8 Safe & Effective Herbal Antibiotic Alternatives

Mortar and pestle, with fresh-picked herbs, peppercorns and sea salt. Herbs include basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint, sage and bay leaves.

There’s no doubt about it –  antibiotics are a good thing. They save lives every day. We can, in part, attribute  our longer lifespans, reduction in infant mortality and childhood deaths from life-threatening infections, and the near elimination of childbirth-related maternal deaths from infections in hospitals to antibiotics. As a medical doctor I am grateful to be able to prescribe them for serious bacterial and other appropriate infections, for example meningitis, kidney infections, and Lyme disease.

As with many things, more is not always better, and this is certainly the case with antibiotics.

Too Many Antibiotics

Antibiotics are being overused. It’s that clear. They are given to about 30% of all women during pregnancy or labor, and these reach the baby through the mom’s blood stream. By 2 years old, 69% of children in the US have received at least one antibiotic course, and the average is 2.3 courses, for ear infections, bronchitis, sore throat, and other common childhood illnesses.

By the time our children are 18 years old, they’ll have taken between 10 and 20 courses of antibiotics, and then another 10-13 rounds of antibiotics in their 20s. So by the time we’re 30 years old, on average, we’ve typically had about 30 rounds of antibiotics. Since each round is typically from 7 to 14 days long, that’s an astonishing potential 300 days – almost a year of their young lives – spent on an antibiotic! The numbers are similarly high for those 60 years old and above.

Shockingly,according to the Centers for Disease Control and other official reports, at least 50% and as many as 70% of the antibiotics prescribed for children for these and other symptoms/conditions are unnecessary and inappropriate. They are prescribed for viral infections that are not even treatable with an antibiotic – and usually just require time and simple support to clear up on their own! We are so accustomed to antibiotics being prescribed for our illnesses that we assume that they are as safe as they are common. But this is far from the truth.

We’re not just getting antibiotics that are prescribed to us by our doctors. Antibiotics are widespread in our foods, especially animal products. If you drink 2 glasses of milk each day, unless from antibiotic-free animals, you are potentially getting a daily dose of about 50 micrograms of tetracycline. At least 80 million pounds of antibiotics go into our cattle, poultry, and farmed fish each year not just to keep them “healthy” in their over-crowded feedlot conditions, but to promote their growth. Antibiotics can increase the weight of cattle, for example, by as much as 15% or more, and quickly.

Frighteningly, even organic fruit, for example, apples and pears, can be contaminated with antibiotics, which used to prevent “blights” that can damage crops. These antibiotics do not have to be disclosed to consumers as part of their organic labeling.

We are now learning the hard way that the overuse of antibiotics, both as medicines and in our foods is wreaking havoc on our health.

In addition to getting the nutrients you need to support your immune system, a number of herbal medicines can help prevent and fight infection. One of the beauties of herbal antibiotics is their non-specificity — many of them are helpful for antibacterial and viral infections. So you don’t have to worry about figuring out which of those it is or having to go to a doctor to get a diagnosis first. These herbs are generally safe for most adults and children.

Here are a few herb safety rules:

  • If you have an immune system disorder or are pregnant, please check with your health provider before using any of these.
  • A doctor should see babies less than 6 months if they have any signs of an infection.
  • Also, anyone with a persistent fever, cough that lasts more than a week, difficulty breathing, blood in their sputum, persistent headache or neck pain with fever, persistent vomiting or abdominal pain, for example, should see their doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.

Here are my top 8 go-to herbs for immune boosting, infection prevention and treatment of common cold, flu, and respiratory infections. I recommend following the dosage instructions on the products you purchase, unless I specify otherwise below.


For the prevention and treatment of colds, bronchitis, viral sore throat, and sinus infections. A combination of Andrographis and Siberian ginseng has been shown to be especially helpful in the treatment of colds, especially when started within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms. Andrographis is not recommended during pregnancy, but can be used while breastfeeding. It is safe for children.