While many people consider antibiotics the best medicines against bacterial illnesses, they are increasingly outsmarted by the bacteria they were intended to kill. Fortunately, a growing body of research shows that essential oils may be the best kept secret against bacterial infections. Here are 7 of my favorite antibacterial essential oils:
Basil Essential Oil
Basil has been shown to have excellent anti-infectious qualities. Research in the journal Molecules found that natural volatile oils in basil inhibited multiple drug-resistant strains of E. coli bacteria. E. coli can cause cramps, diarrhea and vomiting linked to food poisoning, among other health problems. According to a preliminary study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, scientists demonstrated that an extract of basil seeds was even effective in the laboratory against tuberculosis-causing bacteria.
Chamomile Essential Oil
Germany’s Commission E approved German chamomile as a treatment of the skin to reduce swelling and fight bacteria, as well as a tea or supplement to alleviate stomach cramps. Researchers assessed the antimicrobial activity of an extract of German chamomile against the fungus Candida albicans and the bacteria Enterococcus faecalis. While the former is a fungal infection, E. faecalis is an antibiotic-resistant and often life-threatening infection that sometimes inhabits root-canal-treated teeth. The Indian Journal of Dentistry published an assessment of a high potency extract of chamomile against these microbes and found that it helped kill both. This study could help explain German chamomile’s reputation for healing dental abscesses and gum inflammation.
Cinnamon Essential Oil
It has natural anti-infectious compounds. In a study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, cinnamon essential oil derived from the bark was found to have strong antibacterial activity against several harmful strains of bacteria, including: multiple Salmonella strains (linked to food poisoning), E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (linked to the sometimes deadly MRSA infections), and others. Cinnamon essential oil exhibited excellent activity against all the selected strains tested.
Ginger Essential Oil
According to well-known herbalist and book author, Stephen Harrod Buhner, more and more exciting research showcases ginger’s potency against viruses and bacteria alike, even when antibiotic or antiviral drugs fail. That’s important news as we collectively cope with resistant superbugs.
Oregano Essential Oil
Oregano is a powerfully-antiseptic plant thanks largely to its constituents known as carvacrol and rosmarinic acid. Unlike antibiotic drugs that work only on harmful bacteria, these compounds in oregano works against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and even parasites like worms, making it a well-rounded antiseptic to keep in your natural medicine cabinet. Research published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology showcased the effectiveness of oregano against antibiotic-resistant strep infections, which are most known for causing strep throat.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree (or Melaleuca, as it is also called) has been used for centuries for its potent antibacterial action. Research in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that that tea tree essential oil was even effective against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which the researchers attribute to the natural compounds known as alpha terpineol and linalool. Other research published in the journal ScienceDirect showed that tea tree oil is effective against S.aureus and the biofilms they create. Biofilms are a thin, potentially health-damaging layer of microorganisms that secrete substances to help ensure their survival in or on the body. Depending on the type of infection, tea tree oil can be applied to the skin or diffused in the air.
Thyme Essential Oil
In a review of thyme, oregano, and basil published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, researchers found that all three were effective against a variety of bacterial stains. In their assessment of the oils’ effects on E. coli, the researchers found that both thyme and oregano were the most effective.
There are many ways to use essential oils, including diffusing them or mixing them with water and spraying into the air for the purpose of inhalation, applying topically, or ingesting. In my more than 25 years’ experience as an aromatherapist, I have found that ingestion of one or more of the above oils tends to yield the best effects for most bacterial infections unless they are on the skin, in which case they should be diluted and applied topically. However, not all oils are suitable for ingestion. Actually, most of the oils on the market are not. So, use only oils that clearly indicate their suitability for internal use. This is easily identifiable on the label, which would indicate “dose.” Most of the above oils are extremely strong and should be diluted before using. Additionally, you should work with a qualified natural health expert before using any essential oils internally.
Make sure you select high quality, pure, undiluted . While you may end up diluting the oils yourself, most of the oils on the market are diluted in less-than-desirable oils. High quality oils cost more than the cheap varieties on the market but are worth the increased price. Many cheap varieties can also contain synthetic versions of the oils, which offer no therapeutic value and may actually be harmful. But, worse than that, many cheap oils are adulterated with solvents used during the extraction process or toxic pesticides used in the growing process of the herbs from which the oils are extracted.
After diluting the oil in carrier oil, always conduct a 48-hour patch test on a small inconspicuous part of your skin to determine whether you have any sensitivity to the essential oils. Do not discontinue any prescribed medications without the guidance of your physician. Use essential oils with caution and the advice of a qualified natural health practitioner during pregnancy or in the treatment of any health condition.