Natural antibiotics in your pantry

No time to run to the drugstore? Ward off the common cold with these eight all-natural cold remedies, hidden in your kitchen.

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Antibiotics are some of the most commonly prescribed medicines in the world. They’re powerful enough to kill bacteria that causes infections and even life-threatening diseases. But antibiotics also occur naturally—in the many plants, herbs and oils we regularly use in cooking. So don’t be afraid to throw a little extra garlic in the chili or honey on the toast—your taste buds and your body will approve!

These are not meant to sub out an Rx for say, penicillin, of course. It’s important to check with your doctor or naturopath first before using.

“Just because something is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it won’t have significant side effects or harmful interactions with other medications you are taking,” says Dr. Alexandra Sowa, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Check out these top natural defenders and how to put them to use.

Coconut Oil

“Coconut oil contains lauric acid which is a great anti-fungal for candida infections,” says Barbara Mendez, a nutritionist and registered pharmacist in New York City. “Its other anti-microbial properties can support a healthy immune function, thyroid function and cognition.” Try subbing coconut oil for canola in baked good recipes or sautéing with veggies. It pairs especially well with bitter greens like kale.


It does more than keep away vampires! Garlic’s active ingredient, allicin, is a powerful anti-viral and antibacterial, says Mendez. “Garlic also has anti-fungal properties and contains antioxidants that can boost immunity.” One fresh clove should do the trick—crush into a salad or add to a glass of veggie juice.


In randomized trials, ginger has been shown to ward off motion sickness and pregnancy-induced nausea. Although ginger supplements are easily found in stores, “I recommend making your own tea by boiling sliced ginger root in a pot of water for a few minutes,” says Dr. Sowa.


honey drizzling into cup

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Honey naturally contains hydrogen peroxide, which gives it antibiotic properties. Manuka honey (which is produced in New Zealand by bees that pollinate the native manuka bush) also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that make it great for treating skin wounds and burns, says Dr. Sowa. Look for honey in the store that’s listed as “medical grade quality.” It’s gone through an extra sterilization process to get rid of any harmful spores.

And remember, honey should never be given to a child under one year—infants under 12 months of age are at risk of developing botulism, a paralytic disorder.

Oregano Oil

The pungent oil from this common garden herb “is particularly good [in treating] respiratory infections like croup and bronchitis, colds and flu,” notes Mendez. (Although it’s not recommended if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or taking blood thinners.) Try putting a few drops into a pot of simmering water, then inhale the steam.


While salt traditionally gets a bad rap in medicine, it comes in handy during cold and flu season. “People who regularly gargle have a 40 percent decrease in upper respiratory infections as compared to those who don’t,” says Dr. Sowa. Salt water can also ease a sore throat. Stir half a teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water, then gargle for a few seconds before spitting out.


Fresh onions

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Onion hails from the same family as garlic and has similarly powerful properties. “Its sulfur compounds and flavonoid antioxidants help fight both viral and bacterial infections,” Mendez says. According to some online rumors, a plate of cut-up onion will absorb germs in a household, but onions aren’t THAT magical. You need to eat them (raw) to reap their benefits.


Popular in Indian cooking, this bright yellow spice has well-documented anti-inflammatory and even cancer-fighting properties, Mendez says. It’s also a good anti-bacterial that can help fight infection. For best results, use it regularly in your cooking. It can also be mixed with coconut oil to make a topical antibacterial salve.

Stephanie Booth
Stephanie Booth
Stephanie Booth is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines including Marie Claire, Psychology Today, Real Simple, Shape and Parenting. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, son and daughter.