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Seven Herbs Already in Your Kitchen that May Aid in the Fight against Microbes

May 4, 2020

By Deborah Ballard, MD, MPH. Duke Integrative Medicine.

One of the most sobering realizations of the modern era is that no matter how many technologically sophisticated drugs and medical devices we humans develop, we are still at the mercy of germs. Germs, or microbes, those microscopic beasties that coexist alongside and inside of us, sometimes, like Covid-19, manage to get the upper hand on us.

Seven Herbs Already in Your Kitchen that May Aid in the Fight against Microbes

The Covid-19 pandemic brought the world almost to a standstill and will continue to challenge us for months or even years. Better testing, better drugs, and hopefully a vaccine, will be developed. Careful hand washing, wearing masks, and social distancing have proven to be effective strategies in reducing transmission. Our existential battles with microbes, though, will continue and we need to add more weapons to our arsenal. Herbs might be part of that winning strategy. Confronted with the challenges of novel infectious agents and the development of multi-antibiotic resistant bacteria, researchers are giving old herbal remedies a serious look.

Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years.

There is evidence for some herbal remedies that were used as long ago as 1500 BC. For example, a 2018 article in Cell and Molecular Biology states “In conclusion, garlic and thyme extracts can be used not only as a flavor but also as potential antimicrobial agents against Gram-positive and negative bacteria.” This is but one of many articles that describe the antimicrobial effects of several common herbs.
Some of the active compounds in these herbs have been identified, but herbs are not medicines. They are foods. Consuming them in the context of a healthy diet is probably the best way to experience their benefits. The safety and efficacy of supplements claiming to contain the active ingredients in herbs are largely unknown. There have been a few trials with some specific preparations made from essential herbal oils but the results need to be judiciously interpreted. It is always best to consult your physician if you feel you need an antibiotic for a serious infection.

Many of these herbs might already be in your kitchen.

Fortunately, the herbs with the best anti-microbial effects are probably already in your kitchen.

All these herbs have all been shown to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects in laboratory tests.  These herbs, when consumed in foods, are safe. They are commonly used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Indian dishes. They taste great. They are readily accessible. They are inexpensive.

Have fun in the kitchen and try out adding herbs to soups, dressings or teas.

Since there is little risk of harm in adding herbs to your diet and growing evidence they may help fight a variety of infectious agents, you may want to have some fun in the kitchen and try out a nice lentil soup or a savory curry. These dishes incorporate several herbs with known antimicrobial activity in one very healthy dish. There are many recipes readily available on websites such as foodnetwork.com and Allrecipes.com Tumeric, ginger, and lemon are available as teas.

The ability to avoid becoming seriously ill from the ever-changing microbes in our world depends largely on the strength of our immune systems. Adding herbs regularly to your diet may help.

References:

1- Antimicrobial Effect of Garlic (Allium sativum) and Thyme (Zataria multiflora Boiss) Extracts on Some Food Borne Pathogens and Their Effect on Virulence Gene Expression.

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