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Ayurveda 101: Natural Antibiotics

When I was 11 years old, I came home from school with a very high fever that would not abate. My folks took me to a nearby medical center and after a round of tests, I was diagnosed with a viral infection. I was prescribed high doses of antibiotics, which were supposed to show positive results in three days or less. And results they did show.

My temperature reading dropped in the following couple of days, but the troubling part was my reaction to the meds. The color of my skin grew paler and my face was dotted with rashes that eventually turned into scars. It took a great deal of skin treatments and therapies to get rid of the scars, both the physical and mental ones—I had to go through my teenage years with a face full of scars!

The episode left me mortified about antibiotics and their possible side effects. Since then, I switched my preference to everything natural. And as far as it was feasible, I would stick to potent herbal anti-bacterial options for minor infections and conditions like fever or the sore throat, a practice that has served me well.

With some more digging I found out, it wasn’t just me. There were many others like me, who had suffered unintended medical consequences from taking synthetic antibiotics available over the counter.

Antibiotics are medicines that kill infection-causing bacteria. Or at least, that is what they are supposed to do. They are also known to numb the body’s natural intelligence in healing wounds and illnesses.

According to a Pew Research Report released in August 2018, US has the 4th highest antibiotic prescribing rate among US and 27 other European countries. But here’s one of the most problematic findings of the report that should concern us, “Although data are incomplete, existing evidence suggests that a significant portion of antibiotic use across US health care settings is inappropriate—from primary care offices and emergency rooms to hospitals and long-term care facilities.”

The report goes on to say that, “At least 30 percent of oral antibiotics prescribed in physicians’ offices, emergency departments, and hospital-based clinics are unnecessary. Of the total excess prescriptions, nearly three-quarters are for acute respiratory conditions, including asthma, allergies, colds, and other infections not caused by bacteria, which therefore do not  respond to antibiotics.”

Some of the major concerns about the use of synthetic antibiotics include

Side effects. An antibiotic side effect is an unfavorable effect to a particular antibiotic drug that occurs along with its therapeutic effect. These can vary from mild reactions to debilitating excesses including fatal allergies like anaphylaxis. Some of the common side effects may be skin rashes or allergies, diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, depressive tendencies, and fungal infections. In severe cases it could lead to kidney problems, breathing trouble, swelling, bloody diarrhea or blood vomiting, stomach cramps, among others. 

May affect the healthy gut bacteria. According to an extensive study published by 13 European researchers, antibiotics that target particular pathogenic infections (the experiment was carried out on patients receiving β-lactam therapy) can potentially interfere and alter gut microbiota and affect their metabolism.

Our body needs good bacteria in the digestive tract to support digestion, metabolism, and absorption. Data from NHS further shows that antibiotics cause digestive issues in 1 in 10 people in the US.

Bacteria that are multidrug-resistant. Yet another problem with modern medicine is the growth and proliferation of multi-drug resistant bacteria like staphylococcus aureus, globally.  Data shows 2 million Americans are afflicted with infections caused by such bacteria each year.

Why Natural Antibiotics?

With problems like drug resistance and pronounced side effects, there is a growing trust deficit among chronic users of antibiotics. As a result, people are looking to natural alternatives including herbs and tonics with potent anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties to achieve the same results.

This is particularly true for minor health issues like the common cold, flu, diarrhea, seasonal viral fever, sore throat, among others. The natural antibiotics have worked well for treating infections since millennia, and now they seem to find acceptance in a growing number of countries.

Pharma companies having begun acknowledged their popularity and efficacy, have been working on developing what is called phytopharmaceuticals that also use the healing powers of herbs and natural compounds.

Grandma’s kitchen shelves are filled with the goodness of natural antibacterial spices and herbs like ginger, clove, garlic, honey, olive leaf, indigo, margosa, or neem leaves, among others, that help fight various infections from common cold and fever to digestive problems and headaches. All the healing benefits with little to no side effects!

A Medicine Cabinet in Your Kitchen

The next time you have an issue where antibiotics are being offered, discuss one of these alternatives with your healthcare provider.


One of the most well-researched natural antibiotics is garlic, which has been in use across Middle-East and Asia for centuries in food preparations and as a remedy for infections. It has powerful antibacterial property particularly to fight against foodborne pathogens. The aqueous extract present in garlic can potentially counter the spread of multidrug-resistant bacteria like staphylococcus aureus which is often present in fast food.

Allicin—an active compound present in garlic—has excellent antimicrobial properties. It is found to demonstrate strong antibacterial and anti-fungal activity even against multi-drug resistant strains like E. coli., Candida albicans, Entamoeba histolytica, and Giardia.


Honey has been in use as medicine ever since man learned how to extract it from honeycombs. In ancient cultures, honey was used for healing open wounds, ulcers, and throat infections apart from having it as a food item. In particularly healing wounds, it provides enough moisture and thick covering to prevent the spread of infection. It also boosts immunity which helps heal wounds faster. A study done in 2016 also showed honey to be useful in wound dressings.

The antimicrobial function in honey comes from the presence of an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide. Manuka honey, produced in New Zealand, is one of the best types of honey you can use for treating infections, though it does contain hydrogen peroxide. There is medical-grade honey available that has strong bactericidal properties to fight multiple multi-drug resistant bacterial strains. Based on where it is found and temperatures of its location, honey may vary in their anti-microbial potencies.

Honey, together with cinnamon, can be useful in keeping most infections at bay and developing stronger immune systems.


Ginger is known to be an effective cure, particularly for throat infections, common cold, and flu or if you have problems of motion sickness.  Some of the main active compounds present in root ginger include gingerol, paradol, shogaol, zingerone, and  zerumbone. There is sufficient research available that demonstrates these compounds have antimicrobial, anti-cancerous, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-analgesic properties.

Key studies show ginger’s antimicrobial action against strains like E coli, Salmonella typhi, and Bacillus subtilis, mostly due to the action of gingerol and shogaol. The ethanol present in ginger powder also works against the spread of Candida Albicans, a pathogenic yeast that potentially causes digestive infections. Gingerol is also an active inhibitor of M. avium and M. tuberculosis, which affects millions of world over.


This is a North American native herb that has been used in traditional medicine for treating respiration and digestive infections. It is also potent enough to fight diarrhea and UTIs. In recent studies, goldenseal has also effectively curbed the spread of skin infection causing multidrug resistance bacteria. Do note, goldenseal contains a compound called berberine which is not suitable for use by infants and pregnant women or those who are still breastfeeding.

Goldenseal contains many powerful alkaloids like berberine, hydrastine, and canadine, which have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.


Such is the power of myrrh, that the oil extract of the herb was used in Egypt for embalming mummies since it slowed the decomposition process by killing off many bacteria and microbes. A study showed that burning incense made from myrrh extract can kill aerial bacteria by 68%.  Myrrh extract works against many types of multi-drug resistant bacteria including e coli, staphylococcus aureus, pseudomonas aeruginosa, and candida albicans, according to a 2000 study. It can also destroy the bacteria responsible for causing Lyme disease.


Thyme is used as an anti-bacterial cleansing agent in many personal hygiene products. In a study carried out in 2011, thyme oil was found to be effective in killing off 120 strains of bacteria. It is used in skincare products for its ability to reduce the spread of skin infections. Thymol present in thyme oil, shows antispasmodic properties, which helps heal respiratory infections. In this form, thyme oil should be used along with a carrier oil. It is also often used in dental products for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It must be noted that some people may be allergic to thyme oil. The reactions may vary from allergic reactions to breathing problems, dizziness, headache, or muscle weakness. It should never be used in an undiluted form. 

Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment or Ayurveda advice, assessment or management. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and seek the advice of your Ayurvedic practitioner for any disease management related queries using the Ayurvedic process. Any links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience only and neither the author nor AOLRC is responsible for their content.