Our Ears and the Herbs They Love


I may never have become an herbalist had it not been for childhood ear infections. Ear infections are a common reason for many, many visits to doctor’s offices for young children especially under the age of five.  They are also the cause of endless prescriptions for antibiotics. My daughter Hannah, at the age of three, was plagued with chronic ear infections along with other respiratory infections. We had been through several rounds of antibiotics and were referred to an ENT (ear, nose, throat specialist) who recommended that we have tubes put in her ears.  At the time we didn’t have health insurance, and paying out of pocket for surgery would’ve been quite an expense. We were also told that Hannah had some minor hearing loss and that her speech and ability to learn would be impaired without the tubes.

I didn’t know much about alternative medicine at the time, but had heard from a friend that garlic oil placed in the ear canal would cure an ear infection. This sounded very intriguing, but a little scary to consider actually doing without some further research.  Around the same time period I had been minimally introduced to homeopathy, again through a friend, but had not felt that I understood enough about it to try it. There, fortunately,  just happened to be a nurse turned self-taught herbalist in our area that had been teaching a few classes on the basics of herbs and nutrition.  We took our daughter to see her and learned more about health, ear infections and nutrition in just one meeting than we could have imagined. The changes weren’t all easy, but the results were miraculous. Not only did my daughter never have another ear infection, but the health of our entire family improved because of our dietary changes and the simple home remedies we began using.  I was hooked!

The conventional approach to ear infection is, as we all know, antibiotics. Physicians often prescribe antibiotics for what may not even be an ear infection. Although, things have changed somewhat in recent years, it was common practice to write a prescription whenever redness could be seen in the ear canal. Redness is not necessarily an infection. It is merely a sign of irritation which can be a result of the common cold, excessive crying or pressure from fluid in the ear. When there is evidence of an infection there will often be drainage and pus, not just redness.

According to herbalist and M.D. Aviva Romm:

Practicing physicians confirm that even chronic ear congestion can persist for many months or even for a couple of years without resulting in permanent hearing loss. Even rupture of the eardrum, which results from the pressure of fluid on the tympanic membrane, rarely causes hearing damage unless it occurs repeatedly.”

The infection can also be caused by a virus(common cold) and in these cases an antibiotic will not have any effect. Other signs of infection are fever, swollen glands, and extreme pain.  It is pertinent to note here, that it is true that long term chronic ear infections can cause permanent hearing loss and are definitely not something to be ignored. The best medicine is prevention.


Simple Home Remedies for Ear Infections



Garlic Oil

Garlic oil is a simple and inexpensive, yet powerful ally in the treatment of ear infections for either children or adults. Garlic not only works as an antibiotic, but can be used to treat viral, fungal and protozoal infections. The oil itself is an excellent treatment and prevention for ear infection as it lubricates the Eustachian tubes and sinus passages. When these delicate membranes become dry  their cervical lymphatic drainage is compromised creating stagnantion and making the ear canal less resilient and more irritated. This irritation leads to increased mucus production which in turn leads to more congestion and irritation in the entire upper respiratory system.

Ear oil can be used every couple of weeks in the winter for prevention or immediately if there are signs of an acute infection. Often times, other herbal oils may be added to the garlic oil including Mullein flower oil, Calendula oil, and St. Johnswort oil. All are intended to increase lymph flow, lubricate  membranes and prevent or eliminate infection.

Making Garlic Oil


  •  Several cloves of fresh Garlic
  •  Olive oil-preferably organic

Chop garlic finely, place in a pan or baking dish and just cover with olive oil. You may also use a crockpot on the lowest setting. I put the baking dish in my oven with the pilot light on. If you don’t have either a crockpot or a pilot you can simply simmer on very low heat on the stove top for 1 hour(use a heat diffuser if possible). If using a pilot light or crockpot, leave overnight. Strain out garlic and store in a clean jar in a cool dark place for up to one year.

Dosage: 3-7 drops in both ears every 2 hours for up to 7 days. If using as  a preventative place 3-7 drops in both ears once every 2 weeks

*Have your child lay on the opposite side of the affected ear. Warm oil slightly; check it on the inside of your wrist so it’s not too hot. Place drops in the ear and then gently massage the area around and beneath the ear for a couple of minutes. Have your child stay in that position for 5 to 10 minutes. A heating pad may be placed on the ear at this time for added comfort.



Ear Infection Tincture

Use equal parts:

  •  Elderflower (Sambucus canadensis)-reduce mucus and inflammation
  •  Calendula (Calendula officinalis)-antibiotic and lymphatic
  •  Catnip (Nepeta cataria)- relaxant, calming and lowers fever

Dose is one-half the child’s body weight in drops 3 times per day


Other General Recommendations

  • Eliminate all dairy products for a minimum of 6 weeks. Dairy products can increase mucus production and thicken mucus making more difficult to eliminate


  • Avoid large quantities of any kind of fruit juice even if it’s all natural  as this also leads to increased mucus production. Serving should be no more than 4 ounces per day.


  • Eliminate all cold foods(uncooked and right from the frig) until infection is gone. This    includes tropical fruits with the exception of lemons


  •  Apply heat using a hot water bottle or heating pad.


  • Lymph massage or acupressure are excellent additional treatments for ear infections                          especially if they are chronic.

***Seek medical care if the earache doesn’t show any signs of improvement within 12 hours. The acute pain and discomfort should be gone within 24 hours.  Also, see your doctor if your child shows signs of getting worse. If you see blood or any draining from the ear it is best to get it checked out as this can be a sign that the ear drum has burst.

hannah 23.jpg