Most of my experience as a herbalist lies in helping people with chronic health complaints. It is rare that someone contacts me about an acute infection. However, I have recently witnessed several cases of infections of bacterial origin (UTI), or viral origin where bacterial infection takes hold at a later stage (e.g. acute bronchitis as an adjunct to a viral infection). I would like to share my thoughts and observations on the practical application of herbal medicine in acute conditions.
It is totally doable to successfully recover from an acute bacterial infection with herbal medicine alone, but it is a really hard job.
The herbal protocol for acute infections is laboursome
I find that one needs to take various herbal preparations every 2 hours at the first onset of infection symptoms. These include tinctures, teas and topical applications if applicable. Once the symptoms lessen, the herbal treatment can be taken every 4 hours, and relaxed further. Herbal treatment should be continued for a week after all symptoms disappear. It is honestly much easier (and cheaper) to take an antibiotic. However, if you do stick to a herbal protocol and do get better, it is very empowering not to have been dependent on antibiotics during acute infection. You also get the extra bonus of a healthier gut flora and minimising risks of antibiotic resistance in the future.
Time is of the essence
If you do not start the herbal protocol immediately at the first symptoms of an infection, getting rid of an infection with plant medicines alone becomes even more laboursome with mixed results depending on the nature of the infections and your general health and immune status. One needs to take risks into account. For example, progression to kidney infection in UTIs that are allowed to linger for too long. You would not want this to happen as this would require much stronger antibiotics and longer recovery. Another example is acute bronchitis, where not using an effective treatment in the first place could cause damage to your lungs. Also mastitis could turn into breast abscesses requiring much stronger antibiotics and even surgical intervention.
You cannot stop the treatment protocol when your symptoms lessen or disappear
This is because it is likely that the infection is still in your body. You need to continue with the treatment for another week after all symptoms are clear. If you stop the treatment, the symptoms may return and you will need to start the protocol anew. Plus, there is a small chance that bacteria could develop some resistance to your herbal treatment by then (although it is much harder for bacteria to develop resistance to plants than to antibiotics due to several active compounds working together).
Accurate choice of herbs is of paramount importance
This is especially true for respiratory tract infections. Depending on the location and the stage of the infection different herbs may be used.
But will it work for me?
It can be scary to be treated with herbs alone in acute conditions (from personal experience). This is because in some cases you might not feel immediate relief and might get no significant improvement in the symptoms in the first couple of days. Antibiotics definitely provide more reassurance. Awareness of your own body and trust in your body’s ability to heal and get rid of infection are important. Allowing yourself to be ill, taking good care of yourself and recuperating is important too. People who force themselves through an acute illness trying to juggle usual workload with herbal treatment, do themselves a disservice and have lower recovery rates with herbal protocols.
And if not?
And last but not least, if your symptoms do not improve after a week of herbal protocol, or get worse at any stage, you must immediately seek conventional medical help. It does happen sometimes and this is what antibiotics are there for.