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Superbugs & Herbal Teas

A Q&A With Stephen Harrod Buhner

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An image of Brown Sugar Ginger Simple Syrup in a glass.

Ginger and other herbs can be used as natural and effective remedies against many viruses and infections.

Marko Goodwin
Author and herbal medicine specialist Stephen Harrod Buhner is noted for his books and lectures on the topic of fighting so-called superbugs and other viruses with plants. His books such as Herbal Antibiotics and Herbal Antivirals: Natural Treatments for Emerging and Resistant Viral Infections (Including Influenza, SARS, West Nile and other Encephalitis Viral Infections) have begun to shift how we think of infections, viruses and the future of treatment for superbugs.

In the Q&A below, Buhner answers questions about the use of herbal 'teas' (more correctly known as tisanes, herbal infusions or herbal decoctions) for fighting superbugs:

Goodwin: Can herbal infusions really be used as medicine?

Buhner: One of the oldest forms of herbal medicine are strong teas, a.k.a. infusions. A great many of the diseases we commonly experience can be healed by them. Nearly all people on Earth use herbs in this form for their primary medicine, as I have done for the past 30 years. And contrary to what pharmaceutical companies would like most of us to think, they are exceptionally effective and they are very good for treating infections for which  pharmaceuticals are ineffective.

Goodwin: Can you briefly explain what superbugs are and why they are increasingly resistant to pharmaceuticals?

Buhner: Superbugs merely means bacteria that are resistant or immune to antibiotics, in other words, antibiotic resistant bacteria which really is a better name for them. Bacteria are the oldest forms of life on this planet, some 3.5 billion years old. In comparison the human species is somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 million years old, depending on how you define the species. Over that time bacteria have experienced a huge number of adverse events that they had to learn to survive. One of those is antibacterial substances. Such substances are made by other bacteria, plants, all life forms on this planet. Our pharmaceuticals are made or modeled on the antibacterial substances that exist in fungi and plants, for the most part. Bacteria have already had mechanisms in place to deal with them.

Unfortunately the tremendous amounts of synthetic pharmaceuticals that are bombarding the planet, millions of tons, have stimulated bacterial response a million fold. The bacteria are highly intelligent in response to that influx. They have learned how to alter their external membranes, alter molecular targets of the drugs, and so on. And they pass this information on as promiscuously as they can to all the other bacteria they encounter. In essence, it is evolution in fast forward. Antibiotics have stimulated evolutionary changes that are unique in Earth history. Unfortunately for us as well, the bacterial learning curve is exponential, meaning that they learn faster and develop resistance more quickly each year that goes by. We are, in essence, being outperformed by species tremendously older than ourselves.

Goodwin: Why are herbs potentially more effective in fighting superbugs than pharmaceuticals?

Buhner: Herbs are highly complex and may contain from 100 to 1,000 or more chemical compounds. Pharmaceuticals are a single chemical compound. It is much easier for a bacterium to figure out how to resist a single compound than one thousand. Further, plants are also much older than us. They have compounds that specifically target the resistance mechanisms of bacteria, others that are highly antibacterial and that kill the bacteria, and still others that potentiate the antibacterial compounds. They are highly complex synergistic medicines that have been dealing with bacterial problems for millions of years.

Goodwin: Which common herbs to you recommend consuming as an infusion or decoction for fighting bacteria and viruses?

Buhner: There are two ways to approach resistant infections and which to use depends on what kind of infection.

If it is a systemic bacterial infection then a systemic herbal antibiotic needs to be used.

If it is a localized infection, say on the surface of the skin, then a local herbal antibiotic is best.

Of the systemic herbs (for things like clostridium or staph infections) the best herbs to use as infusions are cryptolepis, sida acuta, or alchornea cordifolia as infusions.

If you are working with a local bacterial infection, the best thing is really wildflower honey, however a strong infusion of any of the berberine plants is probably the best first response, from plants like barberry, Oregon grape, goldenseal, or phellodendron. For viruses, the best thing is really the fresh juice of ginger in hot water with a little honey and cayenne. Isatis is also very good.

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