By Matt Gowan, BSC, ND
May 4, 2017


Natural Antibiotics – The Best Antibacterial Herbs From Around The World

By Matt Gowan, BSC, ND
May 4, 2017

Herbal medicine offers a treasure trove of natural antibiotics from all around the world.   Plants have been used for thousands of years to treat infections in all cultures. Research shows that herbs contain different classes of phytochemicals responsible for their natural antibiotic properties. (Table 1). The herbs listed below were selected because they kill bacteria by different mechanisms, and when combined can have a synergistic effect to address infections.

Table 1. Herbal Natural Antibiotics and their antibacterial phytochemicals.

Herb Antibacterial Phytochemicals
(Hydrastis canadensis)
Isoquinoline alkaloids
e.g. Berberine, Hydrastine
(Andrographis paniculata)
Diterpenoid lactones
e.g. Andrographolide
(Commiphora myrrha)
Pau D'Arco
(Tabebuia impetiginosa)
e.g. Lapachol
Tea tree
(Melaleuca alternifolia)
Essential Oils
e.g. Terpin-4-ol, eucalyptol
Baical Skullcap
(Scutellaria baicalensis)
e.g. Baicalein
(Allium sativum)
e.g. Allicin

1. Goldenseal – Canada’s Natural Antibiotic

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has a long history of use by Native American Indians to treat a variety of infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.1 Traditional herbalists call it “the king of the mucous membranes” because it has an affinity for infections of the digestive and respiratory tract.

Goldeanseal - Natural Antibiotic


Traditional uses:1–3

• Sore throats
• Sinusitis
• Influenza
• Bronchitis
• Tonsilitis
• Diarrhea
• Mouth ulcers

How does goldenseal kill bacteria?

Goldenseal contains antibacterial compounds including hydrastine & berberine. Other herbs like barberry, Oregon grape and coptis also contain berberine and are used to treat infections2.  Research shows berberine kills bacteria by disrupting enzymes involved with making proteins and DNA/RNA4.  Berberine and the related herbs demonstrate activity against numerous bacteria (Table 2).

Table 2. Goldenseal & berberine activity against different bacteria. 4–16

Infections Bacteria
Gastrointestinal Clostridium difficile, Escherichia coli [4], Helicobacter pylori, Vibrio cholerae
Respiratory Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Streptococcus spp.,
Skin Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis,
Mouth Fusobacterium nucleatum
Urinary Escherichia coli
Sexually Transmitted Chlamydia pneumoniae, Neisseria gonorrhea
Other Bacillus subtilis

Goldenseal and other berberine-containing herbs also contain other phytochemicals called flavonolignans.  These compounds are not direct antibacterial compounds but rather they work synergistically to inhibit drug resistance.  Therefore the herb goldenseal is more effective than giving the chemical berberine alone.

How do I use goldenseal?

The active compounds in goldenseal are soluble is alcohol but only sparingly soluble in water.  Therefore alcohol extracts, called tinctures, are the best way to take it.

  • Tincture (1:5 60% Alcohol): 1ml  3 times a day.

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Note:  Berberine is primarily found in the roots of goldenseal and the leaves have relatively low amounts of berberine.  Make certain your goldenseal product contains the roots for maximum effect.

Caution: Goldenseal should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation.

2. Andrographis – India’s Natural Antibiotic

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) is used in India, China, and South East Asia as a natural antibiotic.  It is often referred to as “King of the Bitters” because of its strong taste.  Andrographis is used to promote digestion and to treat a variety of infection caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Andrographis - Natural Antibiotic


Traditional uses

• Upper respiratory tract infections
• Infectious diarrhoea
• Leprosy
• Urinary tract infections
• Intestinal parasites

How does andrographis work?

Andrographis contains the natural antibiotic called andrographolide. The precise mechanism is unclear but it demonstrates activity against a variety of bacteria (Table 3).  Research shows andrographis has a synergistic effect when combined with certain antibiotic drugs (e.g. Cephalosporins) 18,19. Furthermore, andrographis indirectly helps fight infection by stimulating the immune system 20,21.

Table 3. Disease-causing bacteria affected by andrographis & andrographolide. 18,19,22–33

Infections Bacteria
Gastrointestinal Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, Helicobacter pylori, , Salmonella typhi, Salmonella tymphimurium, Shigella boydii, Shigella sonnei, Vibrio cholera
Respiratory Klebsiella pneumoniae, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia trachomatis
Skin Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Vibrio alginolyticus
Mouth Porphyromonas gingivalis, Streptococcus mutans
Heart Porphyromonas gingivalis
Other Bacillus licheniformis, Bacillus subtilis, Mycobacterium smegmatis, Staphylococcus thermophilus

How do I use andrographis?

Andrographis can be taken in various forms. Herbal tinctures or capsule are the best choices.

  • Dried Herb (Capsules): 1.5-6 g/day. 34
  • Fluid extract (1:2): 3-12 mL/day.34

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Caution: Andrographis should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation.

3. Myrrh – North Africa’s Natural Antibiotic

Myrrh - Natural Antibiotic


Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) has been used for thousands of years as a natural antibiotic. The ancient Egyptians used myrrh to treat infections and as an embalming agent to preserve their pharaohs.  Myrrh is specifically used for infections and inflammation of the mucous membranes.

Traditional uses: 1,2

• Upper respiratory tract infections
• Infectious diarrhea
• Mouth ulcers
• Bacterial vaginosis

How does myrrh work?

Myrrh is a resin obtained from trees that grow in the North Africa and the Middle East.  It contains essential oils rich in furanosesquiterpenoids 35,36. Myrrh has documented analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects 37,38. Research shows this natural antibiotic may be effective against a variety of bacteria (Table 4).

Table 4. Disease-causing bacteria affected by myrrh 39–47

Infections Bacteria susciptible to Myrrha
Urinary Enterococcus faecalis, Providencia stuartii
Heart Enterococcus faecalis
Gastrointestinal Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium
Skin Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus
Respiratory Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa


How do I use myrrh?

The active ingredients in myrrh are fat soluble and thus require a high alcohol concentration to dissolve them. Tinctures should be used because water extracts are ineffective.

  • Tincture: 1-5 ml 3 times a day.1,48

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Caution: Myrrh should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation.

4. Pau D’Arco –  Natural Antibiotic from Latin America

Pau D’Arco (Tabebuia impetiginosa) is a large tree that is native to Central and South America. The Incas and other ancient civilizations used it to treat various infection:

Pau D'Arco - Natural Antibiotics

Pau D’Arco

Traditional uses:49

• Colds
• Urinary tract infections
• Boils
• Dysentery
• Sexually transmitted infections
• Yeast infections
• Parasites

How does pau d’arco work?

Pau D’arco is a broad acting antimicrobial working on bacteria, virus, parasites. It contains the natural antibiotic lapachol which is similar to compounds (e.g. juglone, plumbagin) found in black walnut, which is also used to fight infections.

Lapachol & juglone disrupt the electron transport chain involved in generating energy from cells50.   This creates free radicals that seriously wound or kill bacteria. Research shows these natural antibiotics have activity against several different types of bacteria (Table 4).

Table 5: Bacteria susceptible to Pau D’arco and related compounds51–62

Infections Bacteria

Escherichia coli, Helicobacter pylori Listeria monocytogenes
Respiratory Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Skin Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus
Heart Enterococcus faecalis
Urinary Enterococcus faecalis
Other Bacillus subtilis


How do I use pau d’arco?

Historically the bark of pau d’arco was extracted with boiling water and drunk as a tea.  Although the active ingredients are somewhat soluble in water, alcohol extracts are more concentrated.

  • Tincture: 1 teaspoon 3 times a day.

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Caution: Pau D’arco should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation 63,64.  Furthermore, long-term use is not recommended because it can be toxic to adults 65.

5. Tea Tree Oil – Natural Antibiotic from Australia

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) has been used for centuries by aboriginals in Australia.  Essential oils collected from the tree have important antiseptic qualities against bacteria.  It is usually applied topically to treat bacterial and fungal infections.  Tea tree helps reduce acne and skin infections like those caused by Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)66–68.

Traditional uses:

• Acne
• Impetigo
• Folliculitis
• Respiratory tract infection†
• Swimmer’s ear†

How does tea tree oil work?

Tea tree is related eucalyptus and both are rich in essential oils (e.g. terpin-4-ol, eucalyptol) that act as natural antiseptics rather than true natural antibiotics.   In general, essential oils disrupt cell membranes69  thereby inhibiting the growth of various bacteria (Table 6).

Table 6: Bacteria susceptible to Tea Tree Oil 70–82

Infections Bacteria
Gastrointestinal Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes
Skin Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes
Respiratory Acinetobacter baumanii, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Legionella pneumophila, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus
Brain Acinetobacter baumanii
Mouth Enterecoccus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Porphyromonas spp., Staphylococcus aureus
Others Veillonella spp.,


How do I use tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil is very potent and should only be used topically†.  Dilute tea tree oil with olive or coconut oil before applying it to sensitive or irritated skin.  You can also add it to hot water and inhale the steam.

  • Skin Infections: Add 5 drops of tea tree to 1 tbsp of coconut oil.  Mix thoroughly. Apply generously to the infected area.
  • Respiratory Infections: Add 10-15 drops of tea tree oil to a bowl of boiling water.  Cover with a towel and carefully inhale the steam for a few minutes.  Take care not to burn yourself.  The evaporated essential oils can then enter the respiratory tract to have a localized effect.

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† Caution: Essential oils are very concentrated and somewhat toxic.  They should be used topically.  Dilute to avoid irritation83.

6. Baical Skullcap – Natural Antibiotic from China

Skullcap - Natural Antibiotics


Baical Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) also called Chinese skullcap, is one of the “50 fundamental herbs” used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  In TCM it “clears heat & dries dampness” 84  which loosely translate to “fights infections and reduces inflammation.”

Traditional uses:84

• Respiratory tract infections
• Skin infections (e.g. boils, carbuncles, acne)
• Diarrhea & dysentery
• Urinary tract infections

How does Chinese skullcap work?

Chinese skullcap contains baicalein that acts synergistically with several classes of antibiotics to decrease drug resistance. Baicalein inhibits pumps (e.g. MDR pumps) that remove antibiotics from the bacteria and enzymes (e.g. penicillinase) that inactivate antibiotics 85–90

Table 7: Bacteria susceptible to Chinese Skullcap and Baicalein either alone or in combination with antibiotic drugs 85–100

Infections Bacteria
Skin Borrelia spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Respiratory Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus
Gastrointestinal Escherichia coli, Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella typhi
Sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia trachomatis
Urinary Enterococcus faecalis
Heart Enterococcus faecalis


How do I use Chinese skullcap?

The active ingredients are water soluble and can be extracted in hot water.

  • Dried root 2-6g/day

† Caution: Baical skullcap should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation.

7. Garlic – The World’s Natural Antibiotic

Garlic has been used both as a culinary spice and medicine all around the world since the beginning of time.  Research shows garlic can kill a variety of microorganisms including fungi, viruses, and bacteria.

Garlic - Natural Antibiotics


Traditional uses:

• Colds
• Sinus infections
• Bronchitis
• Pneumonia
• Ear infections
• Whooping cough
• Vaginal infections
• Fungal infections

How does garlic work?

Garlic contains a unique sulfur compound called allicin that fights viruses, fungi, and parasites 101.  Crushing fresh garlic releases enzymes that form allicin.  This sulfur compound reacts with bacterial proteins thereby killing the bacteria102.

Table 8: Bacteria susceptible to Garlic 103–124

Infections Bacteria Susceptible to Garlic

Escherichia coli
Skin Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus pyogenes
Mouth Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, Lactobacillus spp., Porphyromonas gingivalis, Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus salivarius, Streptococcus sanguis,
Respiratory Acinetobacter baumanii, Burkholderia cepacia, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Brain Acinetobacter baumanii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Heart Enterococcus faecalis
Urinary Enterococcus faecalis, Streptococcus agalactiae
Sexually transmitted disease Gardnerella vaginalis
Prostate Escherichia coli


Note: Allicin is very unstable and easily destroyed by heat (i.e cooking) and exposure to oxygen. Only allicin-containing products possess natural antibiotic potential. “Aged Garlic Extracts” (AGE)  lower cholesterol and blood pressure 125,  but are essentially void of antibacterial activity.

How do I use garlic?

The antibacterial activity of garlic is associated primarily with the allicin content.  This can be obtained from the fresh bulb and also special extractions.

  • Fresh garlic: 4 g (i.e. roughly 1 bulb)1,48
  • Capsules: 180-450mg (standardized to 54-135mcg of allicin) daily roughly 2-3 times daily

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Author & Photographer: Matt Gowan, BSc, ND
All images are copyright of Matt Gowan ©2017 Reference

Disclaimer: This content is subject to change. The information is intended to inform and educate; it does not replace the medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. © 2017 NDAssist Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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