Diarrhoea (including from Gastroenteritis)

Our Pages

- Herbal Medicine
- The Clinic
- Richard Whelan

- Alphabetically

- By Group
- Alphabetical

- Clinic Hours
Clinic Location

- Ancient wisdom in the modern world


Finding a good herbalist

Diarrhoea, by definition, means a loosely formed stool and, as there are many people who routinely do not form a firm stool but would not be described as having diarrhoea, it needs to be clarified that, for diarrhoea to be seen as a condition, that there needs to be a significantly increased frequency, i.e. going more than 3 times a day.

The recommendations in this article are entirely suitable for a person to use for themselves or for their child however, if there are other issues that need attention and you know that you need further help, there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to support you and there are some suggestions on how you might go about finding such a person here

Diarrhoea in Children

A normal, healthy child will get multiple infections in any given year, however they normally self-resolve with only a few mild symptoms to show they were there in the first place. Children commonly get repeated infections in their respiratory systems, with just a few sniffles to show for it, and many children also get infections in their gut with nothing more than an upset tummy to show there was a brief skirmish with an unwanted visitor.

A virus is, by far, the most common cause for these common infections, which means an antibiotic would be worse than useless. In any case, in good health, most condition will resolve themselves in 48 hours and nothing needs to be done aside from keeping warm, well-hydrated and well-rested.

However, in the case of gut infections, when diarrhoea is both frequent and it persists for more than 2 days, or when the child is having very loose bowel motions on a regular basis, or perhaps has other symptoms such as bloating or gut discomfort, there is likely to be an underlying issue that does need further attention. This will be discussed further below.


Diarrhoea in Adults

By the time they have fought through all their immune battles of childhood to become an adult, it usually takes a lot more for a virus or bacteria to get through the defences and to start producing symptoms such as diarrhoea. In fact, the more common cause of acute diarrhoea in adults is some kind of food poisoning.

Again, a condition that is able to largely resolve itself within 48 hours should not be treated with anything but fluids and rest. The body is clearing itself out for a good reason and it isn't wise to try to take any herbs or special foods to try to reduce the diarrhoea.

However, if there is still a marked increase in the frequency of bowel motions after a couple of days, or if frequent, loose bowel motions are happening all the time along with such symptoms as bloating, fatigue or abdominal pain, then a deeper level of care and attention is required, as discussed below under 'treating the cause'


First-Aid for Diarrhoea

The following are some tried and true methods to help with diarrhoea in its acute state or when there are no major underlying issues that need to be dealt with...

Babies under 3 months old

The key points for a baby are to keep them warm and dry as best as you can and to keep nursing them.

There are also some key herbs that are likely to help and it is completely safe to give a baby small doses of certain herbal teas. For example, Chamomile, Fennel, Catnip or Agrimony. Make the tea in the strength of 1 cup of freshly boiled water over 2 heaped tsps of any one or combination of these herbs, be sure to cover it and then allow it to steep for a good 10 minutes before straining. The breastfeeding mother should drink the whole cup and give their baby just a half a tsp of the tea at least twice a day and preferably 3 or 4 times in a 24 hour period to start seeing a rapid improvement; within a day or two.

If the condition was a bad one and it was ongoing, the mother also might like to drink the 'gut healing tea' as described below and again, a half-tsp of this can also be safely given to the baby 2 to 4 times a day as well.

Another important treatment can be to massage their belly with a few mls of olive oil to which you have added some drops of lavender oil (e.g. 5 drops to 5 mls). Even if the baby is only ready to tolerate a light touch on their stomach, because it is sore and inflamed, the massage and the Lavender will give comfort and healing.

If the problem were to keep happening despite these interventions, you must consider the possibility that they have some food intolerance and that some investigations are in order as described further below.

Babies from 3 months to 1 year old

When the diarrhoea is going on for more than a few days, all the above recommendations may be helpful except the dose you can safely give the baby is now much higher, i.e. at least 2 tsps. of any of the teas will get them reaching a therapeutic threshold and they can safely take more if they want it.

Consider avoiding all dairy products yourself if you are still nursing your baby or, if they are already eating dairy, to take this out of their diet for at least a week to see how they go as well as what happens when you reintroduce the dairy products. This process, called the 'elimination and challenge method' is written up for dairy products in more detail here Likewise, the second major culprit for chronic diarrhoea, after dairy, is gluten, and the elimination and challenge method for this is written up here

Given that they alternately may have some chronic dysbiosis, as discussed later, it may also now be beneficial to give the baby a probiotic on a daily basis to help them build up a better microbiome in their gut and there are many good commercial probiotics now readily available.

Children from 1 year up

All the above recommendations still apply, with the difference that you might now start using doses of the herbal teas measured in a third or a half of a cup, even more if they want it.

Babies get diarrhoea for next to no reason. Even a minor cold in their nose will give them a runny bowel the next day. Children over 1 year old have had some time to start developing their immunity and their gut flora, so chronic diarrhoea may need a deeper look at things like food intolerance or dysbiosis as discussed further on.

It may also be appropriate to give them a course of the gut-healing tea, albeit at much lower doses than the level recommended for adults below.

If you can get a child used to using them, both Chamomile and/or very small amounts of Ginger can go a long way to help relax and heal the gut of a child who is prone to diarrhoea for reasons of excess nervous tension. Why this could be suspected would be from observing patterns of their getting diarrhoea around stressful events or when they became over-excited. Chamomile is a great friend to children for many reasons and can give much support to gut health and the nerves. More about it here

Ginger is obviously a powerful tasting remedy, but a little goes a long way and if they are in charge of how much they take then they are likely to get used to it a lot faster, especially if they can feel how quickly it eases griping and discomfort in their gut. Some ideas on how to make and use Ginger are written up here



As everyone says, the main 'first-aid' issue with diarrhoea is to maintain good hydration. In fact, the reason that infectious diarrhoea in children can be so lethal in some parts of the world is the rapid dehydration that it can cause, especially in under-5s, Children who are over 5 years-old are much less likely to be at severe risk of dehydration, unless they are vomiting as well as getting chronic diarrhoea.

However, many people, and this includes children, can instinctively feel like they want to drink less when they see themselves making very loose stools, they feel like they want to 'dry out' and so stop drinking even when they are losing a great deal of fluids. Nevertheless keeping drinking water, in any form, is essential.

Problems with losing essential salts and electrolytes can become a major issue after just 1-2 days. There are, of course, electrolyte replacement preparations that are widely available and that should be used when needed but, if for any reason a person needs to make their own, the following is a recipe that is widely used around the world that will safely ensure rehydration if consumed in a day.

Rehydration Formula

1 litre fresh water
1/4 level tsp of salt
1/4 level tsp of baking soda
1 freshly squeezed lemon
1-2 tsps of honey to taste



Many folk-traditions of medicine highly rate apples as being able to help with diarrhoea. The reason is that they are high in pectin, a substance that adds bulk to the stool whilst having a soothing action on the gut. Cooked apples can be particularly helpful, and if the person is fond of Cinnamon, a pinch or two of his can be added to the apples to improve their action on soothing and healing an inflamed gut. More about Cinnamon here

Plantago husks

Plantago husks are also known as Psyllium hulls. I differentiate them here because we want the coarse husks. These are usually readily obtainable and are preferred to the ground psyllium powder, which is what is sometimes available commercially.

Plantago is a most unusual herbal medicine in that it can be used for both constipation and diarrhoea. It has a gentle, bulking effect on the stool that can be of much help in creating a steadier wave of 'peristalsis' i.e. the muscular contractions of the small and large bowel that propel food and wastes forwards.

I would not recommend Plantago in the first few days of any outbreak of diarrhoea but certainly for a chronic condition, the use of 2 or more tsps a day may help to re-stabilise the bowel. More about it here

Gut Healing Tea

Raspberry leaf 40gms
Yarrow leaf 30gms
Agrimony leaf 30gms
Calendula flower 20gms

This would make 120gms, enough for a week's treatment at a full-strength adult dose. More or less could be prepared of the tea according to how long it was going to be used for, or the strength of dose that was needed.

For chronic diarrhoea, to help heal the gut, a full-strength dose would be to take approximately 15-17 gms of the tea and to infuse it into 1 litre of freshly boiled water. Cover and allow to steep for a good 12 to 15 minutes before straining and using during the day in divided doses.

If the person preferred to make a smaller amount more frequently than just once a day they could use, for example, 6 or 7 grams in a large cup, three times a day. It is ok to add honey if preferred, especially for a child. Likewise, it is ok to sip the tea hot or to allow it to cool to room temperature to drink more easily, whatever is preferred.

Much smaller amounts might be used for a child or for a less severe condition, but these are safe herbs to use for any age and do not be shy to give a reasonable amount to get at sure effect of the Raspberry leaf, a herb famed for its use in helping diarrhoea in children and adults, more on it here, Yarrow leaf, the great 'wound' herb that can help heal a damaged gut, more about it here, Agrimony, for its toning, strengthening action on the gut, more here, and the lovely Calendula which, like Yarrow, can do much to help heal any damage to the delicate gut lining, more on it here


Treating the Cause

Diarrhoea is usually a self-limiting symptom. Meaning that it is happening because the body has decided there is something in the system, usually a microbial infection or a poison, that it wants to get rid of, so it turns on a mechanism that ensures everything gets cleaned out as quickly as possible (which is likely to include vomiting if there is anything in the upper digestive system at the time).

When the 'all-clear' has been given, the body will be ready to accept food again in the normal way. Until that point, it is likely to rapidly evacuate the bowel of any substance that comes into it and this is when diarrhoea can become chronic because, if the body is registering that all is not well, it will not allow material to stay overlong in the gut.

So, what are the main reasons that the system continues to act as if it had an emergency to clear-out, even when an acute infection or poisonous food has been dealt with long ago?


A major cause of ongoing diarrhoea is a chronic infection in the gut. Things like Salmonella, Listeria and Botulism cannot remain in the gut in any quantity. Even in miniscule amounts, the immune system will regard them as the life-threatening organisms that they are and will not rest until they are completely removed.

However, there are many other kinds of micro-organism that can take up lodging in the gut and remain there without an all-out war against them. They still cause inflammation, bloating and a mild level of reactivity that includes loose and frequent stools, but they are not enough of a threat to cause a full-on battle with a subsequent total and high-speed evacuation from the bowel.

It is also a frequently observed pattern in both children and adults who have had a course of antibiotics, sometimes many months ago, whereupon their bowel has never been right since. With such a history it must be considered as likely that some less than ideal microbial life has grown back from when the usual gut flora was stripped away by the antibiotics.

A patient, consistent and holistic approach is needed to cure dysbiosis. It must use agents that can effectively remove the unhealthy organisms, and the two herbs Wormwood and Garlic excel at this, and it also must carefully rebuild a healthy micro-biome of healthy bacterial flora within the gut. This subject is discussed in practical depth in the article on dysbiosis here

Food Intolerance

If there is any history of eczema or asthma, then food allergy or intolerance is highly likely to be an issue and certainly needs to be considered, because both food allergy and food intolerance are a leading cause of chronic diarrhoea in children and adults.

Children with undiagnosed food allergy or intolerance are also likely to have problems with their immune health, i.e. they will be prone to getting infections and will have trouble getting over them.

Adults with food allergies and intolerances often get loose stools but may only get bloating and discomfort rather than much increased frequency.

The general subject of allergy and intolerance, and the important matter of how to go about determining if it actually is a problem, is discussed in depth here


Especially if there is blood in the stools, marked weight loss, fevers or other troubling symptoms, it may be important to visit with a specialist in the gut, a Gastroenterologist, to rule out the really worrying causes of chronic diarrhoea, such as cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or diverticulosis.

However, far too many people, presenting with chronic diarrhoea to their GP or Gastroenterologist end up being told that they have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), when their problem is actually a dysbiosis or a food intolerance, and these matters have not even been considered, let alone ruled out.

IBS really is a thing though and, if it is the underlying issue, there is much that can be done to help, IBS is a big subject, written about in its own in-depth article found here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd