With the modern usage of antibiotics hitting all-time highs, not only in the health care field, but also in farming and agriculture as well, we are seeing more and more bacterial organisms that are becoming resistant to our front line pharmaceuticals. The latest estimates from the CDC notes that there are over 23,000 deaths per year from antibacterial resistant disease, and the numbers are on the rise. If this is the case, how can we continue to protect ourselves from disease and infection if using these drugs is only resulting in stronger and stronger bacterial organisms?
The answer, says Stephen Harrod Bruhner, author of the books Herbal Antibiotics and Herbal Antivirals, is in the use of plants with antibiotic properties. Bruhner notes that bacterial organisms are some of the oldest living organisms on the planet and have become very good at adapting to the challenges that the world throws at them, including humans and antibiotics. He also notes however that some of the most potent antibacterial substances on the planet come either from other bacteria or from plants.
The difference between using a pharmaceutical based antibiotic and using antibacterial herbs lies in the amount of compounds that a bacterial organism will have to adapt to. Often times, a pharmaceutical drug, antibiotic or otherwise, is an isolated and concentrated compound, often derived from an “active ingredient” found in a plant or other source. This means that while that single compound may be very effective at what it does, it is only one single thing that the bacteria will have to learn to adapt to and then render it obsolete. Plants however, contain hundreds to thousands of compounds that all work in concert with one another to completely overwhelm the bacteria, throwing so many compounds at it that there is no way that it can adapt to all of them at once. The result is that plant antibiotics continue to be effective against even drug resistant bacteria.
The Chinese Herbal Medicine pharmacopeia contains a large number of herbs that exhibit antibacterial properties and have been in use for thousands of years. A few notable examples are Honeysuckle (Jin Yin Hua), Forsythia (Lian Qiao), Isatis or Woad Leaf and Root (Da Qing Ye and Ban Lan Gen), Garlic (Da Suan), and Honey (Feng Mi). Interestingly, Honey is now being applied to all surgical wounds infected with disease resistant bacteria as a standard practice in the United Kingdom.
In addition to the antibacterial properties of these herbs, many of them also exhibit antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties as well, demonstrating the astounding number of compounds that can be found in a single plant. To take this concept even further, take into account that Chinese herbal medicine will often combine several herbs together to balance and enhance their effects and you have a very potent agent to fight against bacterial and viral disease without the risk of developing drug resistant organisms.
The important thing to remember about all infections and diseases is that they are often easier to prevent than to cure, and that time is of the essence no matter which method of treatment you choose, the sooner you get treatment, the easier it will be for your body to overcome the infection.
To read more about Stephen Bruhner, check out this article.
Sources for Chinese Herbal Pharmacology: Chen, John K., and Tina T. Chen. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2004.