Herbal Antibiotics

Herbal antibiotics have long been used by herbal healers to ward off colds and flu, clear infections and speed wound healing. Top 15 herbal antibiotics.

Herbal antibiotics have long been used by herbal healers to ward off colds and flu, clear infections and speed wound healing.  Now, they may be moving back into the mainstream as an alternative for bacteria that have become resistant to synthetic antibiotics.  This post is based on the book “Herbal Antibiotics” by Stephen Harrod Buhner, and related materials.  We’ll start with some background information and then discuss antibiotic herbs and their use.

Note:  Not all bacteria are harmful – many are essential to our health and well-being.  Always exercise caution with the use of herbal antibiotics, just as you would with pharmaceutical antibiotics.  In food doses, they are generally benign, but in therapeutic doses they can have side effects just like any medication.

What is an antibiotic?

MedicineNet.com defines an antibiotic as:

A drug used to treat infections caused by bacteria and other microorganisms. Originally, an antibiotic was a substance produced by one microorganism that selectively inhibits the growth of another. Synthetic antibiotics, usually chemically related to natural antibiotics, have since been produced that accomplish comparable tasks.

Most of us think of antibiotics as liquid or pills you pick up at the pharmacy, but these compounds were originally developed from naturally occurring sources.  Plants have antibiotic substances serving a beneficial roll around their root systems.  Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.  (Everything has something that wants to eat it.)  Many common foods and herbs (and some not so common ones) act as antibiotics, such as honey, garlic, onions, licorice root, ginger, sage and many others.

How do bacteria become antibiotic resistant?

Antibiotic resistance is a genetic trait, like brown hair or green eyes, but unlike these traits, antibiotic resistance transfers very quickly between one bacteria and another.  Somehow (and as I understand it, scientists are still trying to figure this out) bacteria communicate with each other extremely rapidly, and through this communication they are able to transfer survival traits.

The TED talk below by Bonnie Bassler gives examples of some of the rapid communication abilities of bacteria.

In a study by Dr. Stuart Levy and his colleagues, they found that introducing antibiotics into chicken feed very quickly promoted the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the chickens’ intestinal tracts, as well as the intestinal tracts of the people working with the chickens.  The chickens’ guts changed within a week, the farm workers in 3-6 months.  Further, the bacteria sampled were not only resistant to tetracycline (the antibiotic used), but several other commercial antibiotics – they had learned and adapted.  (Personally, this freaks me out.) 

The good news – after they stopped using the antibiotic laced feed for six months, no detectable levels of tectracycline resistant organisms were found in the farm workers. Read more about this study at “The Spread of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria from Chickens to Farmers“.

How are herbal antibiotics different from pharmaceutical antibiotics?

Many pharmaceutical antibiotics are isolated chemical constituents.  They are one compound/one chemical – penicillin is penicillin, tetracycline is tetracycline and so on.  This makes them easier for bacteria to adapt to and counteract.  In contrast, herbs are much more complicated.  Garlic has over 33 sulfur compounds, 17 amino acids and a dozen other compounds.  Yarrow has over 120 identified compounds.  (It makes me look at my herbs with a new appreciation.)  In plants, the whole appears to be more than the sum of its parts.  The different compounds work together, often to produce better than expected results.  (See Chapter 2 of Herbal Antibiotics for a more detailed explanation.)

Top 15 Antibiotic Herbs

Stephen lists the following as his top 15 antibiotic herbs.  I might also add cinnamon (perhaps it’s been added in his second edition, which I haven’t had the pleasure of reading yet).

  • Acacia
  • Aloe
  • Cryptolepsis
  • Echinacea
  • Eucalyptus
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Goldenseal
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract
  • Honey
  • Juniper
  • Licorice
  • Sage
  • Usnea
  • Wormwood

The use of each of these is detailed in the book.  I’ll share a few that I use regularly.


Aloe vera is active against Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonos aeruginosa, and herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2.  Aloe and honey are two of the most effective treatments for burn victims when applied externally to speed wound healing and prevent infection.  Aloe is used simply by slicing open the leaves of the fresh plant to get at the sap and applying the aloe gel to the wound or burn until well covered, repeating as necessary.  (Read more about medicinal use of aloe.)


Garlic is active against Tuberculosis, Shigell dysenteriae, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonos aeruginosa, Candida albicans, Escherichia coli (E.coli), Streptococcus spp., Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., Protues merbilis, herpes simplex, influenza B, HIV and many others.

Garlic make be taken fresh (as juice or as cloves), in capsules, as tincture, or in food.  Start with small doses and gradually increase.  Raw garlic may cause stomach upset and even induce vomiting, so be careful.  Small, frequent doses are generally easier to take than large doses (1/4 to  teaspoon juice as needed).  Capsules may be better tolerated and easier to take.  Ample garlic is food is also helpful.  Watch out for garlic and blood thinning medication.

Echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia, E. purpurea)

Echinacea is active against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus spp., mycobacterium (tuberculosis), abnormal cells (direct application necessary).  Stephen particularly recommends it for abnormal pap smears, strep throat, and very early onset of colds and flus.  For strep throat and heading off colds and flus, he recommends the use of echinacea tincture, 30 drops (full dropper) each hour.  I have also had success fighting off a cold with a steady stream of echinacea tea.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice is active against malaria, tuberculosis, Bacillis subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus sobrinus, S. mutans, Salmonella typhimurium, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Vibrio cholera, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, T. rubrum, Toxocara canis.

Licorice is a powerful immune system stimulant and antibiotic, and works well with other herbs.  It does have side effects, especially with overuse.  The author notes, ” I have found in practice that the use of the whole root does in fact produce fewer side effects than the extracts. However, some of the same side effects still occur: higher blood pressure, water retention. These occur with less frequency and generally occur in those of middle age – i.e. those who have gone through menopause. I have used licorice for over 20 years now and find the herb moving more and more into the drug category for me due to its potency. Should be used with caution in those with high blood pressure.”

I’ve used licorice root in tea, and as part of this herbal sore throat syrup.  Stephen  advises a tea using  1/2 to 1 teaspoon powdered licorice in 8 ounces of water, steeped for 15 minutes and drained, up to three times per day.

There is much, much more to learn about herbal antibiotics, but I just wanted to give you a brief overview and let you know that herbs can be effective remedies, sometimes even for infections that don’t respond to “standard” treatments.  Always exercise caution when using herbs as medicine, and be doubly careful if you are on any prescription medication.

You may also enjoy our other Herbs and Wildcrafting and Natural Health posts including:

Home Remedies for Coughs

Home Remedies for Earaches

The Best Cold and Flu Fighters – summary of all our cold and flu related posts

Many of these herbs can be grown yourself or found locally, but if you need to order them, you may want to try Mountain Rose Herbs.  They have a great selection of herbs and essential oils, as well as other ingredients and tools need to prep your own medicine at home.  If you choose to buy through my website, I receive a small affiliate payment.

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  1. says

    I need to know more about this so I’ll have to look into getting that book. If I get a regular cold it always goes into my sinus cavities and then messes with my ears to the point where I am dizzy and get sick with any movement. I end up on clindamycine (sp?), anti nausea drugs and antivert (meclazine). I need to know what to do if I don’t have these medicines available. I have lost three days of work this week after being infected with a cold. It’s horrible and no one really understands why it’s only colds that do this to me.

    • says

      If you’re struggling with recurrent infections like this, something’s buggering up your immune system to keep it from doing its’ job. You may want to take a look at the other cold and flu posts, too, which may give you a multi-point strategy for boosting your immune system.

      Cold and Flu Remedies

      Preparing for Cold and Flu Season: Step 1 – Probiotics

      Preparing for Cold and Flu Season with Essential Oils

      The Best Vitamins and Minerals for Fighting Colds and Flus

      The Best Herbs and Spices for Colds and Flus – Plus a “Secret Weapon”

      Coping with Stomach Flu Symptoms (Why the BRAT diet may not be your best choice)

      Elderberries: How to Make Syrups and Jellies

      • Kevlar says

        I am a firm believer that, aside from all the good things we can do, any one mineral deficiency can cause a host of issues including chronic or recurring health issues. Add a real sea salt to your diet like Celtic.

    • Lady Rebecca says

      Hi Kathy,
      Great site aeh :) I am just a visitor here though I read your comment above…and I wanted to share what helped me with the sinus thang….Ocean brand ..natural salt water drops..or easier= use real sea salt… teaspoon mixed in a good quarter cup of clean warm water..eye dropper into the nose or if ya have a good nasal spray bottle…go for this however many times it takes till green goos gone( sinus infection flush ) Yogi tea makes a everydat Detox tea..thats lovely …and have ya ever heard of tigers balm ( any drug store has it) magic in a small jar ladie let me vouch for this…rub on your chest..a little dose a lot ! Also massage~ into the bottoms of your feet real good and cover with some warm booties before bed Keep aloe tissues handy cuz the infection will just drip outta ya physically…Wahlah and a guru asked me “Who” are you irritated with.!!..? Who…is Irritating…or are you feeling that way with in… if this Emotionally fits for you as it did me …either ya have to do some inner psyce work with yourself…or remove yourself from the Irritation…./person /place or ? Only You can answer this ..Okay and hey let me know how ya come out :) my e mail is above..with love Becca

    • Margaret says

      Years ago, I was getting sinus infections so often that my physician assistant finally sent me to an ENT; it turned out I had some kind of malformed bone/cartilage. Since it was removed, I haven’t had a single infection.

      Perhaps you have something similar?

    • vick says

      Hi Kathy, you may want to look into Olive Leaf Oil(20% Oleuropein) it is highly antibiotic and antiviral. Many people around the world have used it for centuries and it is very effective. 1 Table spoon a day is the dosage. If you have an acute illness, then you need at least 100mg of oleuropein.

      So if you get the 500mg dose capsule of Olive Leaf Extract(or oil if you get the liquid form) off amazon that’s 20%. 500 * .20 = 100mg of oleuropein per pill. You can always increase to dose, just make sure you spread it out. Try 1 in the morning, 1 at night. If you get common side effects such as headaches, stop using it for a couple of days and then get back on it. There is a “die-off” effect where your body is flushing to toxins out while you take it. Nothing to worry about though.

      Take care and be healthy,

  2. says


    I had the same problem for years when I’ve caught a cold. Now, at the very onset of cold (or allergy) symptoms I will flush my sinuses with sterile saline spray daily. Insert saline bottle tip into one nostril and pinch off the other. Leaning head over sink, squeeze the bottle and breath in the saline (I was told to do this rapidly and deeply to get the fluid up into the sinus cavity).

    Do it to both sides. You can then blow out the saline. Normally for me I’ll have fluid dripping from my nose for up to 15 minutes due to inhaling so deeply. No more sinus infections.

  3. Linda says

    Kathy have you tried nasal rinses? Humidifier? Oil pulling? Ear, nose, throat specialists? My mom has very large sinus cavities and she has very large roots on her molars that are dangerously close to a sinus area. Cold really mess her up too. She ended up with double vision and vertigo for about a year.

  4. Denise says

    I live in an area that has a lot of wild flowers, weeds, etc. I don’t know what a lot of the useful weeds or plants look like. I would like to learn how to identify the wild plants that can be used in herbal medicine. I know some of the basic herbs & weeds. Is there a book or something available to me, that will help me to identify these plants? I have fyibromalgia & I’m finding that herbal remedies are helping re-leave some of my symptoms.

    • says

      Many, many herbs and spices (and even natural substances such as wood, bamboo and copper) have antimicrobial properties. The posts covers some that are more readily available for most people and have been tested and widely used.

  5. Clara says

    I’m surprised at licorice being so powerful. Funny that something you think of as candy can have such a powerful effect.

  6. pat says

    I have bacterial vaginois and have been on three antibioctics and still have it . Please I
    respond with a solution for me. thanks

  7. pasi says

    I had understood that Chaga mushroom and wild honey (especially manuka) were some of natures strongest antibiotics.. any opinions on them?

  8. pasi says

    Also, cordyceps mushroom contains an active substance that imitates adeosine, which viruses use to replicate. Thus the virus attempts to replicate, but lacking the adeosine, fails.

  9. CrzGzr says

    I learned about garlic from an older Chinese scientist, he treated himself with so much garlic it came out of his pores but it stopped a large growth on his forearm. I use it and love it, the best and most delicious way for me is to buy a large jar of olives stuffed with cloves of garlic.

    Also, elderberry is great for boosting the immune system and fighting colds and flu. I used to buy sambucus but it is so expensive this year I made my own 3 cups of water boiled with ½ cup dried berries and 1 cup of honey. It stopped a cold in its tracks and I’ve been taking a spoonful daily since. I bought my dried elderberries online from a company that sells wine supplies!

  10. Vera says

    what would be your recommendation to fight off a sinusitis (the ones above the eyes seem to be infected)?
    I’m using niaouli essential oil but that does not seem enough…

  11. Cynthia says

    I am very confused here, wormwood (artemesia absinthium) is pretty toxic. How can it safely be used as an antibiotic?
    I’m also surprised that Uva Ursi is not on the list, it is toxic in very large doses, but has been used as an antibiotic for a VERY long time, before sulfa antibiotics were invented. It’s especially good for urinary tract infections, but can be used as a general antibiotic, as well.
    My go-to for herbal medicines is this site, it’s excellent information and backed up by science: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed

    • says

      More on the historical use of wormwood – http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/w/wormwo37.html

      Like uva ursi, wormwood can be toxic in large doses, but has a long history of medicinal and general use.

      The herbal antibiotics on this list were those listed in the first edition of Herbal Antibiotics. The material listed is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to be used for dosage instructions or to take the place of a trained healthcare provider. I shared the information with the intention of letting people know that herbal alternatives exist, but they should work with a trained herbalist. There is an updated version of Herbal Antibiotics that is on my reading list, but I haven’t gotten through it yet.

  12. Tammi Mitchell says

    Love this site! Thank you! I bought Elderberry syrup, oil of oregano and echinchea ….we hardly use over the counter drugs now! All natural herbal products really work! What a blessing.

  13. Nicole says

    This article starts out strong with facts but then just says garlic fights this and aloe fight that. Where did this information come from? How do you give us references for the background and not for your actual point? Why should I believe you? Explain how the bacteria of garlic works with viral attacks? I’m not disagreeing with the article, but without references or backing your claims are invalid.

    • says


      As noted in the first paragraph of the post, “This post is based on the book “Herbal Antibiotics” by Stephen Harrod Buhner, and related materials.” Just under the subtitle “Top 15 Antibiotic Herbs”, I note that these are the herbs that Stephen lists as his top choices, and just below the list I note that the herbs listed with a little more detail are ones I use regularly, personally. The specific actions of the herbs listed is summarized from “Herbal Antibiotics: 1st Edition”.

      I’m not sure what is meant by “the bacteria of garlic works with viral attacks”. In the paragraph labeled “How are herbal antibiotics different from pharmaceutical antibiotics?”, it is noted that herbs contain a wide variety of compounds, not a single, isolated chemical compound. As such, many herbs have both antibiotic and antiviral qualities.

      This material in this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness or take the place of a trained herbalist or medical practitioner. I highly encourage you to do additional research. I shared what I learned from the referenced text and what has worked for me.

  14. Janice Hambleton says

    Olive leaf extract from Ameriden patiented process truley works sorry have no studies or back up guess its not even an herb
    This really works

  15. Misty says

    Oregano oil has been left out, its a miraculous antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal , and so many other health benifits. I used to get bronchotis 2-3 times ayear, but ive only gotten sick once in 2 yrs and it didnt last long at all… Look it up, it truly is miraculous!! :):)

  16. Ellen L says

    I use Oil of Oregano daily when I swish (oil pull). My doctor recently prescribed 3-4 drops twice a day in water as an anti-fungal treatment.

    Thanks for the informational post.

  17. Deb says

    Does anyone out there have an herbal antibiotic recipe for diverticulitis. I have a flare up about every six months and it always effects my right side(i have been diagnosed with this). i don’t want to go to the doc every time this happens. If I could start taking something at the first onset, and I can usually tell when it starts, it would be wonderful and save me a doctors visit just to get antibiotic.

  18. Krystal says

    Are there any herbal remedies for UTI’s? Pharmaceutical antibiotics make me nervous so I try to take them as little as possible, but sometimes I have no choice. I’d LOVE it if I could replace them with herbs

    • says

      Yes, there are herbal treatments for UTIs, but it is not legal or safe for my to prescribe treatment for specific conditions, as they may be others factors involved that are not obvious and I am not a trained healthcare provider. If the infections are a regular occurrence, there is some underlying factor that is triggering them, and that should be addressed as well as the treatment of the condition itself. Introducing probiotics into your diet is generally a good course of action to build up the good bacteria in your body, whether you use standard antibiotics or herbal antibiotics.

  19. says

    Hi there. I hope it’s ok, but I shared this article on my Facebook page for Holistic Housewives. I think it’s a great article and think that it’s definitely worth sharing. I love your blog, thanks for all the hard work and research!
    ~ Cari

  20. Jerry E says

    I’m an older male and just found out I have what is called diverticulitis of the lower colon. My Doctor gave me a round of antibiotic pills , But had side affects . What herbal antibiotic can a person take as a replacement .

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