Many prescription medications are actually designed to mimic essential plant oils.
As an alternative to antibiotics they have two main advantages: antibiotics are often indiscriminate – they kill the good bacteria as well as the ones causing the infection. This weakens your body’s defences. The other problem with antibiotics is that their overuse is causing resistant strains of bacteria to become widespread. This is becoming one of the world’s most urgent public health problems, even in highly developed countries.
But the news isn’t all bad. Research has shown that essential plant oils may be able to target many drug-resistant diseases, where conventional antibiotics are failing us.
Cutting-edge research is also investigating new ways of discovering and developing antibiotics, which hold promise for the future. But these are not yet far enough along to counteract the looming problem. Fingers crossed this will change in the near future. Otherwise, it’s predicted that by 2050, around 10 million people will die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections.
Multiple studies have shown certain essential plant oils to be effective against hospital acquired infections, where it’s a daily battle to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Tests have evaluated the comparative effectiveness of several essential oils in fighting the bacteria that are rife in medical environments.
Tee tree, thyme, lemon and lemongrass oils come out on top as the most effective in treating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), one of the infections hospitals are battling with.
The top 10 antimicrobial essential oils
All of these essential oils are proven anti-bacterial agents. Most of them are also antifungal, some are anti-parasitic and anti-viral, and in many cases they also speed up the body’s healing processes in addition to killing the infection.
1. Cinnamon oil
Tests have indicated cinnamon as an effective root canal treatment against bacterial infection, especially against E. faecalis, which is of particular concern in dental settings. Cinnamon oil has also shown promise in treating MARCoNS (multiple antibiotic-resistant coagulase negative staph). One of the reasons this bacteria is resistant is because it is able to form a ‘biofilm’ to protect itself. Several antimicrobial essential oils, notably cassia (a type of cinnamon) and red thyme – were able to treat some bacterial biofilms “with higher efficiency than certain important antibiotics,” according to one study.
2. Thyme & 3. Lemongrass oils
These oils possess good antibacterial activity against MRSA skin infections, and contribute no skin irritation. Thyme and lemongrass also antifungal.
4. Oregano oil
Shows effective, fast acting anti-bacterial activity against several antibiotic-resistant strains, partially through its disruption of bacterial cell walls.
5. Tea tree oil
Studies combining tea tree with eucalyptus, found that it can kill E. coli and MRSA infections. It also speeds up wound healing. Tee tree oil has been shown in laboratory settings to be active against several bacterial and yeast strains.
6. Clove oil
A study in Northern Australia found clove oil to be an effective treatment for scabies. It’s also a potent antibacterial, fighting a number of drug-resistant Staphylococcal infections, and can be used as an antifungal and anti-parasitic. It has been shown to treat fungal candidiasis and to be better than a commonly prescribed antibiotic in treating bacterial vaginosis.
7. Basil oil
Tested against 60 different clinical strains of E. coli, basil oil was active against all of them. Rosemary was also tested, and exhibited the same activity, but was not as potent as basil.
8. Lemon oil
Able to treat MRSA, where conventional antibiotics have failed, as well as several other drug-resistant Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and fungal candida strains.
9. Lime oil
Shown to be antibacterial in test settings against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial infections. Lime oil also has an immunomodulatory effect in the human body.
10. Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil has been shown in laboratory settings to be effective against multiple resistant bacteria strains as well as several types of fungal infection. It can help prevent fungal nail infections and improve nail health.
How to use them
Inhalation (especially for respiratory infections): Add a few drops to a bowl of hot water, drape a towel over your head and the bowl and inhale the oils as they evaporate.
Topical: Mix your chosen oil, or a combination, with mānuka honey or coconut oil and apply externally to the affected area. We’ve also heard that massaging this mixture into your abdomen can help treat internal infections.
Mouth wash: Clove and thyme are excellent for clearing up bacterial infections in the gums. Add a few drops to a glass of water and use as a mouthwash, being careful not to swallow any.
Body soak: Add several drops to your bathwater, and let the essential oils get soaked up gently through the skin. This is also a gentle way of applying your essential oils to treat certain skin conditions.
Tonic: You should be cautious about ingesting essential oils, making sure you understand the properties of the oil and appropriate amounts, as some people can have a negative reaction to ingesting these powerful essential oils. You can combine one drop each of oregano oil, cinnamon and thyme with mānuka honey and take it as a tonic, but you should consult your doctor or naturopath first, especially if you have a medical condition or are pregnant or breast-feeding.