Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria
By Stephen Harrod Buhner Second edition,
Storey Publishing, 2012
Those who own the first edition of Buhner’s excellent Herbal Antibiotics will find the 2012 edition to be very different from the small, straightforward, short work of a decade ago. Our personal copy of the original is well-worn, wellloved, and well-used over the past seven years of raising three children. The new copy will surely follow in its footsteps, but will also require us to grow to make full use of its contents, just as the book itself has grown with the rise of super bugs and increased knowledge and understanding of the natural tools we have to protect ourselves from them.
Checking in at around four hundred pages, this new edition truly is a comprehensive introduction worthy to be on the shelf of any holistic practitioner, herbalist, farmer or parent. The book is also thoroughly WAPF-friendly, pulling no punches in condemning factory farms and other contributors to our current health and pathogen problems, while showing an appreciation for the melding of traditional practices, tools, and wisdom with modern research and insight.
In the opening sections, Buhner emphasizes that “bacteria are not our enemies,” but rather play an integral role in supporting, maintaining and rebuilding health. He points out that “In declaring war on [bacteria], we declared war on the underlying living structure of the planet, on all life-forms we can see, on ourselves.” Indeed, it is a war we are destined to lose unless we move from competition to cooperation with our microscopic co-workers.
Buhner also does an excellent job in pulling back the curtain on the hidden wizards of modern medicine, displaying their impotence in the face of pathogenic and degenerative disease for all to see. “In spite of cultural beliefs to the contrary, physicians can cure relatively few of the conditions that plague us. . . drugs artificially alter the condition of the body, but do not cure the underlying condition.” The emperor has no clothes. The physician has no clue. The pharmaceutical industry has no cure. But they make large amounts of money in the confusion and catastrophe inherent in the health struggles of modern life.
The book begins with a lengthy introduction covering where we are and why humanity stands on the verge of a dangerous cliff, ready to plunge into an age where modern medicine and its approach to treating infectious diseases and raising animals will come to a painful end. The statistics and stories are frightening because they are factually true; a dark reality that the mainstream media and most people choose to ignore.
Antibiotic overuse, both in humans and in agriculture, generates new strains of pathogens with far more complex offensive and defensive systems than their earlier versions, outpacing technological advancements in antibiotics and other treatment approaches, while maiming and killing ever increasing numbers of people each year. We stand on the brink of possible global pandemic not seen since the Middle Ages.
Buhner then dives into a complex discussion of general guidelines, pathogen types, and a short list of specific pathogens and treatment protocols. One thing readers will notice about this edition is the more nuanced and advanced approach to the whole field of herbalism—formulations, scientific research and literature, and vocabulary (terms such as “multi-drug efflux pump inhibitor” and “diaphoretic adjunct” appear, along with many others that caused me to break out a good dictionary).
Buhner covers particular herbs, including their usage, preparation, cultivation, traditional usage from around the world and current scientific research. Buhner has broken these herbs into three categories: systemic, non-systemic and synergists.
Systemic herbs work against broad, dispersed infections that affect the entire body. These herbs pass through the gastrointestinal tract membrane, building up in the circulatory system and entire body. Non-systemic herbs work for targeted infections, such as ones in the lungs or skin, and generally do not pass through the gastrointestinal membrane.
Synergistic herbs increase the potency of other properties of both systemic and nonsystemic herbal allies. Buhner points out that this is both an understudied area of herb use and one of the main reasons why many commercial herbal preparations and drugs based on particular herbal constituents are either less effective than they could be or ineffective when compared to traditional/whole preparations.
Even worse, as occurs with antibiotics, isolated constituents may contribute to the development of disease resistance. Nature abhors simplicity and monoculture. Or put another way, bacteria are smarter than the scientists seeking to annihilate them, just like plants and pests are smarter and more adaptable than the herbicides and pesticides people spray on their fields. The similarities between this micro(bial) problem and our macro environmental and farming problems are stark and startlingly similar. The root attitude of disrespect, disregard and disdain for nature and its rhythms, reasoning and wisdom runs deeply in both.
Herbal Antibiotics culminates with sections on strengthening the immune system, a handbook on herbal medicine-making, and a short but highly useful herbal formulary detailing basic directions for well over a hundred herbs. The last section is an especially useful quick reference for someone who has mastered the basics of making certain preparations and tinctures.
The book suffers two small drawbacks. First, the lack of pictures, both for the major herbs listed and recommended and for some of the equipment suggested. Buhner himself addresses this omission, encouraging readers to find “a local plant person to help me with (learning to recognize them in the wild).” Perhaps Storey Publishing will put out a companion picture volume for readers who must proceed without a local guide to help with identification of the hundred or more plants listed in the book.
Second, the resource section is very small— just two pages—with only one listing actual resources. A section helping the uncertain reader to find a good local herbalist along with ways to assess his level of competence and expertise would have been useful, as would some pointed guidance on what sorts of questions to pose to individuals or companies proffering herbs or herbal formulations.
Herbal Antibiotics nevertheless deserves an enthusiastic rating of both thumbs up. While not as accessible to the uninitiated as the first edition, this second offering will surely serve an important role in equipping people and practitioners to protect themselves from the modern plagues we have brought upon our planet’s populace through pride and greed.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2012.