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Natural Antibiotics From Plants

By Bonnie Singleton ; Updated August 14, 2017

Amidst growing concern over the overuse of prescription antibiotics which can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, many medical experts are taking a new look at natural, safe antibiotic alternatives. Most of these may be as close as your backyard garden or your local health food store.


Several berry plants have been shown to provide antibiotic benefits. Cranberries have long been used by women to prevent and cure urinary tract infections, and in the 1990s, scientists working in Tel Aviv discovered that the monosaccharide fructose present in both cranberry and blueberry juices inhibited the growth of bacteria. Likewise, raspberry juice has been used as a folk remedy in Australia for treating various bacterial infections, and researchers from the School of Biomedical Sciences at Australia’s Charles Stuart University have verified that raspberry extracts significantly reduced the growth of several species of bacteria, including salmonella, shigella and E. coli.


Garlic has been used since the Middle Ages as protection against the plague, and Louis Pasteur described its antibacterial action as early as 1858. Garlic was tested by European researchers in the 1970s against 10 different bacteria and yeasts, and found that not only was garlic effective against all of them, but also didn’t contribute to the development of any resistant bacterial strains.

Olive Leaf

In a 1993 issue of the “Journal of Applied Bacteriology,” it was reported that olive leaf delayed the growth of two types of bacteria. Several other studies have verified that the active ingredient in olive leaf, elenolic acid, is effective at treating a wide variety of infections without side effects.


The papaya fruit contains a milky sap called a latex, which is a mixture of chemicals. Research at the University of Nigeria discovered that extracts of these chemicals from both ripe and unripe papaya fruits had a significant antibacterial effect. In an unusual story, a post-operative infection in a kidney-transplant patient in London was cured after all modern medications had failed by strips of papaya laid on the wound and left for 48 hours.


Tannins are a substance found in almost every plant part and in concentrated doses in tea and wine. In 1999, Dr. Augustin Scalbert compiled a listing of 33 studies that had been conducted up to that time, all documenting the ability of tannins to be toxic to fungi, yeasts and bacteria. Condensed tannins have even been shown to bind cell walls of ruminal bacteria, preventing growth and protease activity.


The herb tarragon contains caffeic acid, a compound that's effective against viruses, fungi and bacteria, as reported in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” in 1996. Mexican tarragon is particularly potent, containing seven coumarins which all have a significant impact on inhibiting bacterial growth.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has been used as an antimicrobial in traditional medicine for a long time, and scientists at East London University have shown tea tree oil’s promise in counteracting antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), also called the "hospital super bug."


Like its fellow herb, tarragon, thyme contains caffeic acid, an effective antimicrobial. Tarragon has long been used in folk medicine to medicate bandages to prevent infection, and in 1975, a German pharmacist verified that the plant’s essential oil was both a strong topical disinfectant and a powerful antibiotic when taken orally. Tarragon also contains thymol, which has antibiotic and antiseptic properties--it's the main active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash.

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