Antibiotics can be lifesavers: They kill bacteria that can cause serious illness or death. In 1909, the first true modern synthetic antibiotic (Salvarsan) was created in the search for a cure for syphilis. It was very successful and was used into the 1940s when it was replaced by penicillin.
These and other antibiotics have been used to treat a countless number of people and prevent the spread of life-threatening infection. The discovery of antibiotics was a tremendous advance in modern medicine. Over time, Western medicine came to rely on them to treat even non-bacterial infections. Antibiotics work only against bacteria and not viruses, yeasts, fungi, or mold. Misusing and over-prescribing antibiotics have greatly reduced their efficacy, leading to the development of resistant microbes that stopped responding to antibiotic treatment.
Bacteria, like all living organisms, will adapt in order to survive. The number of people who die from an infection caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria is growing.
This resistance may reach into the greater environment; a 2010 study asked the questions of what the consequences of that might be. It is too soon to tell.
“The current state in the field of antimicrobials, resistance, and chemotherapy is certainly not limited to clinical microbiology as it was in the early years of the antibiotic era. Thus, it is not a single grand challenge; it is rather a complex problem requiring concerted efforts of microbiologists, ecologists, health care specialists, educationalists, policy makers, legislative bodies, agricultural and pharmaceutical industry workers, and the public to deal with.”
“In fact, this should be of everyone’s concern, because, in the end, there is always a probability for any of us at some stage to get infected with a pathogen that is resistant to antibiotic treatment. Moreover, even the behavioral patterns, such as hygienic habits or compliance with antibiotic treatment regimens, may have consequences that are not limited only to individual health issues but, on a larger scale, contribute to the interaction with the resistomes around us.” (1)
Antibiotics have been used since ancient times—but not the synthetic kind. Traces of tetracycline were found in bones dating from before the Common Era.
Humans have always struggled against micro-organisms that are detrimental to our health; before the 20th century, they used only what Nature provides. Here are a few the best time-tested antibiotics nature has to offer.
14 Powerful Natural Antibiotics
As with any natural medicine, some of the herbs and spices listed below may interact with medication and may worsen preexisting conditions. They may also be detrimental in high doses or after extended use. Talk to your local naturopath or speak to your doctor before self-administering them.
This flowering plant is in the same family as onion, leek, scallion, and shallot. Its sulfur compounds are what give it a strong smell and are partly responsible for its remarkably powerful immune-boosting properties. Garlic displays “significant antibacterial activity”, even against resistant bacteria. Plus, “Synergistic use can prevent the pathogenic organism grow their resistance against antibiotic.[sic]” (2)
Garlic is also a cancer-preventing antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic agent due to how its compounds interact with pathogens (3). When using garlic as an antibiotic, there are a few basic rules to follow: click here for more information.
They don’t call it “the mighty root” for nothing! A rhizome plant, ginger has many therapeutic uses. As an antibiotic, ginger outperforms commercial chloramphenicol, ampicillin, and tetracycline against pathogenic bacteria (4).
Ginger was shown in an Italian study to be effective even against superbugs that are resistant to conventional treatment: “…even crude extracts of these plants showed good activity against multidrug resistant strains where modern antibiotic therapy has limited effect”. (5)
3. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Made from fermented apples, ACV is a well-known disinfectant that can kill Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa as well as certain fungi and yeasts (6). Best of all, it doesn’t damage mucous tissue, making it a great home remedy for pathogen-caused sore throat.
It’s also a powerful detoxifying agent that can be consumed in small doses every day.
4. Olive Leaf
We know the benefits of olive oil; what you may not know are the properties of the leaves. Acting as an antioxidant and moderating LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, “bad” cholesterol), olive leaf extract helps metabolize blood sugar. Phenolic compounds in the leaves also inhibit and kill harmful bacteria and viruses (7).
Onions are garlic’s cousins with many of the same phytochemical properties. Effective against various strains of pathogenic bacteria, onion (best raw when used as medicine) reduces fever, relieves nausea, clears ear infection, relieves respiratory ailments, and performs many other healing wonders. The very thin onion membrane between layers can be placed directly on a cut or abrasion to stop bleeding, relieve pain, and kill germs.
The very thin onion membrane between layers can be placed directly on a cut or abrasion to stop bleeding, relieve pain, and kill germs.
6. Vitamin C
Arguably the most effective nutrient against human pathogens, vitamin C support the immune system in general. Maybe more important than its direct antibiotic activity is vitamin C’s stimulation of natural antibody response (8).
“A striking phenomena [sic] of vitamin C is the similarity of response either to correct pathology due to a deficiency of this compound, or to correct the pathology caused by the action of the virus bodies and other similar toxins and ferments.” (9)
Foods high in vitamin C include:
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruits
- Dark leafy green vegetables
7. Grapefruit Seed Extract
Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) is a by-product of grapefruit juice that is taken orally to treat a bacterial or viral infection. While seeds can be eaten straight from the fruit, they’re quite acidic and bitter on their own (10).
GSE is also used in agriculture to fight bacteria, fungus, mold, and parasites as well as preserve food and disinfect water.
One study found that the antibacterial properties of grapefruit seed extract are comparable to proven topical antibacterials for a wide range of gram-negative organisms and gram-positive organisms (11).
8. Habañero and Horseradish
Horseradish, a cousin of mustard, is used to clear sinuses, increases facial circulation, and expel mucus from upper respiratory. It’s typically used against colds, influenza, and lung congestion. Better yet, it can be used topically to treat infected wounds, although it may cause skin irritation (12).
Habañero, on the other hand, works against pathogenic bacteria, such as E. coli, Bacillus thuringiensis, Yersinia enterocolitica and Salmonella enterica subsp Typhimurium (13).
It’s no surprise that eucalyptus is a favorite flavor for throat lozenges and cold and flu products. In fact, the herb has immune-stimulatory, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, and spasmolytic effects. It can be both taken orally or inhaled to treat bronchitis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. One study even called it “an attractive alternative to pharmaceuticals” (14).
10. Manuka Honey
This New Zealand-sourced honey doesn’t work like most honey. Rather than creating hydrogen peroxide to kill bacteria, it works thanks to the low pH level of honey and its high sugar content.
Manuka honey works so well that it even comes in a“medical grade” variety used in hospitals to treat burns and wounds. It’s also used to kill Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers (15).
It even fights Enterobacter aerogenes, Salmonella typhimurium, S. aureus and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Not all Manuka honey is legitimate, so look for honey with a UMF, (Unique Manuka Factor) certified by The Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association.
Goldenseal, a member of the buttercup family, is typically found alongside echinacea in natural cold–relieving products. Prepared as a tea, it can be used to treat eye infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, canker sores, and vaginitis thanks to an antibacterial and antifungal compound called berberine. This compound also fights parasites and boosts immune response (16).
Best of all, goldenseal can be grown in your own background. While it has many benefits, the herb should not be used by pregnant women or anyone suffering from high blood pressure, liver disease, or heart disease.
Myrrh is a natural gum extracted from the Commiphora myrrha tree that’s been used since biblical times. Traditional medicine uses it to cure indigestion, ulcers, colds, cough, asthma, lung congestion, arthritis pain, cancer, leprosy, spasms, and syphilis (17). Plus, it’s a viable treatment for inflammation, fungal infection, and cancer (18).
Myrrh essential oil can be used alongside honey and other essential oils, but it should not be taken for more than 2 weeks at a time (19).
Echinacea is perhaps the most well-known herb native to eastern and central North America. The leaves, flowers, and root can all be used medicinally.
Echinacea is great for treating infections such as the cold and flu and other upper respiratory infections. It can be taken to prevent infection as well as cure it.
The herb can be used against (20):
- Urinary tract infections (UTI)
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Human papilloma virus (HPV)
- Bloodstream infections (septicemia)
- Streptococcus infections
- Ear infection
- Swine flu
- Nose and throat infections (diphtheria)
The herb also works against anxiety, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines and much, much more. Unfortunately, very few echinacea products on the market actually contain the herb and most are contaminated with arsenic and lead, so it’s important to only buy the herb from a reputable source or grow your own.
Cinnamon is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a potent antiemetic, anti-diarrheal, anti-flatulent, stimulant, antibacterial, antifungal, larvicidal, nematicidal, and insecticidal agent. It even stimulates blood flow and lowers blood sugar. Two potent compounds found in the spice, cinnamaldehyde. and eugenol, are known to fight E. coli and MRSA (21).
Other Herbs and Spices
If you want to get a little creative with your first aid, you can also give these plants a try. You can even use them to make your own natural antibiotic ointment.
- Wild Indigo
- Bay Leaf
- Caraway Seed
- Chili Peppers