Antimicrobial Herbs – Benefits and Uses Overview
Some herbs have antimicrobial properties. They can kill disease-causing microbes like bacteria and viruses. Some antimicrobial herbs can be used as disinfectants and antiseptics. In fact, there are antimicrobial herbs so efficient at killing germs that they can replace the commercial cleaning products you use to do housework. Other antimicrobial herbs can be applied to the skin after minor cuts, burns, or scrapes to help prevent infection.
Note: Antimicrobial herbs cannot conquer infections that have already taken hold. Don’t try to fight an infection with antimicrobial herbs unless you are receiving guidance and supervision from an herbalist. Some infections can cause permanent damage and death. Get professional healthcare immediately.
These antimicrobial herbs may be helpful in a variety of situations:
- Chickweed: Chickweed (Stellaria media) has been used to treat wounds and skin diseases. Chickweed has the ability to kill a wide variety of germs, including viruses. It also can be used as a skin moisturizer.
- Horseradish: Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), which grows wild in many areas, can be used as a medicine as well as a seasoning. Horseradish root contains mustard oils that inhibit bacterial growth and may also work against viruses. It may be useful in treating respiratory tract infections as well as intestinal and urinary infections. Horseradish stimulates blood flow and relieves congestion.
- Rhatany: Rhatany (Krameriaceae Krameria) dried root is sometimes found as an ingredient in mouthwash and lozenges because of its antimicrobial properties. It’s most useful for treating mouth infections and periodontal disease as well as bleeding from the bowel and bladder. (Note: Bleeding is always an important symptom and should be reported to a healthcare provider).
Antimicrobial Herbs Used As Topical Antiseptics
- Balm of Gilead: Balm of Gilead is an ointment that contains resin from the Populus candicans cottonwood tree. Balm of Gilead is anti-inflammatory and also has antimicrobial properties. It is one of the antimicrobial herbs that might be useful to treat skin infections. Balm of Gilead can be made by soaking cottonwood tree buds in olive oil.
- Bennet: Bennet (Herba Benedicta), also called Blessed Herb, grows in shady places. The roots and leaves of this antimicrobial herb have a clove-like fragrance and are considered antiseptic. An extract of the dried roots is sometimes used as an herbal remedy for chest congestion.
- Birch: Birch (Betula alba) is a tall tree with peeling bark; many species grow around the world. The sap of birch can be made into an ointment for skin infections in psoriasis and eczema. The sap or a tea made from the leaves also has been recommended as an herbal remedy for artery disease, muscle pain, cystitis, fevers, and skin eruptions because of its antimicrobial properties.
- Calendula: Calendula (genus Calendula) is a plant whose flowers contain triterpene saponins and carotenoids, both antioxidants. Calendula was used during the Civil War to treat the infections in soldiers’ war wounds. It’s used today to treat minor burns, eczema, sunburn, bruises, sprains, boils, and pulled muscles. Researchers are investigating calendula’s anti-viral abilities for use as a possible cancer treatment.
- Club Moss: Club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) may have antimicrobial properties that make it appropriate to treat skin wounds. The leaves and stems contain toxins, but the spores are considered safe. Club moss is most safely used as a homeopathic remedy. Extracts of the non-toxic portions of club moss are considered anti-inflammatory and may help protect brain cells after stroke.
- Heather: Heather (Calluna vulgaris) is an evergreen shrub that has medicinal value as an antiseptic antimicrobial herb. It has been used to treat kidney and bladder infections because of its detoxifying effect. A homeopathic remedy can be made from fresh heather branches.
- Horsetail: Horsetail (genus Equistium), one of the oldest herbs in the world, is a powerful astringent that has been used to stanch bleeding; its antimicrobial properties make it useful in healing wounds as well.
- Lily of the Valley: Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) extract is sometimes used as a soothing ointment for minor burns; it is said to help prevent scar formation. Lily of the Valley was traditionally used to treat heart problems but research has revealed that it might be dangerous for that purpose. Lily of the Valley is still useful as a topical antiseptic.
- Senna: Senna (genus Cassia) is most popularly used as a laxative, but also can be considered antiseptic and can be used topically to treat skin infections, skin eruptions, and minor injuries as well as fever and psoriasis.
- Thuja: Thuja (genus Thuja), a product of the white cedar tree, is a potent antiseptic that is being investigated as a possible treatment for cancer and AIDS.
- Wild Indigo: Wild indigo (Baptisia australis), a perennial plant in the legume family, has been used in folk medicine as an antimicrobial herb, although the plant also contains toxins and can be used to induce vomiting. Wild indigo is different from true indigo, which has been used to produce dye.
Antimicrobial Herbs Used For Their Antibacterial Qualities
- Boneset: Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is related to Echinacea as a member of the Asteraceae family. Boneset has antimicrobial properties and may be effective against staphylococcus aureus, a germ that causes many wound infections. Native Americans used boneset to treat infections. Recent research indicates that boneset, like Echinacea, supports the immune system, which allows the patient’s body to help heal itself. Boneset is traditionally prepared as a tea made from the dried leaves. Patients with liver disease should not take boneset internally because it contains a tiny amount of a toxin that can affect the liver. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid boneset for the same reason. Boneset may raise the body temperature, so it should not be given to a patient with a high fever.
- Chaulmoogra oil: Chaulmoogra oil (genus Hydrocarpus) comes from a tall tree native to India, but now grows in Hawaii as well. Chaulmoogra trees were brought to Hawaii to help create leprosy drugs. Chaulmoogra oil may be used as a topical treatment for skin problems such as acne and is one of the most popular antimicrobial herbs in Ayurvedic medicine.
- Chitosan: Chitosan is a material derived from chitin, the organic substance that forms the outer shell of shrimp and crabs. Chitosan is somewhat like the plant fiber called cellulose, but chitosan has been used as a “fat-blocker” for weight loss because chitosan molecules naturally attract fat molecules in the intestines. Chitosan has no calories itself and is indigestible. The latest studies are considering chitosan’s antimicrobial properties.
- Gotu Kola: Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), also known as pennywort, has leaves that contain an antibacterial substance. Gotu kola leaves have been used to treat leprosy and other skin disorders as well as cancer, hemorrhoids, minor burns, skin wounds, and tuberculosis. Gotu kola contains a number of nutrients as well as compounds that are sedative, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. It’s one of the important antimicrobial herbs in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic practitioners use gotu kola to treat nerve disorders and consider the herb cleansing, fortifying, and strengthening to the skin and blood. Gotu kola’s diuretic properties have been used to treat hypertension. It may have a sedative effect on some individuals and therefore may be a useful sleep aid. The calming substances in gotu kola might be used to treat attention disorders.
- Iceland Moss: Iceland Moss (Cetraria islandica) is a lichen that is made into edible flour in some parts of the world, although it has a bitter taste. Iceland moss can be considered one of the antimicrobial herbs. It has been used to treat throat infections as well as gastrointestinal disorders and lung disease. Iceland moss can be applied as a topical treatment to improve the healing of wounds. Because the lichen can contain dangerous levels of lead, it must be prepared in a way that removes that heavy metal.
- Milfoil: Milfoil (Achillea millefolium), also known as bloodwort and staunchweed, has leaves with anti-bacterial properties. Milfoil is one of the potent antimicrobial herbs that should be used only under supervision of an herbalist or healthcare professional. It has folk remedy uses for almost every part of the human body.
- Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil is distilled from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifoia, a native Australian tree. It is a powerful antibacterial and antiseptic that also has anti-fungal properties. Tea tree oil can be used topically to treat minor infections on the skin and nails. It may be effective on skin blemishes and herpes blisters. Tea tree oil may help the body remove expended white blood cells. This may prevent pus formation and helping wounds heal.
- Wild Ginger: Wild ginger (Curcuma australasica) is an herb native to the US that contains antibacterial and anti-fungal essential oils. It also contains pain-killing compounds. Wild ginger is under research as a possible treatment for the chest pain associated with heart disease. It may be used to treat pancreatic cancer, intestinal gas, and heartbeat arhythmias.
Antimicrobial Herbs Used For Their Antiviral Qualities
- Celandine: Celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a type of poppy plant. The milky juice released when the poppy’s stems are broken has been used to treat many ailments, from dental problems to warts. One component of celandine has been extracted and used to create a pharmaceutical drug that is capable of killing retroviruses. Celandine is one of the most potent antimicrobial and should only be used under professional supervision.
- Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus (genus Eucalyptus) leaves contain an aromatic oil that may help relieve nasal congestion. Eucalyptus is now being researched as a medication to help treat the herpes virus. Eucalyptus should never be taken internally.
Antimicrobial Herbs Used For Their Disinfectant Qualities
- Juniper: The juniper (genus Juniperus) evergreen’s berries are used as a disinfectant capable of killing germs on contact. Juniper berries have traditionally been used to treat urinary tract problems and kidney stones. The latest research is investigating juniper’s effect on blood sugar. Juniper is a strong stimulant. It should be used only with the guidance and supervision of an experienced healthcare professional.
- Witch Hazel: Witch hazel, an extract of the leaves and bark of a North American shrub (Hamamelis virginiana), is a natural disinfectant that kills germs as well as reducing selling. Witch hazel is an astringent. It may help treat hemorrhoids and anal itching as well as varicose veins.
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