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Herbal Antibiotics, Superbugs and the Herbal Integration Course

One of the most common reasons that I hear as to why people want to learn about herbal medicines is some version of “I want an alternative to antibiotics.”

Some folks are looking for something that won’t give them diarrhea. Others don’t like getting a yeast infection after every course of antibiotics regardless of what they were for. And some folks are really charged about superbugs, namely MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

It would be easy enough to spend this whole article (and pages and pages more) talking about the problems with pharmaceutical antibiotics. I don’t want to do that. That info is already easily found.

What I do want to talk about is using herbs to replace the need/use of antibiotics. And then get to why herbs will actually save us from these superbugs.

As the popular story goes, humans lived in the dark ages up until penicillin was discovered, on some mouldy bread, by Alexander Fleming in 1928. Then we had the ability to kill anything that is seen trying to kill us, namely germs. [vaccinations play a role in this story too, but let's just keep it simple right now]

Did you know that in 1945, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, Fleming warned against extensive antibiotic use? “There is the danger”, he said, “that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”

Let me be really clear about this… herbs work very effectively in treating bacterial infections. And they always have, since long before 1928.

The popular story is a myth. It’s incorrect for many reasons, not the least of which is that humans are not at war with bacteria. (You could say that the medical establishment got the Fox News perspective on health.) Life on Earth exists in its current form because of bacteria. They’re not an enemy.

And, this is a big and, there are many, many herbs with anti-bacterial properties. Some of these are in your kitchen and some of them grow near where you live.

There are 2 fantastically effective antibiotic herbs that I gather every year in Vancouver (growing in pacific northwest generally). Both are abundant and easy to find and harvest. And both are part of the Herbal Integration Course curriculum. I’m very passionate about teaching people to identify and use these magnificent herbal medicines.

But I’m not going to tell you which plants they are right now, sorry. Since I’m hoping that some folks reading this are considering taking the Herbal Integration Course this year, I’m going to save these 2 names for class.

I have a strict policy when teaching people how to learn directly from plants (as I do in the course): The plants teach you first. I teach about the medicine after you’ve spent time with the plant, after you’ve had some help understanding the communication from the plant. That way you can develop confidence in what you’ve learned from the plant. You can’t easily dismiss what you’ve learned as influenced by you knowing the medicinal uses (cuz you didn’t).

But I won’t leave you high and dry either. There are at least three very effective antibiotic herbs that you likely have right now. Not only are these effective for treating many bacterial infections, but also for treating the superbugs that don’t respond to pharmaceutical antibiotics.

The first, as you may expect from me, is … Garlic. I’ve had great success treating ear infections with an infused garlic oil (usually mixed with an anti-inflammatory herb like calendula to soothe). It also works great on yeast infections (candida).

The second is Thyme. Specifically the essential oil (which is also found in the fresh or dried leaves). Gargling repeatedly with a strong tea of thyme easily treats strep throat. And drinking the tea can clear up lung infections . It combines wonderfully with garlic for this, though both can be a bit sharp so I take them with a big spoon of honey.

Number three is an essential oil that almost everyone seems to have… Lavender. If you were guessing Tea tree oil, you’re also right about that one (I had a hard time deciding). Both these essential oils are great for treating bacterial skin conditions, whether it’s an infected cut or skin wound to impetigo or even mrsa. (These are topical applications)

Herbal antibiotics have three clear advantages over pharmaceuticals.

Herbs are easier on your body. They don’t kill your gut bacteria, so they tend not to mess up your digestion. The chemicals that the plants produce are recognizable to your body. Your body knows how to process, use and breakdown (ie. understand) the plant medicine.
Herbs are easier on the ecosystem. Like your body, the ecosystems where chemical antibiotics end up does not know how to process these chemicals because they were created in a lab rather than a plant. Strong foreign chemicals have enormous environmental impacts. How can they not?
Herbs don’t create resistant bacteria. I get really excited about this one because it speaks to balance. It means that herbs can help us find a healthy balance with the bacterial world. We can give up the arms race of creating stronger and stronger antibiotics to kill the ever adapting bacteria.

(As a little side note in defence of medical doctors: while they did/do over-prescribe antibiotics for human use, the real birth place of resistant bacteria is the industrial food system and its treatment of animals.)

There is much more to this conversation. To name just a few of the areas ripe for exploration and discussion: what are antibiotics specific environmental impacts?, bacteria and their roles, and debunking germ theory.

I’ll close with an invitation… if you’d like to learn how to effectively use herbal antibiotics, then consider joining the Herbal Integration Course in 2014.

strength and wisdom.


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