Jacqueline Kilbryde is a medical herbalist who has been in practice in West Cork for over 20 years. As well as treating the public, she has a herbal garden which she uses for teaching and for making preparations.
There has been worrying news in the media recently concerning antibiotic resistance to bacteria and other pathogens (disease producing organisms). We all know about MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and this is only the tip of the iceberg, as research now proves that many microrganisms have become immune to prescribed antibiotics.
The emergence of antibiotics was indeed revolutionary and termed ‘magic bullets’ that selectively targeted only disease-causing microbes and not the host. It was argued that chemical compounds could be synthesised that would be able to exert their full action exclusively on the pathogen harbored within the organism.
Diseases such as TB among others was reported to have been eradicated by antibiotic use but in the past two decades has reemerged. The mycobacteria has become immune to broad spectrum antibiotics because of overuse and as a result is much harder to control.
Antibiotics are certainly magic bullets, as they have the ability to save lives but they should be used only when absolutely necessary. We are in danger of losing the efficacy of medicines that were discovered for emergency situations and life threatening conditions. Instead, their misuse and overuse have undermined their advantages.
All organisms on this planet strive for survival and pathogenic microorganisms are no exception. It is well known that viruses in particular are notoriously adept in survival techniques, and for example, hide in host cells and have the ability to change their outer coat structure to evade destruction by chemical medication. This seems to imply intelligence, and seemingly pathogens have learned to adapt and change in order to survive destruction by antibiotics, as well as the variety of noxious chemicals used against them…These have caused their mutation and an increase in their virulence creating the super bug syndrome.
Many such incidences can be quoted; refer to the species of E.Coli never seen before, which infected cucumbers causing numerous deaths. Lice infestation is more of a problem now, as a result of the use of insecticides such as malathion to which they have become immune, but which can cause damage to the developing nervous systems of children. Organophosphates are used liberally to kill agricultural pests.
Modern farming methods and a reliance on mono culture have succeeded in destroying natural habitats of their fauna and flora by the use of pesticides and chemicals, as well as through land reclamation. Reared animals are systematically pumped with antibiotics and hormones to increase meat and dairy yields.
The result is a severe disruption to the natural balance of the ecosystem, which sustains and renews all life. We know bees and butterflies for example are severely threatened and that new, more virulent strains of E. Coli now inhabit our rivers and soil.
The consumption of foods containing antibiotics and hormones has in turn has affected the gut biome leading to lowered immunity and to a higher incidence of disease causing recurrent infections, which are harder to control.
Using harsh, noxious chemicals and antibiotics on a daily basis simply causes a destruction of beneficial organisms, which naturally keep pathogens at bay.
The fine balance in our internal and external environment has been eroded with serious consequences.
Pathogens have learnt to ‘read’ chemicals used to destroy them and have evolved a resistance making them more virulent and a force to be reckoned with. Instead of seeking to eradicate pathogens, a regime of control and management in a safer, less invasive way could be employed, so that the destructive impact on the micro and macro environment is reduced.
Every medicinal herb contains more than one active therapeutic constituent, which gives the herbs its particular function or functions. Herbs are pharmacologically active medicines. Pathogens are unable to ‘read’ the multiple components within medicinal plants and defy them in the same way they do isolated chemicals. So that resistance to a medicinal herb is not as easy
Many herbs display antibiotic, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties and it is well known that before the advent of antibiotics, wounds in the trenches in World War I were disinfected with garlic as well as on a daily basis.
Echinacea, Myrrh, Marigold and Wild Indigo are all appreciable anti-infectives and aid and enhance the body’s defences against infection.
Thyme herb, Elecampane, Hyssop for example are excellent antiseptic or anti-infective herbs and are directly antagonistic to pathogenic organisms on contact. They are excellent in respiratory infection.
Others have direct anti-fungal properties, notably Marigold flowers, Thuja, Thyme herb, and Myrrh resin.
Bearberry, Juniper and Celery seed are all effectively used for urinary tract infections.
The Chinese have for centuries used and known the importance of an antimalarial medicinal herb, Artemesia annua (Sweet Annie). This herb is also grown and used in parts of Africa where Malaria is rife.
Other herbs such as Tanacetum vulgaris, and Tanacetum parthenium (Tansy and Feverfew) are known to be extremely effective for intestinal worms, and a combination of the Artemesias and these can reduce the incidence of intestinal parasites, as well as infection by helicobacter.
Inula helenium (Elecampane), an excellent antibacterial, has shown to be effective in the control of MRSA and the TB baccilus.
Picrasma excels (bitter quassia) is effective in destroying lice and preventing recurrent infestation.
Alterative or depurative herbs improve elimination of toxic wastes from the body, improving the functions of the liver, skin and kidneys and affect the overall status of immunity and resistance to infection.
There are many more examples of medicinal plants, which have been used successfully to combat infection, without causing a disruption to overall immunity nor the undermining of the gut flora.
It is time now to bring herbs out of the dominion of the old wives tale, to utilise and explore their use to alter and improve ‘soil conditions’ within and without.