12 Natural Antibacterial Things to Help You Stay Well This Winter

natural antibiotics

Keeping the upper hand on germs and harmful microbes feels like a never-ending battle, which is why it’s so important to find out how natural antibacterials can help you work smarter–not harder.

Many modern products are manufactured with ingredients derived from botanicals, alkaloids, and other beneficial natural compounds you can easily find in their less processed state. Today you’ll learn why these natural antimicrobials are valuable for functional medicine, and how they can help keep you and your environment safe, clean, and healthy.

What Makes Something A Natural Antibacterial?

Naturally existing compounds that kill or slow the spread of microorganisms are called antimicrobials. These microorganisms can be viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi such as mold and mildew.

Natural antibacterials are substances that act specifically against bacteria, such as E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus, which are common bacteria responsible for causing various types of illness.

Antibacterial and antiviral substances can be found in herbs, other plants, essential oils, foods, and in some cases, even types of metal. 

Integrative medicine uses some of these ingredients to support your body’s own defense against harmful germs and to decrease the chance of complications like antibiotic resistance. 

Here are 12 natural compounds that help keep bacteria and other harmful microbes in check, and how you can use them.

1. Goldenseal 

Great for: Respiratory health, digestive health.

Goldenseal is one of the oldest and most well-known herbal remedies worldwide, renowned for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Goldenseal is often enjoyed in tea, or dried and taken in supplement form. 

Goldenseal contains a high concentration of berberine, an alkaloid that has been shown to kill some strains of bacteria and fungi in vitro studies. One study showed that goldenseal extracts stopped methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from damaging body tissue, and can prevent E. coli from adhering to the gut lining. 

Goldenseal is also often used for respiratory infections and the common cold.

You can find goldenseal extracts in various remedies in supplement form, tea, cold & flu remedies, and more. 

2. Salt

Great for: Oral health, use on surfaces. 

You might not have had a reason to get excited about this little mineral–until now. 

Saltworks against microbial activity by essentially pulling all water out of a cell, so if there’s no moisture this creates an incredibly inhospitable environment for bacteria. No moisture = no bacteria growth.

Salt has also long been used as a mouthwash to cleanse out the bacteria present in the mouth that contributes to gum disease, and tooth decay. And when you gargle with salt water, you are drawing liquids to the surface of the cell, along with any virus and bacteria in the throat. When you spit the salt water out, germs follow.

One small study in 2015 also determined that not only does sodium chloride reduce the viral replication of cells, but it can also support the illness-battling capability of some immune cells.

Halotherapy is one unique treatment involving breathing salty air, and it’s said to benefit many respiratory ailments. While research on halotherapy is limited, most people wouldn’t turn down relaxing in their own personal salt cave!

3. Honey

Great for: Digestive health, skin health, inflammation, immune function.

Unrefined, raw honey is one of the most valued natural products introduced to humankind since ancient times. With benefits for wound healing, digestive and respiratory health, and so much more, traditional uses for honey have spanned not only generations but the globe.

Honey contains polyphenols and flavonoids which are attributed to its antimicrobial, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. 

Research shows honey has activity against bacteria as well as viruses. It is also effective against many multidrug-resistant bacterial strains, especially when used along with antibiotics.

4. Black Cumin Seed

Great for: Digestive health, respiratory health, immune function, skin health.

Nigella sativa is a medicinal plant commonly known as black cumin with a long history in traditional systems of medicine such as Ayurveda. Historically, black cumin has been used in conditions involving the respiratory system, digestive tract, kidney and liver function, and immune system.

Much of its therapeutic properties are due to the presence of thymoquinone, a plant compound that has been the focus of many studies. Researchers have also shown the antibacterial activity of N. Sativa against H. pylori in the digestive system. For a digestive disorder that’s notoriously difficult to eradicate, black seed may provide a useful solution.

Black cumin seed is commonly found in the oil, but due to its pungent flavor, many people prefer a soft gel form. Black seed oil can also be used topically to support the health and integrity of the skin.

More recently, one study (in preprint at the time of this writing) using a combination of honey and Nigella sativa extract, demonstrated increased viral clearance, a decrease in symptom duration, and a decrease in overall mortality during the current pandemic.

5. Caprylic Acid

Great for: Skin health, fungal overgrowth, digestive health.

Coconut oil isn’t done surprising you yet–caprylic acid may just be coconut oil’s best-kept secret! 

Caprylic acid is one of the three fatty acids found in coconut oil. It’s a medium-chain fatty acid with potent antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.

These properties make caprylic acid a helpful treatment for many conditions, including yeast infections, skin conditions, and digestive disorders. Caprylic acid works to break down the protective membrane, called a biofilm, that bacteria and yeast (like Candida) use to protect themselves. 

You can take caprylic acid orally or apply it to your skin when using unrefined coconut oil. 

6. Oregano Oil

Oregano contains potent phytonutrient compounds called phenols, terpenes, and terpenoids. They’re responsible for oregano’s therapeutic benefits, and its strong aroma.

  • Carvacrol. The most abundant phenol in oregano, it has been shown to stop the growth of several different types of microorganisms.
  • Thymol. A natural antifungal which can also support the immune system.

Research has also shown that oregano essential oil may be effective against some potentially antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

When using oregano essential oil, a carrier oil must be used to safely dilute, as pure oregano oil can irritate the skin. Oregano can also be found in extracts, capsules, and dried.

7. Copper

Can surfaces made out of copper disinfect themselves? The answer to this question may surprise you!

Ancient civilizations took advantage of the antimicrobial properties of copper long before the concept of microbes was discovered. Copper and its alloys are completely natural antimicrobial materials that continuously reduce bacterial contamination. 

Copper inhibits bacterial growth between cleanings and is able to kill more than 99.9% of bacteria on its surface. The only downside? It takes about 2 hours for this to happen.

Doorknobs, handles, and other highly touched surfaces are often made from copper to naturally decrease microbial activity on the surface.

8. Propolis

Propolis contains over 600 constituents that boast antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial benefits–all produced completely naturally all over the world in the safety of resident beehives.

Propolis, contrary to popular misconception, isn’t a constituent of honey, but a completely separate substance that functions as the immune system or medicine of the beehive.

Bees make propolis by collecting plant and tree resins, then putting them through an enzymatic process which yields a sticky, amber-colored substance the bees use to protect the inside of the hive and keep it free of germs.

In humans, propolis has been shown to support immune function, wound healing, and digestive and respiratory health.

9. Garlic

Whole garlic contains many active compounds which have antimicrobial properties, but of these, a compound called allicin is the most researched. You may recognize the smell of allicin when you cut or slice whole, raw garlic.

Allicin is an important sulfur-containing compound and exhibits antimicrobial activity against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, which means its antimicrobial effects are useful for many different kinds of bacteria.

Allicin has also been shown to inhibit the formation of biofilms, helping to break down the protective mechanisms bacteria use to shield themselves from treatment or antibiotics. 

10. Mullein

Mullein extract or mullein oil is made from the leaves or flowers of the mullein plant and has been used as a remedy for skin conditions and earaches.

Mullein has also been used in traditional medicine for cough, congestion, and bronchitis. 

This delicate flowering plant has dozens of active compounds including saponins, flavonoids, and phenylethanoids, which have valuable anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

11. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the Australian melaleuca tree, which are steamed to release their beneficial compounds. 

Tea tree oil contains a number of compounds, including terpenes-4-ol, that have been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Studies have shown that tea tree oil works against several common bacteria and viruses responsible for causing illness, including E. coli, S. pneumonia, and H. influenza.

Tea tree oil is also often used topically on minor cuts and abrasions for its activity against S. aureus and other bacteria that can cause infection on the skin. 

12. Olive Leaf

It’s no secret that we love the benefits of olive oil, but another product from this same plant packs a powerful defense against microbial activity and inflammation.

The main phenolic compound in olive leaf, called oleuropein, exerts antimicrobial activity against different kinds of bacteria. Oleuropein also possesses a well-documented antiviral activity.

Functional Medicine & Natural Antimicrobials

In a sea of microorganisms that aren’t always friendly, employing the help of natural antibacterials can help reduce the spread of germs and support health. 

Using natural botanicals, supplements, and herbs is one-way integrative medicine that seeks to include all available healing modalities and not just those available in conventional pharmaceuticals.  

There is an entire world of natural antibacterial compounds, and functional medicine can show you how to leverage their use for better health.