Thank you for signing up!
Herbs Gone Wild! Antibacterial Alternatives
The question continues to resurge: “Is antibacterial soap unsafe?” Perhaps you recall it was a pretty big news flash several years ago in regards to how the use of antibacterial soaps could make our bodies more resistant to antibiotics. More recently, they’ve been talking about the actual ingredients, namely triclosan. An article from Reuters last year stated, “The FDA noted that there was no evidence that triclosan could be harmful to people but noted that an animal study showed the chemical may alter hormone regulation and several other lab studies showed that bacteria may be able to evolve resistance to triclosan in a way that can help them also resist antibiotics.”
Whether antibacterial soap is safe or not, I always find some peace of mind by taking the natural road first. That’s why I thought I’d share a few natural alternatives to antibacterial soaps, also an important part of first aid. Start out with the natural course, and it very rarely leads you to scary questions and breaking news later.
So which herbs are antibacterial? The list is seemingly endless, but some of the most common are: lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), garlic, and peppermint (Mentha piperita). Apple cider vinegar is another natural item that provides antibacterial protection. Many of our herb friends are not only antibacterial but antifungal and antiviral as well. (Makes for a pretty good argument of natural versus manmade when you consider there’s no hard evidence that the antibacterial soaps in question even work.) And according to the Reference Guide to Essential Oils by Connie and Alan Higley, all essential oils are antibacterial. Leaves you with quite a selection, doesn't it?
With the addition of a few drops, or a combination of any of these and other essential oils into a spray bottle of water, you have a pretty fragrant antibacterial spray. I’d recommend using about a cup of water to 20 drops of oil. Experiment with blends that you like, and place them in a spray bottle. (Of course don’t spray it in your eyes, eat it, or let your kids play with it. But you knew that already.)
A favorite of mine is Vinegar of the Four Thieves. This historical blend was said to protect four thieves from the Black Plague when they used it after robbing the dead bodies of plague victims. Gruesome story no doubt, and no one is certain of the validity of it all, but we do know the components of most Four Thieves recipes are pretty effective. There are literally dozens of variations to this recipe, but here’s my own take, based on several I’ve seen:
Vinegar of the Four Thieves
4 Tbs. dried lavender
4 Tbs. dried rosemary
4 Tbs. dried wormwood
4 Tbs. dried mint (I use peppermint)
4 Tbs. dried sage
2 quarts apple cider vinegar
If you can crush up the herbs a bit with a mortar and pestle or run them through a coffee grinder reserved for your herbs, this will allow for better saturation. Place the herbs in a glass jar, pour the vinegar over it, and give them a vigorous shake. Put the jar in the sun for two or more weeks (I’ve read up to six weeks; this info varies). After two weeks, if you are so inclined, you can add a few cloves of garlic and let it sit for another week. I’ve seen recipes with and without garlic, but there are definitely antibacterial and antiviral benefits in adding it. I can also imagine the smell, so I’ll leave this part up to you. I make mine without garlic so we can use it in public without chasing said public away. Strain the vinegar well and pour into spray bottles. You can carry it with you in a small bottle in your purse for when your kids have touched something icky or questionable, perhaps that shopping cart handle.
Then of course there’s always the old standby: Wash your hands thoroughly with regular soap. To get the benefits of herbs in there again, get soaps that contain essential oils.
If you’re still worried about whether or not antibacterial soap is unsafe, natural alternatives are good to keep in mind. Remember, oftentimes if you start out with the natural solution, it doesn’t really matter what the news says. What is called safe today might be called unsafe tomorrow, but that rarely happens in the herb world. Yes, there are herbs we need to be careful with, and the media often likes to squawk about them as well, but as in all of life, moderation is key. The good news is, plants seem to have a much better — and longer — track record for safe and effective use. I’m more than happy to stick with my botanical friends for my family's antibacterial concerns.
Excerpted from the e-book Herbs Gone Wild! Ancient Remedies Turned Loose © 2011 by Diane Kidman. Reprinted with permission from carp(e) libris press. Visit the author's website at www.DianeKidman.com.