For much of human history, the true cause of infectious diseases remained a mystery. In the absence of treatment, many patients succumbed to their illnesses. It was not until the nineteenth century that evidence for the existence of germs was revealed. The discovery of penicillin in 1929, and then that of many other pharmaceutical antibiotics, finally permitted the specific treatment of infectious diseases. The mortality and suffering connected to these illnesses dropped so spectacularly that the plants we had used empirically until then in the fight against germs were abandoned.
However, over the last few decades, an increasing number of studies have brought these plants back into the spotlight. Extensive research has made it possible to gain a deeper understanding of their antibiotic properties. Not only have they been shown to have greater therapeutic effectiveness than was once believed, but also a much greater spectrum of action. Indeed, many are effective against viruses, which is not the case for pharmaceutical antibiotics. In addition, their side effects – if they even have any – tend to be benign, and the plants do not prompt germs to develop resistance against them.
Today, we also benefit from better preparation methods for plant-based remedies, making it possible to obtain products that are more powerful and reliable than those of centuries past.
Natural antibiotics are chemical substances produced by plants ranging from the most common weeds (Thyme, Savory, Oregano etc.) of our local surroundings to more exotic species (Eucalyptus, Ravintsara, Tea Tree etc.). Several hundred plants possess antibiotic properties, so our reserve of these remedies is quite extensive. People have been benefiting from their healing properties for thousands of years.
Natural antibiotics have a twofold action: a direct effect against the germ and an indirect effect through the terrain. A plant’s direct action comes from the toxicity and caustic nature of the antibiotic substances it possesses. The indirect action of natural antibiotics (which conventional antibiotics do not possess) is equally dangerous for germs. Although they are not attacked directly, germs still suffer serious damage because, by altering the characteristics of the terrain, natural antibiotics make it unfit for their survival.
While both kinds of antibiotics share points in common – a more or less powerful effect depending on the germ, a narrow or broad spectrum of action, and the ability to attack protozoans, bacteria, and fungi – the comparison ends there. Natural antibiotics possess, in fact, other characteristics that distinguish them fundamentally from conventional antibiotics.
The majority of natural antibiotics are antivirals, which is never the case with conventional antibiotics. Moreover, their antiviral properties are often quite powerful. They offer effective and non-toxic treatment against numerous illnesses (flu, shingles, etc.) that are untreatable by conventional antibiotics. This is all the more valuable because, outside of natural antivirals, the number of existing antivirals is quite limited.
An advantage of natural antibiotics is they do not encourage germs to develop resistance to them. What are the reasons for this?
Conventional antibiotics consist of a single molecule. This makes it easy for a germ to manufacture an enzyme capable of neutralising them. Natural antibiotics, on the other hand, are composed of many different molecules. The essential oil of mountain savory, for example, owes its action to one ketone, four kinds of phenols, and seven kinds of monoterpenes, to mention only a few of its components. A germ that tries to develop a resistance to this natural antibiotic would have to produce either an enzyme capable of neutralising all these molecules at once (which is impossible) or a dozen different enzymes (which is also impossible).
Another advantage is that the side effects common with conventional antibiotic therapy – diarrhea, bloating, digestive disorders – do not manifest with natural antibiotics because they do not throw the intestinal flora out of balance. To the contrary, they support a healthy microbial balance by killing the virulent germs. If they do happen to trigger such symptoms, it would only be due to the laxative effect of certain plants.
Natural antibiotics are mostly used in the form of essential oils. These are the volatile aromatic oils that give plants their characteristic odours and contain their medicinal constituents. They are extracted from plants by distillation or expression. These oils are contained in the tiny droplets of aromatic substances that are released by crushing mint or thyme leaves, for example.
According to biologists, essential oils contain more compounds than all the chemists in the world could synthesise by working for one thousand years. Among these compounds are terpenes, phenols, aldehydes, and alcohols with antibiotic properties. They are among the most powerful of natural antibiotics.
Essential oils can be taken orally, as an ointment on the skin, or by suffumigation – that is, using fumes (from steams, vapours, smoke, etc.). Their distribution power in the tissues is enormous. Several minutes after they have been spread on the skin, they will have entered the bloodstream. Twenty minutes to two hours later, they are in the lungs, being exhaled with every breath.
Because essential oils are extremely concentrated – it requires pounds of plants to obtain several drops of essential oil – it is important to scrupulously respect the indicated dosages and the instructions on using them.
One of these instructions is that a cure with essential oils should not last more than about seven days. If an additional cure is necessary, one should switch to natural antibiotics in the form of mother tinctures, which are alcohol and water-based preparations. These can be used for long-duration treatments.
Three examples of natural antibiotics will now follow, two in the form of essential oil and the other in the form of a mother-tincture.
The Essential Oil of Niaouli (Melaleuca quinquenervia)
Niaouli essential oil is extracted from the leaves of the paperbark tree, which is widespread in New Caledonia and Madagascar. The antibiotic properties of this tree have been long known to the natives of these regions, who used them to disinfect water.
Niaouli essential oil is a very powerful natural antibiotic against numerous bacteria (including Staphylococcus aureus and the streptococci responsible for scarlet fever and acute articular rheumatism) and against most viruses and fungi. It is therefore an excellent antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. To a lesser extent, it is also active against parasites like the plasmodium that is responsible for malaria.
This essential oil’s spheres of activity are the respiratory tract, the digestive tract, and the genital and urinary domains. Diluted in a little sweet almond oil, it is effective against skin infections.
Oral: Take 2 to 4 drops, three to five times a day, diluted in 1 teaspoon of honey or dispersant
Topical: Dilute 5 to 10 drops in 1 teaspoon of sweet almond oil for use as an ointment.
A Natural Anti-Viral: Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora)
Cinnamomum camphora,commonly known as the camphor tree, is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan, and has been introduced to many other countries. The oil extracted from the Cinnamomum camphora that grows in Madagascar is known as ravintsara. This is the medicine of the Malagasy, who have long known of the medicinal properties of the tree’s leaves and have benefited from using them to treat a vast number of health problems.
Ravintsara essential oil is rich in 1,8-cineole and alpha-terpineol. It is an extremely powerful antiviral with a broad spectrum of action. This spectrum is, in fact, so broad that ravintsara essential oil is recommended for all viral afflictions: herpes, hepatitis, viral enteritis, chickenpox, and more. It is especially effective against the flu virus (whether used to prevent it or heal it), shingles, and infectious mononucleosis. In addition to its antiviral activities, ravintsara essential oil is also an effective antibacterial and has both antifungal and antiparasitic effects. Its spheres of operation are primarily the respiratory tract, the digestive tract, and the skin.
Ravintsara essential oil has no caustic effects and so can be used neat (undiluted) on the skin.
Oral: Take 3 to 5 drops, three times a day, in 1 teaspoon of honey or dispersant.
Topical: For massages or ointments, use 3 to 5 undiluted drops; for baths, add 10 to 15 drops to the bathwater.
Note: Don’t confuse ravintsara with ravensara (Ravensara aromatica)
The Mother Tincture of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Echinacea owes its effectiveness to its combination of antibiotic and immune-stimulating properties. Its enzymes destroy the enzymes that bacteria release to weaken the cellular membranes of their host cells. The bacteria must therefore remain outside the cells to carry out their harmful activities, and there they are destroyed by the macrophages whose production and activity are strongly increased by the immune-stimulating properties of echinacea.
The activity of macrophages – which consists of swallowing and then destroying invaders – is a nonspecific defence system. It works against bacteria as well as viruses, fungi, and parasites. Echinacea therefore has an extremely broad spectrum of action, which makes it useful against all infections, wherever they may be located. Because of its completely innocuous nature, it is recommended for use by everyone, including children and the elderly.
Mother tincture of echinacea offers a simple and effective means of using this medicinal plant. Small doses ingested several times a day (five or six times, for example) have been shown to be more effective than a higher dose taken one time. In long-term treatments (to address chronic infection or flu prevention, for example), echinacea’s immune-stimulating actions are more effective if it is taken in courses with a pause between them. For example, you might take echinacea for two weeks, then pause for one week, then repeat.
Oral: Take 20 to 30 drops of the MT, in a little water, three to five times a day. For acute disorders, take 20 drops every two hours during the first two days, and then start taking the normal dosage.
Topical: Try gargling with echinacea MT to treat an infection of the throat, teeth, or mouth (canker sores); dilute 30 to 50 drops in a glass of lukewarm water and gargle. The same dosage can be applied to cotton padding for a compress to treat infections in wounds, bites, boils, abscesses, and so forth.
To learn more, obtain a copy of Christopher Vasey’s book Natural Antibiotics and Antivirals: 18 Infection-Fighting Herbs and Essential Oils.
This article was published in New Dawn 184.