Infection-Fighting Antimicrobials

Herbs with antimicrobial or antibiotic action destroy or inhibit the growth of disease-causing microorganisms like bacteria and viruses.

Herbal Antibiotics

Technically speaking, antibiotics are living cultures (like penicillin) or synthetic versions of live cultures that can kill or neutralize pathogens — in other words, they're not herbs. But several herbs have demonstrated an antibiotic-like effect in the body, making them viable options in the fight against infections.

Extracts of the mangosteen tree (Garcinia mangostana), used traditionally in Thailand and Sri Lanka as a remedy for diarrhea and skin infections, have been shown to be lethal to several strains of bacteria that are resistant to certain pharmaceutical antibiotics. That's big news today, as more and more disease-causing microbes are finding a way around antibiotic drugs.

Using herbs to fight microbial infections is a smart move. Research has shown that pharmaceutical germ-killers are overused and might contribute to the development and spread of drug-resistant microorganisms. What's more, even the best prescription antibiotics won't help a viral infection, as they're effective against bacteria only.

Antibiotics also carry lots of potential side effects, like stomach upset, headaches, and sensitivity to sunlight.

Antivirals, Antifungals, and Antibacterials

Herbs can treat viral infections like colds and flu, as well as coughs, cold sores, and sore throats. Herbal antifungals can combat yeast infections and other infections caused by fungi, such as athlete's foot. Antibacterial herbs are useful for treating bacterial skin infections and acne.

Many herbs can also combat infectious protozoa, single-celled organisms like Cryptosporidium or Giardia that can cause foodborne illness and diseases such as malaria. Here are some of the best-known antimicrobial herbs:

  • Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)

  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

  • Garlic (Allium sativum)

  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

  • Grape (Vitis vinifera)

  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

  • Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

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