Historically herbal medicine was utilized most often to deal with infections. Herbalists prescribed bitter flavored herbal medicines to treat various types of infections. Many of the most successful herbs that were used to treat infections are now known to contain a chemical called Berberine. Berberine is toxic and thus works well to kill bacteria. In herbal form the naturally occurring Berberine is at concentrations that are not harmful to humans. It forms many yellow colored compounds, and in fact many of the names of the Chinese herbs that contain berberine are named yellow or huang. Two common examples are Huang Lian (Coptidis) and Huang Bai (Phellodendri).
Berberine has been studied because of its ability to kill bacteria. The hope has always been that berberine compounds will provide a new class of antibiotic. Currently there is increased problems with antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. There is a growing need for new types of antibiotics that bacteria have not yet become resistant to. Berberine may be part of the answer. The herbs have no history of antibiotic resistance in general use. The drug companies however would like something that is more potent and can be patented. A naturally occurring herb can not be patented and therefore there is little incentive for drug companies to study herbs in natural form.
Traditional practitioners of herbal medicine found ways to mix various herbs to maximize the medicinal effect of the herbs. Many herbs have the ability to kill bacteria as well as help the body to fight viruses. Many of these herbs have been tested and shown anti-viral and antibiotic properties in the lab. In practice the mixing of these materials may be the reason why we see no resistance to them, even after thousands of years worth of use.
Treating infections with herbs should be done with caution. There are concerns about drug and herb interactions. There is some unconfirmed evidence that many antibiotic-type herbs may have some of the same issues as modern antibiotics, such as negating the effectiveness of birth control pills. There is also some evidence that these herbs may block some antibiotics when they are used in combination. A Certified herbalist is your best source of information as to which herbs would be appropriate for your situation.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066