The 8 Best Antibacterial Herbs

Bacteria are single-celled organisms that are found everywhere. They support physiological processes, the making of cheese and yogurt, and in the right context, can make us very sick.  While good …

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Written by: Siobhan Mendicino
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Medical Review by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Bacteria are single-celled organisms that are found everywhere. They support physiological processes, the making of cheese and yogurt, and in the right context, can make us very sick. 

While good bacteria live inside our gastrointestinal tract and support our digestive processes, too much of that bacteria in the wrong place can cause infection. 

These infections occur when bacteria infiltrate a certain part of the body, multiply, and overwhelm the body’s cells and immune system. 

While modern medical practices, such as antibiotics, can be effective in managing and eradicating a bacterial infection, there are a variety of promising antibacterial herbs.

Antibacterial herbs may be a beneficial alternative to managing bacterial infections as antibiotics deplete both bad and good bacteria in the body. The reduction of good bacteria can lead to imbalance and further health complications. 

In this article, we summarize the best antibacterial herbs for eliminating bacterial infections.

the 7 top antibacterial herbs

The Best Antibacterial Herbs:

Below are the best antibacterial herbs. These herbs are known to inhibit bacterial growth and support the body’s immune system.

1. Garlic

Research shows that garlic is one of the most effective herbs for managing bacterial infections.  

A study completed in 2017 found that bacteria in children’s mouths were significantly reduced after giving them a mouthwash blend of garlic, lime, and green tea (Camellia sinensis). Researchers noted that the mouthwash was just as effective as a sodium fluoride mouth rinse. 

A 2007 animal study found that two active constituents found in garlic inhibited bacterial growth in mice. The two constituents also provided protective properties against the bacteria strain.  

A lab-study observing garlic extract discovered that it can inhibit and eliminate the growth of oral bacteria. The researchers also noted that the garlic inhibited the growth of proteases, which are proteins that support the bacteria in replication and survival. 

In an in vitro study, fresh garlic extract showed promising antibacterial properties against a “super-bug”, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA. The extract also demonstrated the potential to support antibiotics against these super-bug strains. 

Another lab-study observing the effect of allicin, the main active constituent in garlic, against MRSA found that an allicin liquid extract was able to eliminate the strain. It should be noted that complete inhibition of the strain was dose-dependent. 

Summary:

A combination of clinical and lab-based studies indicate that garlic may be one of the best herbs for inhibiting the growth of bacteria.

2. German Chamomile

A number of scientific studies demonstrate that chamomile shows significant antibacterial effects against several bacteria species.

A clinical trial observing 75 patients suffering from chronic periodontitis found that Matricaria chamomilla mouthwash was effective in reducing levels of oral bacteria. After the three-month trial, researchers concluded that chamomile mouthwash would be helpful as a daily mouth rinse. 

An animal study observing mice with bacterial skin infections found that chamomile flower extract is more effective in eliminating bacteria than traditional pharmaceuticals.

The infected mice who received chamomile extract 2x/day were completely healed after 14 days. In comparison, the infected mice that received the pharmaceutical cream still had inflammation and redness after two weeks of therapy.  

A lab-study observing chamomile essential oil discovered that it has the ability to eliminate gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria strains. 

Another in vitro study discovered that chamomile extract supports the elimination of multiple bacteria strains that were isolated from dairy products. Chamomile showed significant antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Brucella melitensis. 

Summary:

Clinical and animal studies show that chamomile may work to treat bacterial infections, however, additional human trials are needed for confirmation.

3. Turmeric

Research shows that turmeric may be a beneficial herb for fighting bacterial infections.

In an animal study, researchers observed the antibacterial effects of curcumin, the active constituent of turmeric, on the Helicobacter pylori bacteria species. They found that curcumin was able to eradicate the bacteria while also providing some restoration to the bacteria’s damage. This bacteria is the main cause of diseases such as gastritis, peptic ulcer, and gastric cancer.  

A lab study found that curcumin has antibacterial effects against the bacteria species, MRSA. 

Another lab-study observing the antibacterial effects of curcumin discovered that the active constituent inhibits the growth of four different bacteria species prominently found in hospitals. Antibacterial properties were attributed to curcumin’s ability to break down bacterial membranes. 

A final lab-study noted curcumin’s antibacterial actions against oral bacteria. The curcumin was able to inhibit the growth of multiple species and prevent the spread of biofilm.

Summary:

Lab-based research has found that turmeric may be used to effectively inhibit and prevent bacterial growth. Human clinical studies are required for verification.

4. Ginger

Ginger may be one of the best herbs for managing bacterial growth and infection. 

In a lab-study, ginger demonstrated promising antibacterial potential against multiple species of oral bacteria. Researchers mentioned that these effects can be attributed to gingerol, a main constituent of ginger.

An in vitro study discovered that ginger extract has antibacterial activity against two bacteria strains that cause oral infections, Streptococcus mutans and Enterococcus faecalis. It’s thought that the phytochemicals gingerol, paradol, shogaols, and zingerone, are responsible for this antimicrobial action. 

In another study, ginger extract was found to prevent the growth of oral bacteria biofilm. It was effective against the strains P. aeruginosa and A. baumannii. 

Researchers found that ginger essential oil can inhibit the growth of food-borne bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. The essential oil eradicated the bacteria through “disruption of the bacterial cell membrane.”

Summary:

In vitro studies show that ginger may be useful in treating bacterial infections by destroying bacteria cells. Human trials are needed in order to confirm this finding.

5. Rosemary

Rosemary is an herb that demonstrates significant antibacterial properties in managing bacterial growth.

A lab-study observing the effects of Rosmarinus officinalis extract against ten different bacteria species found that it has the ability to inhibit the growth of all species. The extract also exhibited antibacterial activity against meat-borne bacterial pathogens. 

Another lab-study discovered that rosemary’s active constituent, α-pinene, has antibacterial activity against both Staphylococcus aureus and E coli.

A 2010 lab-study found that the isolated constituents of rosemary, verbenone, α-pinene, beta-myrcene, 1,8-cineole, and beta-caryophyllene, independently eliminated bacteria strains more efficiently than rosemary essential oil. 

In a review summarizing the actions of Rosmarinus officinalis’ active constituents, researchers mention that they show promising antibacterial potential for food preservation. This activity may inhibit microbial growth in food products. 

Summary:

Lab studies indicate that rosemary may inhibit the growth of bacterial pathogens, but clinical trials are needed for the verification of this finding.

6. Cinnamon

Research shows that cinnamon may be able to support the body with its antibacterial properties. Cinnamon is especially effective in combination with other therapies. 

In a lab-based study, researchers found that cinnamon oil was significantly effective in preventing and stopping oral biofilm and bacteria. These results point to the promising potential for cinnamon to fight cavities and prevent tooth decay.  

Another lab-based combination study discovered that cinnamon essential oil and antibiotics are effective against bacteria when combined. The bacteria strains that the combo was effective against were Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

A combination lab study found that a blend of cinnamon oil and clove oil is collectively effective against certain microbial strains. The strains included Staphylococcus aureus (bacteria) and the fungus-like strains Mucor plumbeus and Aspergillus flavus. The blend also proved to be effective against Candida lipolytica, a yeast species. 

Summary:

Lab-based trials show evidence that cinnamon may prevent and halt certain bacterial strains. Human clinical research is required to confirm this finding.

7. Calendula

Calendula may be a beneficial herb for fighting and inhibiting bacteria.

Calendula’s antimicrobial properties are considered to be the result of the flavonoids, triterpene saponins, and carotenoids found in calendula.

In one clinical study, 240 patients with gingivitis were divided into two groups and treated with either a calendula mouthwash or a placebo. By the end of the study, the group treated with the calendula mouthwash experienced a significant reduction in dental plaque and gum inflammation.

In a study involving patients with mouth stitches, it was found that after 7 days of treatment, those treated with calendula experienced lower levels of bacteria.

Another study found that calendula displays antimicrobial properties by inhibiting the growth of bacteria.

One lab-based study investigated the antimicrobial effects of methanol and ethanol extracts of calendula. The methanol extract was found to possess greater antibacterial properties when compared to the ethanol extract. However, it was noted that both calendula extracts displayed anti-fungal ability.

Herbalist David Hoffman states that calendula displays both antiviral and antibacterial properties and “may be used both internally and externally to combat fungal infections.”

Summary:

Research indicates that calendula may possess both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, however, additional clinical studies are needed for confirmation.

8. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is another effective herbal antibiotic.

In a comparison lab study, researchers noted the effects of lemon balm oil and lavender oil against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. The lemon balm oil had the most significant antibacterial effect against the gram-positive bacteria, which was attributed to its active constituents, citral, citronellal, and trans-caryophyllene.

A lab-study observed the independent effects of multiple essential oils (including lemon balm) against the bacteria E. coli. Researchers found that lemon balm, peppermint, and coriander seed oils displayed the most potent antibacterial activity.   

Another lab study found that lemon balm essential oil has more antibacterial potency than Dracocephalum moldavica (Moldavian dragonhead) essential oils against certain bacterial species. The lemon balm essential oil seemed to be the most effective in eradicating the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. 

Summary:

Lab studies have found that lemon balm may be helpful in fighting against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Human trials are needed for verification.
antibacterial herbs for bacterial infections

Antibacterial Herbs: An Overview

In the US, more than 20% of hospitalizations per year are attributed to multi-drug-resistant bacterial infections. The Center for Disease Control reported that, in the US, more than 2.8 million antimicrobial-resistant infections occur per year, with a mortality rate of around 35,000 people.  

Symptoms of bacterial infections include fever, chills, cough, headache, rash, inflammation, and exhaustion. 

Good colonies of bacteria live in our intestines, called the gut microbiota. They support our digestion, immune system, brain health, and more. While some infection-causing bacteria are found outside the body, an infection can occur inside the body when certain bacteria colonies become out of balance.   

Examples of infectious bacteria include Staphylococcus aureus, Neisseria meningitidis, Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, and Helicobacter pylori. 

There are two types of bacteria, gram-negative and gram-positive. They differ in their cell wall characteristics. Gram-negative bacteria contain a thin cell wall that’s surrounded by an outer membrane. They are notorious for having a high resistance to antibiotics and producing an endotoxin that may lead to “tissue destruction, shock, and death”.

Gram-positive bacteria lack an outer membrane but have cell walls that can be 20-30 times thicker than the gram-negative’s wall. Research mentions that gram-positive strains have “highly variable growth and resistance patterns.” 

Bacterial infections are easily transmissible and can become deadly if they enter the bloodstream or cause “life-threatening organ dysfunction.” While antibiotics may be a life-saving solution during an infection, the overuse of antibiotics by medical practitioners has led to the issue of “super-bugs” or “antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” 

Herbs and natural remedies may help to inhibit the growth of bacterial strains while also eliminating the colony. 

Symptoms of Bacterial Infections:

Bacterial infection symptoms can manifest in a number of ways. Symptoms may differ depending on the location, severity, and strain of the infection.  

While some infections, such as an infected wound, are easy to determine, it is important to keep in mind that other infections may be elusive. 

Common symptoms of a bacterial infection include: 

  • Fever
  • Pus
  • Inflammation
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion
  • Organ dysfunction
  • Abnormal white blood cell counts 

During a bacterial infection, it is common for some of these symptoms to appear simultaneously. If a bacterial infection goes untreated, it can result in organ failure and possibly death. 

Some diseases that occur due to a bacterial infection include: 

  • Strep throat 
  • Salmonella
  • Tuberculosis
  • Syphilis
  • Lyme disease
  • Shigella
  • Bubonic Plague
  • Gonorrhea
  • Whooping Cough
  • Urinary tract infections
  • E. coli 
7 antibacterial herbs

Avoiding Bacterial Infections:  

Infectious bacteria can be transmitted through multiple mediums. To avoid getting a bacterial infection, it is wise to heed caution around certain areas that may host colonies of infectious bacteria. Being aware of symptoms and signs of bacterial infections may prevent transmission.    

Areas/living creatures that may host infectious bacteria include:

  • Contaminated water (stream or lake water, or near raw sewage, outhouses, and feedlots)
  • Raw sewage
  • Feedlots
  • Outhouses
  • Improperly handled food (food that hasn’t been processed correctly or has been left out) 
  • Soil
  • Arthropods (fleas and ticks) 
  • Animals
  • Humans

Since there are five different modes of transportation for infectious bacteria, being aware of your surroundings and taking additional precautions (masking up and washing your hands) may help you avoid an infection. 

The five transportation modes for bacteria include: 

  • Contact (skin-to-skin, fecal contact, or mucous membrane-to-mucous membrane)
  • Airborne
  • Droplet (respiratory) 
  • Vectors (mosquito, fly, or tick) 
  • Vehicular (inanimate object such as food or water) 

Both modern medicine and general awareness can have a profound impact on whether you contract an infection and/or transmit one. Incorporating the use of natural herbs and remedies may support the body in preventing a bacterial infection altogether. 

Since bacterial infections can be life-threatening, it is necessary to visit your primary healthcare practitioner if you think you might have an infection.   

Conclusion:

Integrating antibacterial herbs for preventative care may have a significant influence on your overall health. 

As mentioned above, there are many herbs that can be used for antibacterial therapy. Clinical and traditional evidence shows that these herbs may inhibit the growth of bacteria strains and even eradicate a bacterial infection. 

These herbs show promising potential for avoiding and managing diseases that may arise as a result of a bacterial infection. These effects can be attributed to their ability to destroy infectious bacteria. 

If you are considering using supplemental herbs for bacterial infections, it is critical to discuss these changes with a qualified medical practitioner. 

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About Siobhan Mendicino

Siobhan is a herbal researcher and writer. She has a bachelor of science in communications as well as having completed a post-baccalaureate certificate in herbal studies.