Having antibacterial fresh herbs on hand is almost like having your own pharmacy. Over millions of years, many plants have evolved with the ability to fend off disease-causing microorganisms not for human benefit, but for their own. Plants can be subject to bacterial infection just like humans and other animals can, but are unable to physically clean themselves or move away from potential health hazards. As a result, a wide variety of plants have developed naturally antibacterial compounds within their tissues to ward off infection and illness. By harvesting your own fresh herbs, you can take advantage of this marvelous adaptation.
Common Antibacterial Fresh Herbs
Most people are aware of the antibacterial properties of plants such as eucalyptus and tea tree, but unfortunately these plants are not always readily accessible in your garden or the local farmer's market. Fortunately, there are a number of fresh herbs that grow easily in North America. So easily in fact, that some are even considered weeds. Among the more common choices are:
Garlic is one of the most useful herbs to have in your garden or cupboard. Garlic has a long history of use as an antimicrobial agent, and was even given to soldier during both World Wars to prevent gangrene. The primary active compound in garlic, allicin, has been shown to kill the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and even treat and prevent the common cold.
Goldenseal is a common herbal remedy marketed as an all-purpose natural antibiotic. Test tube studies have shown that the active compound in goldenseal, berberine, can kill the bacteria that cause most cases of diarrhea and also might help invigorate the white blood cells in your immune system. A wash made with goldenseal may help prevent infection of minor wounds and sores.
Oregano is not just for pizza! A 2009 study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences (22.4) found that oregano was an effective antibiotic against 23 different species of gram-positive bacteria, including two species of staphylococcus bacteria.
Lavender is well-known for its antimicrobial properties. According to North Carolina State University's Mountain Horticultural Crops Research & Extension Center, lavender contains two compounds, linalyl acetate and linalol, that are both naturally antimicrobial. Lavender has historically been used in medical settings for wound dressings and treatment of infectious skin conditions, as well as for cleansing surfaces in sick rooms.
Parsley, despite its powerful nutritional profile, has long been relegated to the lowly position of garnish. However, even those who are aware of parsley's nutritionally-based health benefits may be surprised to know that it is actually a powerful antibacterial herb. A 2006 study published in the journal Food Chemistry (97.3) found that infusions of parsley significantly imposed damage to Escherichia coli cells.
Uva ursi, also known as bearberry or kinnikinnick, is a cute little evergreen shrub that grows wild in some parts of Canada and the United States. This herb contains two powerful antibacterial agents - hydroquinone and arbutin - that are often used to treat urinary tract infections and cystitis, but may cause liver damage with prolonged internal use.
Finding Antibacterial Herbs
It never hurts to have a few antibacterial fresh herbs on hand. Most of these plants, such as lavender and oregano, will fit nicely into an existing flower or vegetable garden. Not the gardening type? Consider bartering with a garden-loving friend, scanning booths at farmer's markets, or even looking for wild growing herbs.