Using Herbs to Treat Infections
edited: Thursday, January 01, 2015
By Cindy L. A. Jones
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002
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There are many easy ways to use herbs to treat minor infections.
Antibiotics have experienced a bad rap recently. Although since their discovery antibiotics have eliminated the threat of death from many infectious diseases, they are now being rendered ineffective due to the ability of bacteria to develop resistance to these drugs. This has come about because of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are all campaigning towards changing antibiotic prescribing practices as a means of decreasing antibiotic resistance. Some estimates say that one in three antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and 50% are inappropriately prescribed.
Many consumers and physicians alike are at a loss at how to treat minor infectious diseases without using antibiotics. There are many readily available herbs that have antibiotic activity and are useful for treating infectious diseases. By using an antibiotic alternative such as herbs rather than antibiotics, we can save the potency of antibiotics for life and death situations where they are most useful. If not, their potency may diminish to the point where simple diseases can become life threatening.
Some common antibiotic herbs include:
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile)
Echinacea (Echinacea pallida, E. augustifolia, or E. purpurpea)
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
Tea, green or black (Camellia sinensis)
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
What types of infections are appropriate for treating with herbs? Skin Infections, colds, bronchitis, children middle ear infections (otitis media), diarrhea, and sore throats all respond well to herbs.
Infections of the skin include fungal infections such as athlete's foot and jock itch. Fungal infections are typically treated with antifungal agents such as ketoconazole, ciclopirox and tolnaftate which can dry and irritate the skin and cause stinging, itching, redness and allergic reactions. Besides these common skin infections keep in mind that dandruff can also be caused by a fungal infection of the scalp. Complications of diaper rash include infection of the skin. Mouth sores and gingivitis are types of skin infections and can be treated by a mouth rinse. Wounds or abrasions of the skin can easily become infected and need to be protected. The yeast Candida can infect the skin and mucus membranes. All of these infections can be treated topically by applying herbs to the skin.
How can I use antibiotic herbs? Herbs for healing can be used in a variety of ways; as a tea, infusion, decoction, tincture, vinegar, compress, poultice, in the bath or as an infused oil.
Herb tea is made by putting about one to two teaspoons of dried or fresh herb in a tea bag or a tea ball or strainer and pouring very hot, just less than boiling, water over herbs. This then steeps for about five minutes. Not only can this tea be sipped but also it can be used as a skin wash. A skin wash is a very good way to treat skin infections or to treat broken skin to prevent infection from occurring. I can also be used as a gargle to treat a sore throat.
Basically, this is a strong tea. Make an infusion as you would a tea but cover it and let it stand for 15 to 30 minutes. This can also be sipped as a tea or used as a gargle for a sore throat. Also use it to wash the skin, add to the bath or use as a gargle.
A decoction is also similar to a tea. Because it is typically made from hard, woody parts of a plant, it is more difficult to extract the beneficial components. A decoction is typically simmered in a pot of water for 30 minutes with the plant parts and then strained. This can be saved in the refrigerator for up to three days. Decoctions can be taken orally, used to wash the skin, or put into the bathtub.
Because they are typically extracted into alcohol, a tincture is more stable and keeps longer. Most individuals buy their tinctures rather than making them. But you can also make them yourself. Put four ounces of dried, crushed herb into a jar with 2 1/2 cups of brandy, vodka or pure grain alcohol. Never use rubbing alcohol as it is poisonous to drink. The mixture should be shaken daily for two weeks and then strained through cloth to remove the herbs. Store in a dark glass bottle and in a cool place. Tinctures are more concentrated than teas, and should be used only a dropper full at a time.
A compress is a way of applying an herb directly to the skin. First make a decoction or an infusion and soak a washcloth in this. Apply the washcloth to the affected skin. Compresses can be hot or cold.
A poultice is similar to a compress but uses the whole plant. Mash the leaves of the herb in a little boiling water and apply the mashed herb directly to the skin when it has cooled enough. Hold it in place with a gauze bandage.
Many of the components of an herbal bath are absorbed through the skin and into the body where they can act. It is relaxful and therapeutic. Use 1/4 to 1/2 cup of herbs in a muslin bag and let the warm bath water run over the bag. The herbal components will be dispersed into the bath.
An infused oil is basically a dilution of the oil soluble components of an herb in an oil base. You can make it by adding a large handful of herb to a jar and covering that with carrier oil. The carrier oil can be almond oil, apricot oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, sesame seed oil, corn oil or even walnut oil. Each contributes its own properties to the oil and you will develop a personal taste for a specific one. Almond oil is a good choice however as it is easily absorbed into the skin, slow to become rancid and inexpensive. Make sure the herb is completely covered with oil though to prevent mold. Let the oil steep at room temperature for 1-2 weeks shaking daily. Strain the oil to remove the herbs and apply the oil directly to the skin or use it in a balm or salve.
Although herbal vinegars are great in a salad, they are also an ideal way to apply herbs to the skin. The slightly acidic pH of vinegar also protects the skin. To make an herbal vinegar mix about 1/2 cup of dried herbs with 1 1/2 cups of cider vinegar, making sure the herbs are completely covered. Let this stand for 2-3 weeks in a warm place, shaking frequently. Strain the herbs from the vinegar and store in a clean bottle. When ready to use, dilute the vinegar with six parts of clean, distilled water. This vinegar can be used on the face, feet or in the bath.
For more information on herbal antibiotics see "The Antibiotic Alternative" by Cindy L. A. Jones, published by Healing Arts Press, Inner Traditions, Intl.