Natural Antibiotics and Antivirals
The issues of antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria have gotten a lot of attention lately. The concern is that bacteria, having been exposed to antibiotics for so long, have developed a resistance to the antibiotics, creating “superbugs.” The grim reality is that bacterial infections that used to succumb easily to antibiotics have turned more serious, even deadly. Interestingly, though, herbs with antibiotic properties seem to elude the bacterial “learning process” and thus do not appear to produce resistant bacteria.
Antibiotic herbs can be used around the home for minor infections and as antiseptics to prevent infection. Here are some of the more useful antibiotic herbs.
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This smelly but effective herb is an antibiotic powerhouse. It’s also widely available and inexpensive. You can even grow it yourself.
How do you use it?
Garlic works best when used internally. It can be made into ear drops and used to combat ear infections; simmered in broth or water, it makes a healing broth that works especially well for upper respiratory infections. Garlic can be minced and added to all sorts of foods, from pasta to salad. Many natural health practitioners believe that garlic is most effective when used raw – as juice, minced, or crushed.
You’ve probably heard of this herb – it’s all over the place during cold and flu season, and for good reason. Echinacea is a powerful antibiotic and, in the case of colds and flu, anti-viral. It also works as an antiseptic on wounds and to treat sore throats.
How do you use it?
Tea made from Echinacea’s roots and aerial parts is not particularly tasty, but it can be drunk. Such a tea can also be used as a wash for superficial cuts and scrapes. Echinacea tincture, diluted in warm water, makes a very good sore throat remedy.
The golden yellow color of Goldenseal’s roots give it its name, and these roots are the parts that are used medicinally. Goldenseal works well topically and internally; however, it is such an effective antibiotic that it can affect intestinal flora, and should not be taken internally for more than a few weeks at a time.
How do you use it?
Infused in boiling water and then cooled, Goldenseal has a reputation as a very effective eye wash for infections in and around the eye. Such an infusion also makes a very good wash for cuts and scrapes, and can even be used on surgical wounds, particularly on pets.
Did you know that ginger can work as an antibiotic? It is reputed to be effective against E. coli and Salmonella, both of which are food-borne bacteria that can cause significant illness in people. It has even been shown to treat and cure ulcers.
How do you use it?
Ginger can be made into a tea using the fresh root or the dried and ground root. The fresh root is inexpensive, and a decoction can easily be made by gently simmering ginger slices in water and drinking the result, sweetened with raw honey. You can also eat candied ginger to help treat ulcers and fight infection.
The virus is a different creature than the bacteria. Some people find viruses “scarier” because antibiotics have no effect on them. The interesting (and good) thing is that certain herbs do have antiviral action, and many of these are widely available. Here are some of them.
1. Lemon Balm
In Germany, the antiviral effects of lemon balm are well-documented, and creams made from the herb are prescribed for herpes outbreaks and cold sores. Lemon balm is very easy to grow in your garden – a little too easy, in fact, as it tends to take over if not contained.
Lemon balm makes a very good tea, and can be drunk to combat all sorts of viral infections, such as colds and flu. The tea or a cream can be applied to cold sores or other viral lesions, such as shingles or chickenpox.
This lesser-known immune enhancing herb is known as huang qi in Chinese medicine. The root is sweet, not unlike licorice, to which it is related. It has been shown to be a very effective antiviral herb, particularly in the prevention of colds and flu, and may even be effective against the Coxsackie B virus (this virus can cause an inflammation of the heart).
You can simmer slices of the root in water to make a healing decoction, or you can use the commercially-available tincture. It is generally agreed that astragalus should be taken as a preventative rather than once the illness is in full swing, so if you think you’ve been exposed, or you experience the very first twinges of illness, you can start taking astragalus.
No discussion of antiviral herbs would be complete without mentioning garlic, an herb that is antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal. It’s not expensive, and you can use the whole herb or take capsules. However, many experts agree that “deodorized” garlic may not be as effective as the unaltered herb.
You can simmer minced garlic in chicken broth and sip it to stave off colds and flu. Raw, minced garlic can be sprinkled over salads and tossed with pasta. Be careful with consuming too much of it raw, though, as it can cause severe nausea when taken in this form.
Long ago, ginger was considered a “warming” herb that would prevent nausea from a “chilled stomach,” which was said to occur when large amounts of cold water were consumed in hot weather. We now know that ginger has powerful anti-nausea action, and it is also anti-viral.
Teas made from fresh ginger are palatable and spicy. You can sweeten them with raw honey for added germ-fighting benefits and flavor. When you feel the very first stages of a cold or flu, try drinking some of this tea several times a day. You can even drink it as a preventative if you think you may have been exposed to any viruses. Ginger is considered quite safe, although it is not recommended for pregnant women.