Make Over Your Medicine Cabinet

Erin Quinlan, Illustration by Colleen Madden

When it comes to helping our kids beat a winter bug (or soothe an upset stomach or an itchy insect bite), it can be difficult to know where to turn. Your medicine cabinet and even the local pharmacy are likely stocked with a variety of options—from holistic remedies to more conventional OTC products. As a parent, you want to choose what will give your child the most effective relief.

When making those choices, the public’s trust in many top-selling drugs is often misplaced, says integrative pediatrician and KIWI medical adviser Lawrence Rosen, M.D. “With a lot of over-the-counter medicines, there’s very little evidence they’re effective,” he notes. “Some of the data behind these products is actually really poor.” There’s also a risk of serious side effects, something the FDA underscored several years ago when it issued a safety warning that prompted manufacturers to pull infant cough and cold syrups off shelves and revise labels to say the drugs shouldn’t be given to kids under age 4. (Alarmingly, a recent survey from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan found that 4 out of 10 parents still give preschoolers multi-symptom cough and cold medicines.) The good news, however, is that numerous holistic options are both readily available and highly effective. “Many natural alternatives have good plausible reason to work, and now, thanks to growing research, they have some data to back them up,” says Dr. Rosen. “The benefit-to-risk ratio is tremendous.”

Whether you want to restock your medicine cabinet completely or have a specific problem you want to solve, Dr. Rosen and other trusted experts share their best advice for taking a natural approach. Here, KIWI’s whole-body guide.


Indoor and seasonal allergies: Quercetin + vitamin C
Keegan Sheridan, N.D.: “The combination of vitamin C and quercetin—a compound found in a variety of plants—helps stabilize the body’s mast cells, the cells that release histamine into the system and set off allergic symptoms like itching and sneezing. I use a tart-tasting powder form, adding 1⁄4 teaspoon to a glass of diluted fruit juice. My son drinks it once a day during allergy season and rarely needs to take anything else.” Dr. Sheridan likes: Designs for Health Quercetin-Ascorbate powder, $44 for 100 doses, 

Chest and sinus congestion: Eucalyptus oil
Dr. Sheridan: “When my kids have a runny nose or stuffy sinuses, I draw a bath, add about five drops of eucalyptus oil or mint oil to the water, then have them soak. The oils contain volatile aromatic compounds that open up the airways and may have an antiviral, antibacterial effect.” KIWI likes: Aura Cacia Pure Essential Oil Eucalyptus, $6 for 0.5 oz., 

Stubborn viruses: Elderberry extract
Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., R.N.: “Elderberry has a documented action of interfering with viral replication in the body, so it’s great at reining in a nagging cough or cold. Plus, it has a natural sweet flavor kids love.” KIWI likes: Sambucol For Kids Syrup, $25 for 8 oz.,

Immune support: Probiotics
Dr. Sheridan: “In the past I would treat my children with probiotics only if they had a digestive issue like diarrhea. But now research is finding that probiotics can aid the gut’s immune system in warding off upper-respiratory viruses, too, which is helpful when kids start coming down with something. The healthy bacterial strains with the strongest study support are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, but not all probiotic supplements are created equal. It’s best to enlist your pediatrician’s help in choosing a brand that’s suitable for your child’s age, size, and health status.”


Eczema: Coconut oil
Dr. Rosen: “Fatty acids in coconut fight flaking and inflammation. Take a small amount of unrefined coconut oil, warm it in your hand, and rub directly onto eczema-affected skin. Coconut oil also treats cradle cap in infants: Apply a thin layer to your baby’s scalp, wait 15 minutes, then gently remove flakes and excess oil with a warm, damp washcloth.” KIWI likes: Spectrum Essentials’ Organic Coconut Oil, $12 for 15 oz.,

Insect bites: Baking soda
Dr. Rosen: “Squeeze out a dab of calendula ointment, add a pinch of baking soda, and apply to the bite. The mixture quickly zaps the itchiness of ant stings, spider bites, and mosquito bites. It also takes down the redness.”

Warts: Apple cider vinegar
Dr. Rosen: “Warts generally don’t require treatment un- less they’re causing pain, but they can take months to resolve on their own. Some research suggests that topical apple cider vinegar can disrupt the viral machinery of a wart to clear it up more quickly. Twice a day, use a cotton swab to apply vinegar to the growth and allow to dry. I’ve had parents say, ‘You know what? In two weeks the warts went away.’”


Contusions and muscle strains: Traumeel ointment
Dr. Sheridan: “I once had a young patient who went over the handlebars on her bike and suffered bad facial bruising. We started applying Traumeel ointment—a blend of homeopathics that includes arnica— and within five days it was roughly 75 percent better. Research suggests that Traumeel helps modulate how the body responds to injury, bringing in immune cells that repair and down-regulating the immune cells that cause inflammation.” Dr. Sheridan likes: Heel BHI Traumeel Pain Relief Gel, $17 for 1.5 oz.,

Burns and abrasions: Calendula ointment
Dr. Sheridan: “This is a broad-spectrum skin healer that can soothe nicks, scrapes, burns, and rashes. After cleaning the affected skin, simply apply the balm and cover with a bandage if necessary. Be sure to use a brand that contains calendula flower, which is the medicinally active part of the plant.” Dr. Sheridan likes: Weleda Wound-Care, $17 for 1 oz., 


Nausea: Ginger
Dr. Rosen: “Ginger is well documented for alleviating nausea caused by stomach flu, motion sick- ness, and other factors. Still, the fresh root can be a tough sell for kids because of its spiciness. Try giving them one or two candied ginger chews instead, which deliver the same active compounds with a sweeter taste.” KIWI likes: Gin Gins Original Chewy Ginger Candy, $13 per bag,

Constipation: Flaxseed oil
Dr. Rosen: “Flaxseed oil is a natural stool softener that’s much gentler on the system than commercial laxatives. For kids older than 6 months, one to two teaspoons a day, taken either alone or mixed into foods such as oatmeal and smoothies, can help keep things moving.” KIWI likes: Barlean’s Fresh Organic Flax Oil, $11 for 8 oz.,

Gas pain: Fennel tea
Dr. Kamhi: “Fennel has a long history of use in reducing bloating and gas. Modern studies are finding that it may work by increasing production and activity of certain digestive enzymes. Try giving it to kids as a tea, made from store-bought fennel teabags or by adding a few drops of alcohol-free fennel seed extract to warm water.” KIWI likes: Pukka Herbal Teas Three Fennel Tea, $7 for 20 bags,


Earache: Garlic + olive oil
Dr. Rosen: “Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a small pan and stir in a clove of crushed garlic. Warm the mixture for a few minutes over low heat, then let it cool to room temperature and strain out the garlic pieces. The infused oil is a potent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral solution that can reduce the pain of a middle-ear infection as well as acetaminophen can. Have your child lie on her side with the affected ear facing up. Then, using a dropper, place two or three drops directly into the ear. Have her lie still for a few minutes while the drops penetrate the ear canal. Repeat every four hours as needed.”

Sore throat: Manuka honey
Dr. Rosen: “Pretty much any type of honey can soothe a sore throat by coating the inflamed tissue. Some research studies show that the manuka variety is a natural antiseptic that can actually speed recovery. For kids older than 12 months, give one teaspoon every few hours.”

Headache: Peppermint oil
Dr. Rosen: “The scent of peppermint oil is particularly effective for head- aches, possibly because it stabilizes blood-vessel spasms than can set off pain. Try adding a few drops to an unscented massage oil, then gently rub into your child’s temples for a few minutes every couple of hours. One of my staffers even uses this technique to alleviate her migraines.” KIWI likes: Now Essential Oils 100% Pure Peppermint, $8 for 1 oz., 



Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., R.N. Known as “The Natural Nurse,” Dr. Kamhi has been practicing medicine for more than 40 years. She is a member of the American Herbalist Guild, a certified Advanced Holistic Nurse, and the author of The Natural Medicine Chest, Herbs for Women, and other books.


Lawrence Rosen, M.D. A KIWI columnist and a member of our advisory board, Dr. Rosen is an integrative pediatrician and founder of The Whole Child Center in Oradell, NJ. He is also the co-author of Treatment Alternatives for Children.


Keegan Sheridan, N.D. Dr. Sheridan, also a member of KIWI’s advisory board, is a naturopathic doctor who has worked in the health care, natural food, and dietary supplement industries.

Please note that the information provided in this article is for informational purposes only. All medical decisions should be discussed with your family’s doctor.

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