Herbal Antimicrobials: Fighting Infections NaturallyApril 17, 2023
Antibiotics are medicines that fight off bacterial infections. Penicillin was the first antibiotic developed that harmed the pathogen cell but not the human cell. That was in 1928, and since then more and more antibiotics have been developed. Although antibiotics are only available with a prescription from the doctor, their misuse and overuse has allowed some bacteria to genetically mutate and form resistant bacteria strains.
While New Zealand’s rate of antibiotic resistance is relatively low, our average use of antibiotics is high. Antibiotics affect people differently. One of the biggest effects of antibiotics is their effect on the gut microbiome.
After antibiotic use it can take several months for good bacteria to recolonise and as a result the immune system becomes compromised. Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system is in the gut? Prior to the development of antibiotics, herbs were used to support the immune system, and unlike antibiotics which fight against bacterial infections only, herbs can protect you against a range of microbes as well as providing many other benefits that support the body to recover. Help to fight infections naturally with these five herbal antimicrobials.
First used by Native Americans as treatment for snakebites, colic, wounds and infections, echinacea has been used for a variety of infections for hundreds of years. Introduced into standard medical practice in the United States in the 1800s, echinacea was a popular anti-infective medicine. That was until the development of antibiotics, where its use fell out of favour.
Echinacea however is becoming popular once again as research confirms that it is effective for supporting the body during seasonal ills and chills. Functioning primarily as an immune support, research suggests it is particularly effective against upper respiratory tract infections, and pathogenic bacteria.
Echinacea works best at the first sign of infection, helping to reduce symptoms and the duration of the infection. If you are susceptible to seasonal infections, echinacea can be used as prevention support. As echinacea supports the immune system, it is important to note that patients being treated with auto-immune conditions should avoid it unless they have been told otherwise by a health professional.
In New Zealand we have all heard of the benefits of Manuka Honey, but do you know what makes the honey so special? It is the Native Manuka. Bees pollinate the manuka bush, and the product provides antimicrobial properties. Traditionally, manuka was used to reduce fever, as a sedative, pain reliever, and to aid urinary conditions. Antimicrobial and immune supporting in nature, manuka is an effective support for seasonal infections. Manuka’s astringent properties means that it is also a great topical preparation.
Used as an aromatic cooking herb for centuries, thyme’s use as an antimicrobial, dates to the 17th century where herbalists used thyme to treat respiratory issues. Traditional western herbalists still use thyme today for conditions of the respiratory tract. Due to its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, largely attributed to the essential oil, thyme has been classified by the German Commission E as a natural “antiseptic”. Thyme is an effective support for both dry and chesty coughs. With its relaxing support of the bronchial tubes, thyme helps spastic conditions; where the expectorant action helps to thin and expel phlegm. Thyme may also be gargled to help with the throat. Used topically when diluted, it may also be used for skin infections or minor wounds. Great when used as an inhalant via steam in hot water, the essential oil is potent, 1-2 drops may be sufficient.
4. Olive Leaf
Olive has historically been valued for its fruit and oil; however, it is the leaves that are used traditional healing. Credited with providing resistance against insects and damage, olive leaf provides broad spectrum anti-microbial activity. It is the broad protection olive leaf provides, that supports our natural immune response. It is also effective in supporting the body through respiratory tract infections, as a natural bronchodilator, and as a general immune tonic.
First recorded in the Materia Medica around 2000 years ago, astragalus was used as an antioxidant to support immune function. Contemporary research has confirmed what was always known, that astragalus supports the immune system, and as an antioxidant, protects cells against damage. Astragalus has been shown to reduce the duration of seasonal ills and chills.
Popular in Traditional Chinese Modalities, astragalus is used for invigorating vital energy, and to strengthen and tonify Qi. Astragalus also functions as an adaptogen, helping to support the body through physical, mental, and emotional stressors, which may be why it is commonly used to enhance recuperation and reduce fatigue. Astragalus is often used for long term immune conditions and ongoing poor health. Traditionally, astragalus is not usually used in acute infections but check with your natural healthcare provider if you are unsure.
The body has an innate ability to heal itself when nurtured correctly.
As natural health and healing gains popularity and we learn about the harm that long term antibiotic use can cause, many people are turning to herbs to aid their health and wellbeing. Certain herbs contain potent substances that not only support the immune system, but other body systems, simultaneously.
Herbs can work well alongside orthodox medicine however it is crucial to know that interactions may occur, so always talk to your natural health professional before use. With winter upon us, this is the time to put your health and wellbeing first. Maintain your body with natural antimicrobial herbs that can help support your immune system against seasonal infections.
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