Essential Oils and Antibiotics – Whose the winner?

Essential oils and antibiotics have a lot in common, being that they both fight off bacteria infections. Essential oils are the natural fighters of the natural world and antibiotics are the man-made version. Find out more about the topic below!

What are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics, also called antibacterial, are a type of antimicrobial drug used in the treatment and prevention of bacterial infections.  They may either kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria (Wikipedia).

“There are two types of antibiotics that affect the growth of bacteria in the body:  broad spectrum antibiotics (amoxycillin) and narrow spectrum antibiotics (penicillin).  These different types of medicine work in different ways, for example some types of antibiotics work to break down the cell walls of bacteria while other types will change the way the cell works, ultimately stopping the spread of the bacteria, or killing them off.” (1)

In today’s society antibiotics are being prescribed when they do not need to be.  It has become a common practice for patients to be prescribed an antibiotic for colds and the flu, which are viral infections. They are also prescribed for minor bacterial infections, that would have eventually cleared up on its own. While there are times when an antibiotic is necessary, this overuse has become a serious problem. Unfortunately, with the overuse of antibiotics, the beneficial bacteria we have to help protect us against infection and disease may be lost and not fully recover.  The synthetic forms of antibiotics kill off indiscriminately, unable to tell one bacteria from another.  We need this good bacterium to stay healthy and help remove toxins from our bodies.

We also see the overuse of antibacterial products; hand sanitizers are an example of antibacterial overkill. We are also exposed to antibiotics unwittingly using them in our dairy and meat products. Therefore: the combination of healthy foods and antibacterial essential oils can be used to help solve this problem.

Because of this overuse, the bacteria causing the infection is not killed off since it has become resistant to the antibiotic.  New physiological qualities are possessed by the offspring when the infectious bacteria multiply. The bacteria are constantly evolving at an alarming rate to survive, outpacing current research, resulting to find that many infectious diseases are becoming difficult to treat or no treatment at all.

“The loss of antibiotics due to antimicrobial resistance is potentially one of the most important challenges the medical and animal-health communities will face in the 21st century,” says Dr. Cyril Gay, the senior national program leader at the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service.

“Drug-resistant microbes could cause more than 10 million deaths by the year 2050. “(2)

Antibiotic Resistance

We are facing serious problems today when medications that we take to treat illnesses no longer work because of bacteria becoming drug resistant, while the difference between essential oils and antibiotics are that bacteria cant adapt to essential oils because of them being alive to deal with bacteria.  This means that the bacteria contain genetic material (DNA) that is no longer affected by an antibiotic.  There are many types of drug resistant bacteria among us today, per health professionals.

Infectious diseases are now becoming difficult to treat, that once were easily cured.

“In fact, the World Health Organization has declared antibiotic resistance to be a “serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society.” (1)

“The rise of ‘superbugs’ are getting more difficult to treat because of this emerging antibiotic resistance.  Research and development for new antimicrobial agents is lagging far behind the rate at which bacteria are developing resistance.” (4)


Antibacterial Effects of Essential Oils

Antibacterial properties in essential oils have been known for a very long time.

Essential oils and antibiotics are different, being that essential oils are distilled from various parts of plants, including seeds, bark, leaves, stems, roots, flowers and fruit.  They are highly concentrated and are the end products of a plant’s metabolism, communication and defense response.

When essential oils are applied topically to the soles of the feet or elsewhere, the molecules will travel throughout the body in a matter of minutes.  This is because the molecules of the essential oils are lipid soluble and relatively small, very similar to the makeup of our cell membranes, which enhances their ability to penetrate into the cells.  A single essential oil contains an immeasurable list of components, making it virtually impossible for a microorganism to be able to resist. Essential oils do not harm the beneficial bacteria in our bodies.

“The organic world at a cellular level is amazingly complex compared to the inorganic world. There are over a million ways in which carbon can combine with hydrogen and oxygen to produce a molecule with different electrochemical properties and information.  An effective organic essential oil is therefore far more difficult for the bacteria to defeat and develop resistance to than a single-molecule antibiotic.” (3)

Most viruses, fungi and bacteria cannot live in the presence of many essential oils, especially those high in terpenes, carvacrol, phenols and thymol.

Oils high in phenols:

Thyme – Thymus vulgaris ct linalool and Thyme ct thymol

Thyme oil has strong antibacterial properties and inhibits bacterial growth. Thyme oil is able to treat intestinal infections, bacterial infections in the genitals and urethra, and in the respiratory system where bacteria has built up.  It is also affective in the healing of cuts and wounds that have been exposed to harmful bacteria.

Thyme ct linalool is very mild and non-irritant, yet it is highly antibacterial and antifungal.

Thyme ct thymol is a powerfully strong anti-infectious and wound healing agent. Due to its high phenol content, this CT is very stimulating (‘hot oil’).  The phenolic compounds, thymol and carvacrol are highly irritant.

Oregano – Origanum vulgare

“Oregano oil has the compound carvacrol, which has been shown to kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and also break through the outer membranes of bacteria to stop their growth.” (1)

Oregano is considered natures cure-all.

Cinnamon Bark – Cinnamomum zeylanicum

Due to the aldehydes, phenols, alcohols and carboxylic acids, which are all antimicrobial, Cinnamon Bark in one of the most powerful antibacterial oils of all. It has been tested and proven to be as effective or better than several antibiotics.

Clove Bud –  Eugenia caryophyllata

Clove bud has many properties, but it is mostly known in association with dental care, killing the infection causing bacteria.


Oils high in monoterpenes are:

Bergamot – Citrus bergamia

Black Pepper – Piper nigrum

Cypress – Cupressus sempervirens

Frankincense – Boswellia carterii

Juniper Berry – Juniperus communis

Lemon – Citrus limon

Tea Tree – Melaleuca alternifolia

Tea Tree oil can be used to fight bacteria topically. It can also be combined with eucalyptus to help fight chest cold infections. Coconut oil can be added to the oils and apply topically to the affected area.


Linalol, which is a chemical component of the chemical family: Monoterpenols, has been found to be effective against bacteria.

Oils that contain linalol:

Clary Sage – Salvia sclarea

Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia

Rosewood – Aniba rosaeodora

Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus globulus

This oil is known to be effective in treating antibiotic resistant Staphyococcus, a name for a group of bacteria responsible for a number of illnesses including infections of the bloodstream, bone and joints and pneumonia. (1)


Ancient Remedies

Essential oils have been known to exhibit antibacterial properties for a very long time. There healing power has been used since the ancient times. This is testified in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating more than 5,000 years ago.  They are considered to be the first medicines of mankind and were an important part of the prescriptions of Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician whose works were published around 400 B.C.

Moses, a prophet in the Old Testament used aromatic substances to protect the Israelites from the plagues that decimated ancient Egypt. During the time of the Black Plague a notorious group of thieves known to be spice traders were protected as they robbed bodies of the dead during the 15th century.  We now have a blend called “Flu Buster” to help protect us from bacteria today.

Hospital – acquired Infections

“In 2016, hospital – acquired infections, also known as nosocomial infections, have been seen in 1 of 25 patients. In 2011 the estimated total nosocomial hospital-acquired infections were over 720,000.”(5)

“Tea tree oil, Oregano and eucalyptus have shown positive results in their ability to fight Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can cause severe problems with infections involving soft tissue, bone or implants.  A high-quality Tea Tree oil (Meleleuca alternifolia) will contain well over 100 chemical constituents. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is high in carvacrol, which has been found to be more effective than 18 pharmaceutical drugs, and is very active against MRSA.”(6)

Diffusing essential oils is one way to reduce MRSA or Staph bacteria in hospital rooms. Diffused oil can reach bacteria in your nose and lungs and since the diffuser disperses the oil into the air as a fine mist it is easier to benefit from the oil and maximize its ability to kill bacteria.

“Diffusing essential oils into the air has been scientifically proven to reduce airborne bacteria like MRSA and Staph.  In 1955 Keller and Kober found over 175 types of essential oils to be effective in controlling a number of bacteria and fungi in room air, including Staph bacteria.  They found twenty-one different essential oils to be the best at reducing or eliminating Staph bacteria when sprayed in an enclosed area.” (7)

“Hospital – acquired pneumonia is usually due to bacterial infection versus a virus as seen in community-acquired pneumonia. “(5)

Below are two blends, from “NAHA Aromatherapy Autumn 2016 Journal” that can be diffused at a patient’s bedside:

Aromatherapy Diffusion Blend for Pneumonia:


2 cups sterile water

Essential Oils:

4 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

4 drops eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)

2 drops tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

2 drops sandalwood (Santalum austrocaledonicum)

Directions for Making and Use:

Add the essential oils to two cups of sterile water. Diffuse at the patient’s bedside.


Safety Considerations:

“Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil should be used cautiously with children and infants and never applied near their face.  Do  not use oxidized essential oils.” (5)

Aromatherapy Diffusion Blend for Surgical Site Infection:


2 cups sterile water

Essential Oils:

4 drops thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct thymol)

4 drops balsam fir (Abies balsamea)

4 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

2 drops lemon (Citrus x limon)

Directions for Making and Use:

Add the essential oils to two cups of sterile water.  Diffuse at the patient’s bedside.


Safety Considerations:

“Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct thymol) essential oil may inhibit blood clotting and should not be used topically as it can be irritating to the skin.” (5)

“Hand sanitizers that are essential oil based could be a major boost and an inexpensive fix in hospitals since MRSA infections are so common in hospital and healthcare settings.  Research has shown that a hand gel made with lemongrass oil was effective in reducing MRSA on the skin of human volunteers.  Also, a cleanser made with tea-tree oil clears MRSA from the skin as effectively as the standard treatments to which’re bacteria appear to be developing resistance.” (2)

“Scientists have been testing all kinds of combinations of essential oils and antibiotics, and they’re repeatedly finding that the oils – used on numerous pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant strains of E.coli, Staphylococcus aureus (which causes staph infections), and other common types of bacteria.  Results consistently show that combining essential oils and significantly lowers the amount of antibiotic required to do the job.  For example, two recent studies showed that lavender and cinnamon essential oils killed E.coli, and when combined with the antibiotic piperacillin, the oils reversed the resistance of the E.coli bacteria to the antibiotic.  Another recent study found that basil oil and rosemary oil were both effective in inhibiting the growth of 60 strains of E. coli retrieved from hospital patients.  Other research has produced similar results for many other essential oils, both alone and in combination with antibiotics. Researchers believe that one mechanism by which the oils work is by weakening the cell wall of resistant bacteria, thereby damaging or killing the cells while also allowing the antibiotic in.” (2)

Tonsillitis Bacteria

“Another bacteria that essential oils are effective in killing is Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes tonsillitis, an infection of the tonsil lymph nodes.  Conventional medicine has typically treated tonsillitis with antibiotics.  But today, many strains of Streptococcus pyogenes have become antibiotic resistant to many antibiotics. (8)

Researchers extracted the Streptococcus pyogenes from the throat (pharynx) of a child who had tonsillitis.  They incubated the bacteria and then tested essential oils against it.

The researchers found that Cinnamon oil, Thyme oil, Lemongrass oil, Marjoram oil and Winter Savory oil had the greatest antibiotic activity against the tonsillitis bacteria S. pyogenes.” (8)

Preventing Bacteria While Traveling

Traveling can put you in a highly bacteria susceptible position.  Bacteria can enter your body in several ways, such as your mouth, your nose or through a cut.  Being in close contact with an infected person. Drinking bacteria-infected water. Through the air in one of the easiest ways to get an infection, leading to bacteria in the lungs.  While traveling having and inhaler with antibacterial essential oils can be a great companion.

“Flu Buster Oils” in a good blend to have in your inhaler. Also, a portable diffuser to use in hotel rooms to clean and detox the air.

Antibacterial and antimicrobial blend:

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct 1,8 cineol)

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct thymol)

Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum)

This blend can be diffused for 15-30 minutes every 3-4 hours in your room.  It can also be diluted with a carrier oil and applied to the bottom of your feet before going to bed.

The Future of Essential Oils as Antibiotic Substitutes

We should be encouraged that so much research is being done regarding essential oils as antibiotic substitutes in the fight against unhealthy bacteria and the fight against resistant bacteria.  Since essential oils have some of the most powerful antimicrobial compounds in existence, with continued research and testing this could lead to a whole new class of medications.  Essential oils have been used to treat illnesses since antiquity, so perhaps humanity is facing a return to the ‘pre-antibiotic era’ resulting in the new antibiotics of tomorrow.



1.Retrieved from: By Brittany Artwohl 2016

2.Essential Oils Might be the New Antibiotics. Retrieved from: http:// Tori Rodriguez 2015

3.Essential Oils:  An Effective Antibiotic Alternative.  Retrieved from: http:  2016

4. Essential Oils and Future Antibiotics: New Weapons against Emerging ‘Superbugs.’ Retrieved from:

5. Sandra Nosek, RN, BSN,ACLS IAC (2016) Aromatherapy Use for Hospital-acquired Infections. NAHA Aromatherapy Journal Autumn 2016.3

6. Anti-bacterial Essential Oils. Retrieved from: 2016 By Dr. Axe

7. Diffusing Essential Oils for MRSA Staph. Retrieved from: By Michelle Moore (2012).

8. Essential Oils Found Antibiotic Against Tonsillitis Bacteria. Retrieved from:  By Case Adams, Naturopath