What is a Natural Antibiotic? - Foods & Plants

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

You've probably taken an antibiotic for some sort of infection, like strep throat or a bladder infection. But you may have also taken a natural antibiotic and not even realized it. This lesson will explore some common natural antibiotics.

What is an Antibiotic?

Imagine you are alive in the 1800s and you have a bacterial infection. The solution? Slice up a vein or an artery and get rid of the 'extra' blood (termed bloodletting). Got yourself some syphilis? Don't worry. Doctors will just give you a hearty dose of mercury. Sure it might cause brain damage, loss of teeth, and kidney failure, but it might work?

Bloodletting was used to treat many conditions, including infections
blood letting

Okay, okay. You can come back to the present day where bacterial infections, like syphilis, are treated with antibiotics, or medicines that destroy microbes (like bacteria). Chances are you've had a dose of antibiotics in your lifetime, whether that was penicillin, cephalexin, azithromycin, or tetracycline (just to name a few).

But have you ever taken a natural antibiotic? You probably have, even if it wasn't for an infection. A natural antibiotic is a medicine that is used to destroy unwanted bacteria, but it is not made out of synthetic materials. Let's explore some different types of natural antibiotics, which are all more pleasant than bloodletting or taking mercury.

Types of Natural Antibiotics

Let's start our tour of the natural antibiotics with garlic, which has been used for centuries as a way to treat aliments. Garlic is a bulbous plant and its use to treat medical issues dates back to the Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and the Babylonians. Many believe that garlic can treat bacterial infections, fungal infections, and viral infections, and scientific studies support the claims that garlic can kill off certain bacteria.

Garlic is a bulbous plant

The next natural antibiotic we'll highlight is called Echinacea, and it is an herb. Its use dates back hundreds of years and was a popular medicine for Native Americans. Today, people use it to treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections including urinary infections, colds, herpes, warts, ear infections, and yeast infections, among others. Scientific studies on the herb are less conclusive, with some suggesting that taking Echinacea may make you less likely to catch the common cold.

Next, let's take a look at ginger, which is a spice that comes from the ginger plant. Ginger is often used to treat stomach problems, but some people believe it also has antibiotic properties. Studies back this up, with research indicating ginger has properties that kill microbes and inhibit their growth.

Let's check out a tree this time, called neem. People have used the neem tree to treat a wide array of medical conditions like diabetes as well as other medical stuff like birth control. Like many of our plant-based natural antibiotics, neem has been used for centuries. Neem has proven effective in treating fungal infections, bacterial infections, and viruses.

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