Natural Herbal Antibiotic Alternatives


In the late 1940s, the successes of Waksman and Schatz (streptomycin) and Duggar (tetracycline) led many to believe that bacterial infections were basically conquered. That conceit led to widespread misuse and outright abuse of antibacterial agents. Nonetheless, we still neither fully understand nor appreciate resistance to antibacterial agents ... Many important advances in the practice of medicine are actually at serious risk. Multi-drug resistant bacteria are compromising our ability to perform what are now considered routine surgical procedures ... A unbiquitous phrase encountered in obituaries is "died from complications following surgery," but what is not well understood is that these "complications" are quite frequently multi-drug resistant infections.

- Steven Projan, Bacterial Resistance to Antimicrobials

Many people believe that the antibiotics we have now which are starting to become infective will simply be replaced by others yet to be discovered and that there's no need to worry. The truth, on the other hand looks to be most unfortunate.

There are hardly any new antibiotics in development and pharmaceutical companies have almost given up searching for them.



Although Penicillin was discovered in 1929, it really became commercially developed around World War II. This was a time when new antibiotics were being discovered daily and in the euphoria of the moment no one listened to the few voices that raised concerns. In fact ironically enough one such voice was in fact Dr Alexander Fleming who was responsible for discovering Penicillin and noted in the "British Journal of Experimental Pathology" that numerous bacteria were already becoming immune to Penicillin.

In 1953 the use of Penicillin became so widely used or you could even say misused that 64% to 80% of bacteria had become resistant and resistance to tetracycline and erythromycin was also being reported.


Bacterial Resistance

The period once euphemistically called the Age of Miracle Drugs is Dead.

- Marc Lappe

Bacteria are the oldest forms of life on the planet and very, very adaptable. The crucial thing early researchers ignored is that the world is full of antibacterial substances, most of which are actually produced by fungi, plants and even different types of bacteria, therefore bacteria has had to learn how to respond to these threats in order to survive.

Bacteria are "the oldest of living organisms and thus have been subject to three billion years of evolution in harsh environments and therefore have been selected to withstand chemical assault."

- Steven Projan of Wyeth Research

The big problem is that most antibiotics originally developed by scientists came from fungi that bacteria would have already encountered a very long time ago.


How Do Bacteria Actually Become Resistant?

Bacteria live life much more quicker than we do, in fact for many species a new generation can occur every 20 minutes. This means that when a bacterium encounters an antibiotic and begins to generate possible responses. Although it would probably take a number of generations to effectively become immune to the antibiotic, given the timescales it really doesn't take long at all for bacteria to develop immunity.

Even if it takes 50 generations of a single bacterium to create an effective immunity, in real time that could simply have taken less than 7 Hours.

Infiltrating and Attacking Bacteria

Antimicrobials generally need to enter bacterial cells in order to kill them which some do by attaching to nutrients the bacteria needs to absorb (a bit like a trojan horse). The problem with this is that there needs to be a certain level of the drug inside the bacterial cell to be effective and bacteria have the ability to alter it's cell membranes (or entrances and exits) thereby making it harder or impossible for antibiotics to sneak in.


Another problem antibiotics have is that bacteria can change the structure of their own bodies so when antibiotics enter the cell and attempt to target a specific part of it's structure it ends up being useless and fails.

And it gets even worse, bacteria can degrade or destroy the antibiotic even if it gets inside the them by creating antibiotic-specific inactivation or disabling compounds.

Perhaps the most simplest way bacteria also combat antibiotics is by using "Efflux pumps" which is essential a kind of pumping system to literally pump out the antibiotic or substance from within the cell itself.

Bacteria have evolved over time and created a wide range of these pump type systems. The five main forms are:

  1. The major facilitator superfamily (MFS)
  2. The APT-binding cassette superfamily (ABC)
  3. The small multidrug resistance family (SMR)
  4. The resistance-nodulation-cell division superfamily (RND)
  5. The multi-antimicrobial extrusion protein famiy (MATE)

Bacteria have even learned how to live and prosper in antimicrobial environments, such as hospital cleaning solutions (a scary thought).

Bacteria Teaching Bacteria

Once a bacterium has developed immunity from an antibiotic it then begins to pass the knowledge onto other bacteria extremely quickly even across species lines.

"Bacteria are not competing with each other for resources, but rather cooperating in the sharing of survival information".

- Stephen Harrod Buhner, Author of Herbal Antibiotics

The Spread Of Resistant Disease

Because bacteria tend to kind of specialise in certain parts of the body they infect they are able to take advantage of surgical procedures to infect surgical wounds and patients blood.



Researchers have found hospitals contain large numbers of antibiotic resistant bacteria as well as large amounts of excreted antibiotics. This excreted rubbish then flows into the environment where is can end up spreading everywhere.

Think about it once you wash your hands with antibacterial soap, where does it go? The Untied States Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, found the average amount of the antibacterial component of such soaps, triclosan increased in Americans' urine by 42% between 2003 and 2006. Studies have shown that the chemical encourages bacterial resistance and also that it disrupts hormone levels in regular users.


Factory Farming & Veterinarians

In the United States alone at least half of all antibiotics used go to huge factory farming operations. With so many animals so close in proximity and under such unsanitary conditions, these farms have helped bacteria create resistance to many kinds of antibiotics and drugs at an alarming rate.

These resistant bacteria are moving with greater frequency into the human food chain and human populations. The growth rate of resistance is so fast that 15-years ago Stuart Levy observed, "Some analysts warn of present-day scenarios in which infectious antibiotic-resistant bacteria devastate whole human populations".

Salmon, catfish, and trout which have been raised commercially are all heavily dosed with antibiotics and other drugs, which are often blended into their food, and it’s not too long before this food then gets wet and begins to leach into the water especially open sea water.

Plants, Crops And The Ecosystem

Antibiotics such as streptomycin are sometimes sprayed on crops such as apple and pear orchards to combat "fire blight" in fact it's reported between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds of tetracycline and streptomycin are sprayed on fruit trees every year. This spraying allows the drugs to flow directly into the soil and theirfore directly into the ecosystem.


Good Bacteria

Many TV adverts would have you believe that all bacteria are dangerous life-forms set to sicken and kill all of humankind but remember they are in fact our ancient distant ancestors and we are very much alike them and require certain types of them in our bodies for things such as food digestion.

Regular exposure to small amounts of certain pathogenic bacteria as humans grow teaches a child's body and it's sympathetic bacteria how to respond most effectively to disease organisms.

We actually need to come in to contact with microorganisms of the world to be healthy and much research supports the fact that "protecting" children from bacteria by constantly exposing them to antibacterial wipes and soaps makes children less able to develop a strong immune system and therefore makes the child more sickly as it gets older.

"When we try to kill all disease organisms on this planet, ultimately, we are acting to kill ourselves."

- Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of Herbal Antibiotics


 Modern Medicine

"In spite of cultural beliefs to the contrary, physicians can cure relatively few conditions that plague us. For high cholesterol they prescribe anti-cholesterol drugs, for arthritis anti-inflammatories, and so on. These drugs artificially alter the condition of the body, but they do not cure the underlying condition."

- Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of Herbal Antibiotics

In the UK, use of prescription drugs is at an all-time high, with almost half of adults on at least one drug and a quarter on at least three. The consequences have been devastating. Modern medicine, through over prescription, represents a major threat to public health. Peter Gøtzsche, co–founder of the reputed Cochrane Collaboration, estimates that prescribed medication is the third most common cause of death globally after heart disease and cancer.

The greatest stress on the NHS comes from managing almost entirely preventable chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes alone (demonstrated to be reversible in up to 60% of patients) takes up approximately 10% of the NHS budget. A disturbing report from the British Heart Foundation suggests that heart attacks and strokes are set to “surge” in England over the next 20 years as the prevalence of diabetes continues to increase.

Yet rather than address the root cause of these conditions through lifestyle changes, we prioritise drugs that give – at best – only a marginal chance of long-term benefit for individuals, most of whom will derive no health outcome improvement.

The reality is that lifestyle changes not only reduce the risk of future disease, their positive effects on quality of life happen within days to weeks. However, those patients unlucky enough to suffer side effects from prescribed medicines may find their quality of life will deteriorate in order to enjoy small longer term benefits from the medication.

- Taken from Aseem Malhotra article in the Guardian post "why modern medicine is a major threat to public health"

A Holistic Approach To Medicine

Holistic medicine is an approach to medicine in which, the form of healing takes account of the "whole person -body, mind, spirit, and emotions -- in the quest for optimal health and wellness".

A holistic Doctor or Health Care Professional may choose multiple medicinal systems including conventional western medicine but also alternative and complementary medicine in order to treat a patient, always taking the patients preferences and values into consideration.


Alternative Medicine, Complementary Medicine (CAM) & Evidence Based Medicine (EBM)

There are many different systems of medicine aside from the treatments and practices recommended and carried out by most your average Medical Doctor (MD) or Western Hospital.

These other medical systems often get classified as "Alternative" or "Complementary" Medicine but that does not mean they are not also used in Hospitals and by Qualified Practitioners of Medicine throughout the world but some have more of a basis in mainstream science than others (that is to say some forms are more spiritual or religious traditions and practices than proven treatments for medical conditions). Some such systems are listed below:

  • Acupuncture

  • Ayurveda

  • Homeopathy

  • Naturopathy

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • Chiropractic and osteopathic medicine

  • Massage

  • Body movement therapies

  • Tai chi

  • Yoga

  • Dietary supplements

  • Herbal medicine

  • Aromatherapy

  • Nutrition/diet

  • Electromagnetic therapy

  • Reiki

  • Qigong

  • Meditation

  • Biofeedback

  • Hypnosis

  • Art, dance, and music

  • Visualization and guided imagery


The Practice of Herbal Medicine

What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal medicines are plant-based medicines made from differing combinations of plant parts e.g. leaves, flowers or roots. Each part can have different medicinal uses and the many types of chemical constituents require different extraction methods. Both fresh and dried plant matter are used, depending on the herb.

Herbal Medicine is suitable for people of any age, including children, who respond especially well to the gentle actions of herbs. Each patient is treated as an individual – a Medical Herbalist recognises that no two patients are the same.


Who Practices Herbal Medicine?

Medical Herbalists make use of plants whose traditional uses are backed up by modern scientific research and clinical trials. A Qualified Medical Herbalist has a BSc or equivalent in Herbal Medicine, has studied orthodox medicine as well as plant medicine and is trained in the same diagnostic skills as a GP. However, Herbalists take an holistic approach to illness, treating the underlying cause of disease rather than just the symptoms. They are able to prescribe herbal remedies to be used alongside other medication and treatments, and many patients are referred to a Herbalist by their GP for treatment.

Antibiotics in Herbal Medicine Systems

Nations in the African continent, in Asia and South America realize that the medical model used in the west (Western Medicine) is becoming unworkable and have began abandoning it as the dominant form of healing. Simply put they just can't afford it so instead are investing a great deal of time and money in investigating what herbal medicines work best, in what conditions and at what dosage.

The interesting difference between the research being done in such places differs in that the researchers are looking for cost effective and cheap way of producing useful planets with medicinal properties they can use to treat medical conditions where as in the Western World researchers are more interested in identifying the "active" constituent which can then be chemically modified and therefore patented and create a great deal of income for pharmaceutical companies.

"Ain’t no money in the cure, the money’s in the medicine… that’s how a drug dealer makes his money—on the come-back

- Chris Rock

Categories of Herbal Antibiotics

Stephen Harrod Buhner seperates herbal antibiotics into three main categories in his book "Herbal Antibiotics"

  1. Systemic antibacterials - Easily spread through the body via the bloodstream (good for treating things such as MRSA).
  2. Localized antibacterials - Do not spread easily through out the body (Good for treating Skin Wounds or things such as Cholera).
  3. Facilitative or synergistic herbs - Enhance antibiotics or affect the bacteria.
 Combining Herbs & Plants

Combing different medicinal plants for a stronger outcome or treatment is something that is not really being researched in Western Medicine.

So What Are Some Herbal Antibiotic Alternatives?

Systemic antibacterials:
  • Cryptolepis
  • Sida
  • Alchornea
  • Bidens
  • Artemisia
Localized antibacterials:
  • The Berberines
  • Juniper
  • Honey
  • Usnea
Facilitative or synergistic herbs:
  • Licorice
  • Ginger
  • Black Pepper or Piperine


Strengthening The Immune System

Studies show the healthier your immune system is the less likely you are to get a disease. With diseases such as Ebola some people with strong immune systems have even been known to remain healthy despite being exposed.

The Immune system really is our bodies first line of defence so here are eight herbs that will help strengthen it:

  1. Ashwagangha
  2. Astragalus
  3. Boneset
  4. Echinacea
  5. Eleuthero
  6. Red Root
  7. Reishi
  8. Rhodiola
Look out for our Introduction to Herbal Medicine Blog Post Coming Soon!

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