop page. Whatever herbs and oils you choose to use, please make sure that they come from a sustainable source and are of high quality.
Essential oils are one of the fastest ways to get started with defending against anything. I have diffusers scattered all over my house and get them going immediately when illness strikes. My go- to blend of essential oils is called Thieves from Young Living. Having a ready made blend means even the kids can initiate this first defense step. Of course you can make your own Thieves-esque blend as well.
Homemade Thieves-esque Recipe
- 40 drops clove bud essential oil
- 35 drops lemon essential
- 20 drops cinnamon bark essential oil
- 15 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 10 drops rosemary essential oil
You can also substitute the lemon for another citrus scent like orange or bergamot. Lavender is a nice addition as well as thyme for that extra antimicrobial punch.
This blend is antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal so it pretty much covers all of your bases. Alternately you could use a traditional sage (or other herbal) incense to purify the air. I just feel like diffusing the oils doesn’t make the air as heavy as the smoke from burning incense.
Lemon essential oil is nice for sniffing as just the smell of lemons has been known to alleviate nausea.
Peppermint essential oils works much the same way and I have been known to add it to the diffusers as well for any stomach related illnesses.
Antiseptic Blends for Clearing the Air During Illness
8 drops lavender oil
12 drops lemon oil
6 drop eucalyptus oil
5 drops lemon oil
12 drops lavender oil
6 drops cinnamon oil
12 drops lime oil
8 drops eucalyptus oil
4 drops lavender oil
4 drops clove oil
6 drops lime oil
3 drops cinnamon oil
3 drops clove oil
6 drops lemon oil
4 drops lavender oil
12 drops lemon oil
6 drops eucalyptus oil
4 drops lime oil
Anti-Nausea Blends for Diffusing During Illness
6 drops peppermint oil
8 drops spearmint oi
2 drops lemon oil
8 drops lemon oil
6 drops lime oil
3 drops sweet orange oil
6 drops lemon oil
4 drops lavender oil
1 drop lime oil
8 drops lemon oil
5 drops spearmint oil
2 drops lime oil
Topically, we use two different blends from Young Living to combat digestive issues: Digize and Tummygize. Just a few drops on our tummies and lower backs are usually enough to calm things down.
Try making your own tummy blend with any of these essential oils:
Now that we’ve started clearing the air, let’s talk about our herbal remedies.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a common ingredient in digestive tonics. Analgesic, anti-emetic, aromatic, and carminative, ginger is used to relieve nausea, vomiting, and morning sickness. It is also a potent antiviral and antibacterial, helpful for treating both bacterial and viral gastroenteritis. It is an excellent remedy for symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, gas, bloating, and cramps–whether taken as an infusion, juice, tincture, powder, or even just with food.
- For nausea, drink 3/4 cup infusion 3 times a day. An infusion is made by adding 1/4 tsp dried ginger to 1 cup of boiling water. Let steep, covered for 15 minutes. Strain, cool, and drink.
- If you need something fizzy for your tummy, add carbonated water and honey to your tea.
- Ginger syrup can be taken by the spoonful or spread on toast as part of the BRAT diet to reintroduce solids. Simply infuse ginger root into honey by simmering over low heat for 10-15 minutes.
- Hot Ginger Balls are also useful for an upset stomach. Combine 2 tbsp powdered ginger with 1-2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tbsp cinnamon powder. Mix with honey and roll into pea sized balls. Let dry at room temperature and then store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place for 3-4 weeks or even longer in the refrigerator. Take 2-3 balls as needed for an upset stomach.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is carminative and prevents vomiting. It is toxic in large doses so don’t go crazy with this one, but in small doses, it is a helpful remedy for digestive issues like gastroenteritis.
- Add a pinch of nutmeg to 3/4 cup of peppermint infusion. Take 3 times a day.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) is carminative and antimicrobial. Several species are used as they share many of the same properties. It has always been used as a warming and soothing remedy for digestion, aiding in nausea, indigestion, and flatulence, as well as colic and diarrhea. Cinnamon is a strong antimicrobial and is useful for certain types of dysbiosis (an imbalance between the types of organism present in a person’s natural microflora).
- Add to applesauce or toast as part of the BRAT diet to reintroduce solids.
- Make compound cinnamon tea: 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, and 1 tsp lemon juice in 8 ounces hot water; 4-8 ounces up to 3 times daily
- Make Cinnamon Balls to relieve nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. simply add dried cinnamon to honey until the mixture can be rolled into balls. They are awesome on their own but you can also try adding ginger, fennel, garlic, slippery elm, lemon balm, or chamomile.
Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula) might be a little harder to find but is well worth it for its adaptogenic and anti-emetic properties. It has long been used in Chinese Herbal Medicine to treat digestive problems such as appetite loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is thought to nourish the “yin” of the stomach.
- Make a decoction and sip 2 1/2 tbsp every 2-3 hours until the vomiting stops or the dose has been taken over 2 days.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is another tried and true digestive herb. It is antispasmodic, antimicrobial, anti-emetic, analgesic, and carminative. Clinical trials in Denmark and the UK during the 1990s have confirmed its value in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. It reduces nausea, colic, cramps, and gas. In soothing the lining and muscles of the colon, it helps diarrhea and relieves a spastic colon.
- Prepare an infusion with equal parts chamomile flower, dill leaf and seed, and peppermint leaf. Drink 1/2 cup of the warm tea as tolerated while reintroducing solid food.
Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) has been taken for digestive issues for thousands of years. Both gentle and effective, this is a great herb for children. And while not directly taken for vomiting, it is very calming as well as antispasmodic, carminative, and a good gastric anti-inflammatory. That makes it a great herb for stomach pain, indigestion, acidity, gastritis, gas, bloating, and colic.
- Infuse 1 tsp dried flowers to 8 ounces of hot water for 5-10 minutes. The longer it steeps, the more bitter the flavor becomes.
- For an extra herbal boost, add 1 tsp lemon balm and 1/4 tsp ginger to 2 tsp chamomile. Make an infusion and drink to make your tummy smile.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) protects and soothes mucous membranes. The root counters excess stomach acid and gastritis. It does this through its mucilaginous effect. Marshmallow root is more than 11 percent mucilage and 37 percent starch, making it an exceptionally rich, nutritive tonic. The root’s large sugar molecules swell upon contact with water, creating the sweet gel that is particularly useful in soothing irritation and inflammation in the bowel.
- Create a cold infusion to drink throughout the day. Other herbs may be added for flavor or antimicrobial action.
- Add to the gel recipe below for an extra anti-inflammatory kick.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is among the most used herbs in Europe and has been taken medicinally for several thousand years. Because it contains glycyrrhizic acid, a compound 50 times sweeter than sugar, it is a great addition to any remedy for children. Inflammatory digestive issues benefit from licorice’s demulcent and anti-inflammatory properties. It reduces stomach secretions while producing a thick, protective mucus for the lining of the stomach.
- Add to other preparations to aid in soothing the lining of the digestive tract. However, use sparingly in the case of gastroenteritis with diarrhea as it does have a slight laxative effect.
Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an herb that we mainly associate with Italian cooking. Limiting this herb to culinary delights would be an extreme disservice, however, as it can also be used to prevent or relieve nausea and vomiting.
- Prepare an infusion of basil tea by combining 1 tsp basil leaves with 1 tsp lemon balm and 1/4 tsp chamomile flowers.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) has a long history of use as a remedy for ailments of the digestive tract. The primary use of fennel seeds is to relieve bloating, but they also settle stomach pain, stimulate the appetite, and are anti-inflammatory.
- Catnip combined with fennel in an infusion is an excellent remedy for indigestion and diarrhea in infants and young children as well as adults. Drink a weak 4-6 ounce infusion up to three times daily.
- To make fennel tea, lightly simmer 2 tsp fennel seeds in 1 cup of water, covered, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes. (This would be the time to add catnip if using.) Strain and add honey if desired.
Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus rubra) is a marvelous herb that is a gentle and effective remedy for soothing the mucus membranes of the digestive tract and absorbing acid and irritants in the stomach. It supplies food for the good belly bugs inside our bodies, and is great for kids with diarrhea. Slippery elm is a particularly soothing herb and can bring instant relief to acidity, diarrhea, and gastroenteritis.
*Slippery Elm is an at risk herb for overharvesting. Marshmallow root is an acceptable replacement for slippery elm sharing its medicinal properties as well as being sustainable and often less expensive.
- Mix 1 heaped tsp with 3 cups of warm water. Infuse for 5 minutes. For diarrhea, drink a whole dose 1-2 times a day.
- Tablets may also be taken for diarrhea.
- Mix powdered herb with juice or applesauce.
Slippery Elm Porridge
If you ever feel so sick or nauseous that you can’t eat or keep down any food, then eat this porridge. Slippery elm is the one food that you’ll be able to eat. It will also stop you from throwing up.
- Mix 2 tbsp slippery elm powder with 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 3 tbsp water to form a smooth paste.
- Slowly add 3/4 cup cold water, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. (If it lumps up, blend in a blender or food processor.)
- Slowly heat the mixture, stirring frequently.
- Let cool. If desired, add in 1/2-1 tsp honey for extra sweetness. You may also add one of these: 1/4 tsp ginger, nutmeg, or lemon rind.
- This porridge has a slippery texture but a pleasant flavor.
-Excerpted from A Kid’s Herb Book
Some of the herbs listed above specialize in vomiting or diarrhea while others have a modulating effect on both. Personally, I focus on the vomiting first because it tends to be the more traumatizing of the two and the harder to manage. Once you get the vomiting under control it is much easier to address both the diarrhea (if it hasn’t already run its course) and the resulting fluid loss. Now is the time to slowly shift from emergency anti-emetic and antimicrobial herbs to calming, restorative, and anti-inflammatory herbs.
A good place to start with reintroducing solid food is actually not solid at all. Jello and clear broth were the standard when I was a kid. Since I definitely try to make more conscious decisions as an adult, I suggest upgrading these two options.
Miso Broth is an excellent choice for recovery after diarrhea. Simply stir 1/2 tablespoon of unpasteurized miso paste into 1 cup of hot water. Sip very slowly since a large volume of hot liquid can trigger a reflex that will cause you to have a bowel movement.
Herbal (who saw that coming?) gel is another great choice for recovery after any stomach complaint. It’s also a fun way to get kids to take herbs that may not be up to their taste standards. If you choose a base with a strong enough or complimentary flavor, it makes getting these beneficial herbs into kids much easier.
Orange Gel for Vomiting and Diarrhea
Take 1 quart of orange juice and pour it into a pan with a pinch of sea salt and 5 tbsp agar flakes (or 4 tsp powder). Bring to a boil, and continue to boil, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat. Have another bowl prepared with 1 tbsp each of the following extracts: fennel, ginger, and chamomile. Pour the hot liquid over the top and stir well to combine. Pour into an 8.5 x 11 inch baking sheet and place in the fridge for 3-4 hours to set. When set, remove and cut into fun shapes or slice into square cubes. This recipe makes the more firm “jiggly” type of gel. For a softer gel, use 1/4-1/2 cup additional juice.
To adjust this recipe, simply substitute any other flavor juice. It has to be 100% juice, with no added sweetener and no artificial flavors. Finish with your choice of herbal extracts.
Once you can hold down those items, you can start to introduce actual solid food. We follow the traditional BRAT diet with an extra T. Bananas, Rice, Applesauce (with cinnamon of course!), Toast, and Tea. Anything dry and salty will work as well. You definitely want to take it easy on your digestive system for a little bit and let it recuperate from its ordeal. This would also be a great time to start adding in a probiotic supplement or some probiotic rich foods.
Broekemeier, Pam. (2016) Norovirus – Meet the Herbs. https://www.herbrally.com/blog/2016/1/11/norovirus-meet-the-herbs
Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK Publishing, 2016
Easly, Thomas and Steven Horne. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory. North Atlantic Books, 2016
Gladstar, Rosemary. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. Storey Publishing, 2012
Healthline. (2019) About Thieves Oil. https://www.healthline.com/health/thieves-oil
Medline Plus. Gastroenteritis. https://medlineplus.gov/gastroenteritis.html
Rice, Christine. (2018) DIY Four Thieves® Essential Oil Blend for Wellness. Mountain Rose Herbs. https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/four-thieves-essential-oil
St Ours, Melanie. The Simple Guide To Natural Health. Adams Media, 2018
Tierra, Lesley. A Kid’s Herb Book. Robert D Reed Publishers, 2017
Notes from my studies at Vintage Remedies: School of Natural Health.
Additional information collected from various sources including personal experience and synthesized in my personal materia medica.