reishi - ganoderma (2)pic resized

Antibiotic Resistance: Who Needs it?

Last year the Chief medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, warned of a ‘apocalyptic’ threat from antibiotic resistance disease.  Antibiotics have been in the news again recently for the same reasons and I can’t help wondering why don’t the doctors and scientists think to ask herbalists for ideas?  There are other ways to treat infections, but you wouldn’t think so by reading these headlines.

Herbs have always been used for infections – in both world wars , soldiers’ wounds were treated using garlic; in the early 20th century, it was found to be effective for tuberculosis.  Many herbs are antiseptic: mryyh, thyme, fennel, cinnamon, goldenseal and marigold are just some of them.  Others have been traditionally been used to boost immunity or general resistance, (Echinacea, Liquorice) or too make the internal environment hostile to pathogens – for example, cranberry and bilberry (vaccinium, macrocarpon, v.myrtillus) both demonstrate the ability to interfere with the adhesion of bacteria to mucosal tissue, eg; in urinary infections.

Medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) have been used as antibacterials for millennia in the Far East, and more recent research has excited much interest in their wider use.5  (Don’t ever be tempted to use medicinal mushrooms you’ve gathered yourself unless you know what you’re doing – they’re notoriously difficult to identify and several are poisonous)

Plant essential oils have shown promise for many types of infection: Ti-tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is a familiar anti-fungal, but essential oils of fennel, cinnamon and clove are equally effective. In fact in one study, thyme (Thymus vulgaris) proved effective against six different organisms; three bacterial and three fungal.6  An unpublished study explored the use of cinnamon in the treatment of Clostridium difficile, a common hospital acquired infection – this would bear further investigation, surely? Traditional cooking spices from the East are not used solely for taste; they can also help to prevent food from going off – very necessary in hot countries before everyone had refrigeration.

Whilst thinking about food, increasing evidence points to the detrimental effect of antibiotics on the ‘friendly’ bacteria in our intestines, without which we couldn’t digest and absorb food properly.7 Antibiotics are everywhere, not just in medicine; they’re routinely given to livestock to prevent infection or even as ‘growth promotants’.

Of course herbs can’t do everything, and antibiotics in the right circumstances are definitely life-saving drugs – which of course is what they were designed for in the first place. Perhaps if we got used to using herbs for the less serious infections and for keeping livestock healthy, antibiotics could be saved for when they’re really needed; then maybe the bugs wouldn’t get so resistant to them.


1: The Guardian. Wednesd 23rd January 2013.  ‘Antibiotic resistance diseases pose ‘apocalyptic threat’, top medical experts say’.

2: Griggs B. 1991. Green Pharmacy Healing Arts Press.

3: British Herbal Pharmacopeia 1983.

4: Mills S. Bones K. 2000. Principles and Practice of Phyototherapy. Churchill Liningstone.

5: Stamets P. 2002. Mycomedicinals – a informational treatise on mushrooms. Mycomedia Productions.

6: Hili P. 2001. The anti- microbial properties of essential oils.  Winter Press.

7: Campbell- McBride N. 2010.  Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Medinform Publishing.

8: Barton MD.  2008.  Does the use of antibiotics in animals affect Human health?  Australian Veterinary Journal.

Categories: Herbal