New research suggests the healing power of herbs can be found in plants, not just the plants themselves.
Dr Sarah Browning and colleagues at the University of Reading looked at the use of herbs to treat bacterial infections, and found that they worked by increasing the immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
Dr Browning, who is also an associate professor of medicine at the university, said: “It’s a fascinating study, and one that’s really interesting because we’ve got some evidence that plants can have anti-inflammatory properties, anti-fungal properties, antibacterial properties.”
So what we’re trying to do is to understand how that works, and what kind of effects these plants might have.
“What we’re really interested in is, how do plants have this ability to act as anti-bacterial agents?”
We were really interested to see how these plants were being used in this particular setting.
“We’re looking at how they can work in terms of how they might help patients who are at risk of bacterial infections.”
The researchers looked at cases of a bacterial infection involving patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and a common cold.
“They all had an MS diagnosis and had all these chronic illnesses that could potentially lead to an infection,” said Dr Browning.
“And they were all very ill and had a lot of symptoms, and we wanted to understand the impact that they were having on their immune systems.”
Dr Brownings team tested the use the leaves of six different plants, including lavender, basil, chaga, and chamomile, and discovered they all had anti-microbial properties.
Dr Daniel Ritchie, an infectious disease specialist at Oxford University, said that while there is some research into the use in medicine of herbs and spices, the potential benefits of using them for healing have not been fully explored.
“There are some plants that are naturally antibacterial and have anti inflammatory properties, and those have been used in medicine for hundreds of years,” he said.
“But it’s not clear that those medicinal properties are as powerful as the anti-viral properties of the plant.”
He said the potential of herbs for treating infections in the future was still being explored.
Dr Ritchie said that the researchers had found that some of the herbs tested had more than one use in the treatments they tested.
“For instance, one of the plants we tested had been used for treating tuberculosis, and it was thought that if you’re going to be doing a TB treatment with lavender you might want to look at using lavender as a treatment,” he explained.
“This plant has been shown to be effective for both TB and MS.”
Dr Ritchy said that using herbs to heal infections was still very much a research issue.
“I think it’s important that we do a little bit of research into what works for us and what doesn’t work,” he added.
Dr Michael Beattie, the founder of the Oxford University Department of Microbiology and Immunology, said he hoped the study would encourage more people to look into the medicinal properties of herbs.
“One of the things that I’ve always found is that when you do a study, it’s like a double edged sword, because sometimes it works really well and sometimes it doesn’t, but we need to keep doing these things to try and get some good information,” he told ABC Radio.
Dr Beatties team has also been working with the team at Oxford to identify which medicinal plants were most effective at treating MS.
“It’s not just about looking at what works and what don’t work, we have to be able to look beyond the research questions and look at what the medicinal use is,” he continued.
“If we can use some of these herbs and have some sort of real clinical application, that would be really exciting.”
Topics:diseases-and-disorders,medical-research,drugs-and_medical-use,medicalethics,antimicrobial-disease-prevention,antibiotic-resistant-bacteria,herbs,science-and/or-technology,health,books-literature,books,australiaContact James Lacey: [email protected]