At some time during their lifetime, most people suffer an injury or infection or undergo some type of surgery, and many are unaware that there are numerous natural foods that can help the body fight infection and heal faster.
Some should be taken internally, others used externally, and there are some that can be used both ways.
Any type of injury or surgical procedure to any part of the body that causes inflammation and swelling or an open skin wound will require extra nutritional support for the body to repair itself quickly. Eating the right foods is vital when recovering from any illness or infection as they will strengthen the immune system—and some have a direct action on infections by bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses.
Inflammation is a normal biological process in the body in response to chemical irritation, microbial pathogen infection or tissue injury. It is initiated by the migration of immune cells from blood vessels and the release of mediators at the site of damage. This process is followed by the recruitment of inflammatory cells and the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and reactive nitrogen species (RNS), which are a family of antimicrobial molecules derived from nitric oxide and superoxide that act together with biochemicals called reactive oxygen species (ROS) to damage cells, causing "nitrosative stress."
This process takes place to eliminate foreign pathogens and repair injured tissues. In general, normal inflammation is rapid and self-limiting, but prolonged inflammation can cause various
Many plants possess anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce swelling rapidly.
Tea for lymphatic system disorders
Cleavers/goosegrass, marigold and mullein are three powerful herbs that can stimulate and cleanse congestion and mucus from the lymphatic system and relieve the symptoms of tonsillitis and other related swellings of the throat, neck, arms and groin. Here's how to make a tea from these herbs.
Two parts marigold
Two parts cleavers
One part mullein
1) Place these herbs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water.
2) Heat slowly and simmer, covered, for 20 to 45 minutes. The longer you simmer the herbs, the stronger the tea will be.
3) Drink two to three cups a day for two to three weeks.
The lymphatic system
The lymphatic system, part of the immune system, is a channel that carries a clear or off-white fluid known as lymph, which travels via the lymphatic channels, a network of tubes or vessels, much like the blood vessels, that are spread throughout tissues of the body.
Lymph collects debris, chemicals, toxins, bacteria, viruses and lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells) on its way back from the body's tissues.
Along the lymph channels there are approximately 600 lymph nodes that act as filters and sieve off the harmful substances brought by the lymphatic channels. The lymphatic channels of the fingers, hand and arm, for example, travel to be filtered at the lymph nodes that lie at the elbow and the armpit. Similarly, those of the toes, calves and thighs drain into nodes behind the knees and groin.
Lymph channels from the face, head and scalp drain at the nodes present at the back of the head, behind the ears and sides of the neck. Some lymph nodes are located deeper within the body, in the chest (between the two lobes of the lungs), around the coils of the intestines and in the pelvis, for example.
The lymphatic system has three main roles:
1. It is part of the immune system
2. It maintains fluid balance
3. It is essential for the absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients.
Lymph vessels drain fluid from virtually all the body's tissues to control fluid balance and to deliver foreign material to the lymph nodes for assessment by immune system cells. The lymph nodes swell in response to infection due to a build-up of lymph fluid, bacteria or other organisms and immune system cells.
Lymph nodes are responsible for filtering lymph and providing part of the adaptive immune response to new pathogens. They are also part of the immunity that has a long "memory" of the pathogens that have been present in the past. This allows them to recognize a pathogen and quickly produce the right response to deal with it.
Lymph system disorders
When bacteria, fungi or viruses are recognized in the lymph fluid, the lymph nodes make more infection-fighting white blood cells, which can cause swelling. The swollen nodes can sometimes be felt in the neck, underarms and groin.
Disorders of the lymphatic system include lymphedema, a swelling that occurs when lymph has failed to drain through the lymph vessels. If swollen, lymph nodes do not return to their normal size, are hard or rubbery and difficult to move, and are accompanied by fever, unexplained weight loss or difficulty breathing or swallowing; the cause must be investigated by a medical professional.
Recent research shows that the brain is connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels. (The meninges are a vascular layer around the brain that feeds and protects it.) A build-up of proteins in the brain, characteristic of diseases such as Alzheimer's, may occur partly because these proteins are not being efficiently removed by the lymphatic vessels.
This could also be part of the explanation for many other neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, and is currently under investigation.
As with the circulation of blood, the lymph system needs the body to be active to function correctly and keep fluids moving around to do their job of protecting against infection. Sitting or lying down for long periods can slow down the movement of lymph and blood, which can lead to a build-up of waste in various tissues and a lack of the nutrients that the tissues and organs require to work effectively.
So, although it is important to rest when recovering from injury or surgery, it is equally important to exercise every day to help the blood and lymph circulate around the body.
Cycling, gardening, swimming, gentle stretching exercises such as yoga or even just a walk in the fresh air for 20 to 30 minutes each day is all it takes to prevent the health disorders that can occur due to inactivity.
Also see the box on page 39 for a simple remedy for lymphatic system disorders.
Symptoms of bacterial infection
A high temperature (fever) is the main symptom of any infection, but this can be caused by a virus too, so a blood test needs to be done to establish the precise cause.
Other symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle aches
- Unusual tiredness
The importance of the spleen
The spleen, about the size of a fist, is an organ located on the left side of the abdomen, tucked under the rib cage behind the stomach. It acts as a filter for the blood as part of the immune system. Old red blood cells are recycled in the spleen, and platelets and white blood cells are stored there.
People without a properly functioning spleen are at great risk of developing infections, especially those caused by encapsulated bacteria, such as certain strains of Escherichia coli and group B Streptococcus, which are microbes with an outer coating that protects them from the body's immune system.
Bites from disease-carrying insects, such as mosquitoes or ticks, and bacteria from the bites of other animals, or even humans, can become very serious when a person's spleen is compromised, as can any type of infection.
People who have been hospitalized, especially burn patients and anyone who has had surgery, are vulnerable to Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterial infections—more so if the spleen is not functioning well. This very common bacterium can also cause ear infections when swimming in water that has not been chlorinated and eye infections due to long-term wearing of contact lenses.
Many of these bacteria are becoming resistant to conventional antibiotics, and even more so if the spleen is compromised. One example is E. coli infections that can cause respiratory, urinary and surgical site infections and can progress to life-threatening sepsis.
Sepsis (blood poisoning or septicemia) is a condition triggered by an infection that has overloaded the body and caused the immune system to begin attacking the body's own tissues while trying to fight off the infection. It can lead to a reduction in blood supply to vital organs, such as the brain, heart and kidneys, which can be fatal.
Some diseases that a compromised spleen may allow to develop include:
Babesiosis, caused by Babesia, also called Nuttallia, a genus of bacteria carried by biting insects and ticks that can infect the blood and cause a parasitic infection of the red blood cells.
Lyme disease, caused by the parasitic bacterium Borrelia bergdorferi carried by ticks that live upon deer and other mammals.
Malaria, caused by the Plasmodium parasite carried by mosquitoes.
Meningitis, an infection of the meninges around the brain and spinal cord that can be caused by a number of pathogens (bacteria, viruses and fungi).
Pneumonia, a respiratory infection that can be caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae or Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. (It can also have a viral cause.)
Natural remedies to manage a fever
Fever is the body's natural response to infection, so it should not automatically be suppressed unless it becomes dangerously high (104°F or 40°C).
During a fever the body can be supported as follows:
• Drink plenty of filtered or bottled mineral water.
• Add aloe vera, pineapple, radish juice or coconut water to warm water with honey, lemon and ginger and sip throughout the day to help rehydrate the body during and after a fever.
• Drink teas made with basil, burdock root, coriander, dandelion, mint, mustard seeds, raisins, saffron, thyme or yarrow, by steeping any of these ingredients in hot water before straining; slowly sip three cups a day. Add honey to sweeten and provide additional bacteria-, fungi- and virus-fighting benefits.
•Make a tea with daikon, shiitake mushrooms and kombu seaweed to lower a fever and fight infection.
Edible antimicrobial plants
Plants are constantly attacked by pathogenic bacteria and other microbes such as fungi, parasites, viruses and yeasts. Because they have no immune system, as such, they have evolved to produce effective antimicrobial compounds.
Some parts of plants that are most vulnerable or need to resist rot for long periods of time, such as the bark, roots and seeds, are especially full of some very potent antimicrobials. When an individual is injured or undergoes surgery, it's easy for bacteria and other infectious agents to enter the body as the protective layer of skin has been broken.
Equally, when someone's immune system is not working as it should, infections can overcome the body's natural defenses.
Adding natural antibiotics to the diet can help avoid infection and assist the body to naturally fight off any that already exist.
On these pages, you'll find some simple yet powerful recipes you can make yourself to help your body fight infection.
First, though, a word of warning when using medicinal plants: some, such as the oleander leaf, can be deadly when taken or prepared incorrectly. Some should never be eaten raw, as their raw extract form is highly toxic. That's not the case with the plants mentioned here, but it's best to only take herbal extracts to treat a condition under the guidance of a fully qualified herbalist.
And always check with a health professional before taking herbs at the same time as any drugs, especially blood thinners, as some can interact with medications, as can nutritional yeasts, especially brewer's yeast. Those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitor antidepressants (MAOIs) are especially at risk. Brewer's yeast is also best avoided by those carrying the herpes virus as it can induce an attack.
Also watch out for herbs with high levels of estragole, such as basil, fennel, star anise and tarragon. They should not be used as a medicine for more than 10 days and should be avoided by pregnant women.
Common spices with powerful antibiotic properties
The following spices are very effective antibiotics and should be sprinkled daily onto meals and soups and/or added to herbal teas.
Try drinking three cups of tea daily made from any of the ingredients listed below and use them to make dishes such as chili, curries, omelets, rice dishes, salads and soups.
- Anise seeds
- Cardamom seeds
- Chili pepper
- Coriander seeds
- Cumin seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Himalayan pink salt
- Peppercorns (all colors)
How to prepare medicinal plants
Generally, when using medicinal plants (see Nature Cures for a comprehensive A-Z list of healing plants):
The roots of the plants should be washed, chopped and simmered for 15 to 20 minutes, then strained and the liquid drunk as a tea.
Seeds can be ground and added to hot water or meals.
Leaves should be washed, chopped and steeped in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes, then also strained and consumed as a tea. The tea can be gently reheated or drunk cold with ice.
A teaspoon of pure honey can be added for antimicrobial and healing action and
taste, and the addition of freshly squeezed lemon juice can help to provide even more powerful action against infections. But always add it when the tea has cooled a little to avoid destroying
the vitamin content.
Cloves, which have powerful antibacterial properties, can be added (use three cloves/cup) when the tea is still hot, to three cups of tea per day.
Store any herbal antibiotic liquid in a refrigerator and drink the same day, although it is best to make the tea fresh each time.
Always try to obtain organically produced herbs, spices and natural whole foods, as this will ensure that the mineral content of the soil was managed naturally and not artificially fertilized and that the crops were not sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals that may also compromise the intestinal bacteria.
Three cups per day will usually be sufficient during recovery from injury or infections.
Natural antibiotic syrup
Generally, infused or decocted herbs are not palatable, especially for children. To disguise their taste, infusions and decoctions can be mixed with honey to make a syrup, with the added benefit of being incredibly soothing.
Here's a recipe for a natural antibiotic syrup that can be used as a preventative and curative tonic for many health issues, especially those involving bacterial infections and when the spleen is compromised.
It can also help with arthritis, fungal or viral infections, colds, coughs, digestive disorders, fevers, influenza, inflammation, kidney or liver disorders, pain, parasites and poor circulation.
800 mL apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp grated horseradish
2 Tbsp turmeric powder
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 chili peppers or 1 tsp chili powder
2 Tbsp honey (optional)
2 Tbsp cold-pressed coconut oil (melted over low heat)
Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon and half the zest (grated)
1 Place all the above ingredients in a large glass jar.
2 Screw the lid on and shake well to mix.
3 Leave in a cool dark place for seven days, shaking at least once a day.
4 Strain the liquid from the mixture into a fresh jar, squeezing out as much as possible from the pulp, then store in a cool dark place.
5 Make sure to shake the jar well before taking a tablespoon of the tonic.
How to use:
As a treatment: take one tablespoon of this syrup two to three times a day until the symptoms have gone.
As a preventative medicine: take one tablespoon of the syrup every morning on an empty stomach before food.
CAUTION: This antibiotic syrup is not recommended for pregnant women, children under the age of 10, those with stomach ulcers or those taking medications to thin the blood.
Excerpted from Nature Cures: Recovery from Injury, Surgery and Infection by Nat H. Hawes (Hammersmith Health Books, 2020)