Unlike antibiotics, which wreak a random path of destruction, essential oils have the advantage of effectively killing pathogens without adversely affecting the surrounding tissues.
A raft of studies supports the protective effects of essential oils against common bacteria, fungi and viruses, including those found in hospitals. One French study investigated how well essential oils in the form of vapour wiped out bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and Proteus. Results showed that, within three hours, 90 per cent of the microbes were dead, and that the most potent oils were clove, lavender, lemon, marjoram, mint, niaouli (Melaleuca quinquenervia), pine, rosemary and thyme (Chir Dent Fr, 1976; 46: 53).
Cinnamon has also been shown to have powerful antibacterial and antifungal effects (Pharmazie, 1980; 35: 698-701). Other essential oils with significant antimicrobial activity include eucalyptus, tea tree, juniper, oregano, sage and anise.
* for massage, use 5-10 drops of essential oil to 50 mL of carrier oil (such as almond oil); apply only to healthy skin
* for a bath, mix 5-8 drops of essential oil with an emulsifier such as 20 mL of oilatum, then add to bath water
* as a vapouriser, dilute 10 drops of essential oil in 20 mL of water, and spray the area around the bed every one or two hours.
Other popular natural bugbusters include:
* Honey. Researchers in Dubai found that applying raw honey onto surgical wounds that had been infected with Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella species not only reduced redness and swelling, but also speeded up the time to wipe out the bacterial infection and for the wound to heal. [Honey’s] potency was comparable to that of local antibiotics, concluded the scientists (J Med Food, 2004; 7: 210-22).
Suggested use: apply as a wound dressing.
* Garlic. This pungent herb is a good all-purpose antiviral as well as an antibiotic against a broad spectrum of both gram-positive and the more virulent gram-negative bacteria – including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, Proteus, Salmonella, Enterobacter and Klebsiella species.
Suggested use: eat three raw garlic cloves or three garlic capsules a day at the onset of infection symptoms.
* Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). This herb is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that is effective against disease-causing bacteria such as Chlamydia, Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Helicobacter pylori (Antibiotics, 1976; 3: 577-88; Phytother Res, 2003; 17: 217-21). It can also slightly boost immunoglobulins, which are key players in the immune system (Immunol Lett, 1999; 68: 391-5).
Suggested use: take 4-6 g/day of powdered goldenseal or 250-500 mg three times a day, or take 10-15 drops/day mixed into a drink. For external use, 2-4 mL of goldenseal as a tincture can be used in a tumbler of warm water. However, don’t use continuously for more than three weeks.
* Echinacea (E. purpurea and E. angustifolia). A well-known natural remedy for colds and flu, one advantage of this herb as an antiviral is its safety record. Clinical studies show that Echinacea can be taken safely for both the short or longer term (Phytomedicine, 1999; 6: 1-6; Arzneim Forsch, 1991; 41: 1076-81; Arzneim Forsch, 2001; 51: 563-8).
Suggested use: for fighting flu-like infections, take a high dose (900 mg).
* Grapefruit seed extract (GSE). Because of its exceptionally potent antiseptic properties, GSE is added to commercial cleaning agents to kill microbes. It is used in hospitals to clean surgical equipment, in swimming pools as an alternative to chlorine, and on farms to sterilise equipment and treat infections in animals.
Suggested use: add 5-15 drops in water or juice and drink it two to three times a day. It can also be used in diluted form as a douche for vaginal infections and as a nasal spray for upper respiratory infections.
* Wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria). Taken orally, this herb can result in a 30 per cent increase in the number of immune-system white blood cells within two to three hours (McKenna J. Natural Alternatives to Antibiotics. Dublin: Gill & MacMillan, 2003). Its antibiotic and anticatarrhal properties are especially effective for fighting infections of the upper respiratory tract, including the sinuses, lining of the nose and back of the throat, and of the lower respiratory tract.
Suggested use: dilute 5-10 drops of the herbal tincture with water and use as a mouthwash.