Myrtle Herb Kills Antibiotic-resistant Skin Bacteria

Myrtus communis is antibiotic against skin bacteria

Photo by Ettore Balocchi

Pharmaceutical medicine has created a monster in the form of antibiotic-resistant superbug bacteria. But in an ironic twist, it looks like herbal medicine offers one of the only ways out of this mess.

This is ironic because the pharmaceutical industry typically opposes herbal medicine.

At point is a skin bacteria species known to not only cause acne, but a variety of skin and internal infections. This bacteria species is Propionibacterium acnes. The bacteria normally live within the hair follicles and colonize among the sebaceous glands, feeding off of fats. Besides acne, infections from P. acnes include post-surgery infections of breast implants, shunts, heart devices, eye implants, fracture rods, spinal hardware and prosthetic joints.

But cases of acne that persist and grow have become increasingly difficult to treat as well. This is against because P. acnes has become increasingly antibiotic-resistant.

The problem is that increasingly, P. acnes has become resistant to the various antibiotics that are used against these bacteria. The first signs of this resistance appeared a couple of decades ago. Since then, some strains of P. acnes have become completely resistant to most if not all the antibiotics used against the species.

This of course is a disaster. One that can produce infections that develop into sepsis, which can be lethal.

It’s not as if pharmaceutical companies can simply develop new antibiotics either. The antibiotic chemical strategy has pretty much been played out.

Herbal medicine to the rescue

Researchers from France’s University Paul Sabatier and the Pierre Fabre Research Institute tested an extract from a medicinal herb called Myrtus communis L. Its common name is Myrtle, and because it is commonly found among Mediterranean regions, the herb is also referred to as Mediterranean Myrtle.

Because Myrtle has shown in previous studies to be antibiotic towards P. acnes, the researchers wondered how this herb might work on strains of P. acnes that had become antibiotic resistant.

So the researchers tested Myrtle against several different strains of P. acnes in laboratory tests meant to reflect infection situations. The researchers tested P. acnes strains that were completely resistant to the primary antibiotics used against these infections (erythromycin and clindamycin). They also tested some strains that were partially resistant, and some strains of P. acnes that had yet to become resistant.

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The researchers utilized the latest technologies to establish antibacterial activity. These include the measurements of minimum bactericidal concentrations (MBC) and minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs). These technologies are also utilized to test the effectiveness of antibiotics against different strains of bacteria.

Doctors often order these tests to decide which antibiotic to use against a particular infection. Why? Because the bacteria might be resistant to the type of antibiotics the doctor might prescribe.

The French researchers found that the Myrtle extract was significantly antibiotic against both those P. acnes strains that were antibiotic-resistant and those that were not antibiotic-resistant. It didn’t matter how strong the bacteria had become against antibiotics. Myrtle was still their master.

The Myrtle extract was also antibacterial against both biofilms and separated bacteria – called planktonic cells. The fact that Myrtle was antibiotic against biofilms is significant because biofilms cause dangerous infections.

Myrtle also reduces antibiotic-resistance

After establishing that Myrtle was antibiotic against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the French researchers set up another study. They tested the different strains of the P. acnes bacteria with the Myrtle alone, with each of the antibiotics erythromycin and clindamycin, and then with the Myrtle and the erythromycin and clindamycin in combination and one after the other.

What the researchers found was quite surprising.

They found that after being treated with the Myrtle extract, the remaining bacteria became sensitive to erythromycin and clindamycin. In other words, their antibiotic resistance had been diminished by Myrtle. The erythromycin and clindamycin antibiotics were once again able to reduce the P. acnes colonies when treated alongside Myrtle.

The researchers wrote:

“In conclusion, this is the first demonstration of the activity of a Myrtle extract, Myrtacine® New Generation, as a preventive or curative agent against P. acnes biofilm and as a potent adjunctive product efficient during the antibiotic course for acne vulgaris treatment. Considering the increasing percentages of P. acnes strains resistant to erythromycin and clindamycin, the efficiency of Myrtle extract on P. acnes biofilm alone or combined with antibiotics has to be considered to control P. acnes populations in acneic patients.”

Can Myrtle inhibit other microorganisms?

Yes. A 2014 study tested Myrtle extract against Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans. They found the extract did inhibit all three microbes. Other studies have shown that Myrtle is also antibacterial against other microbe  species, including Aspergillus sp. Whether Mediterranean Myrtle works on MRSA has yet to be proven. Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) has been shown to inhibit MRSA, however. Lemon Myrtle belongs in the same family as Mediterranean Myrtle (Myrtaceae) but it is a different plant.

Read more:  Seven Herbal Essential Oils for Acne

The shocking revelation of nature

Notice that the researchers recommended the option of using Myrtle extract “alone” or in combination with antibiotics. This is telling.

This conclusion lays out a revealing element of nature: One that proves that nature can be used to manage disease. The problem is this conclusion requires some humility. Certainly, we can utilize our intelligent resources to properly guide nature – with the use of extracts and such.

But as soon as we get proud of our technologies and begin to ignore nature – as the pharmaceutical approach has – then we get ourselves into trouble.

mucosal membrane health by Case Adams

The reality is that herbal medicines can bail us out of our antibiotic-resistant superbug disaster. If we don’t become a little more humble and begin to utilize nature, we’ll end up with the World Health Organization’s prediction that 10 million deaths per year will result from superbug infections.

What makes Myrtle so special?

First I should note that Myrtle is not the only antibiotic herb. There are many. And some antibiotic herbs are more antibiotic against some bacteria and not others. But specific to Myrtle, it contains numerous constituents. These include myrtucommulone, semimyrtucommulone, geranylacetate, geraniol, humulene, eugenol, methyl chavicolpinene, terpinolene, myrtenyl acetate, pinocarveol, limonene, linalool, cineole and isobutyl-isobutyrate among others.

In other words, it’s not just about one constituent. Nature utilizes a myriad of biochemicals to do its bidding. These have multiple effects, and create balance. The myriad of biochemicals in herbal medicines also make it more difficult for bacteria to figure out how to become resistant to the herb.

This is compounded by the fact that plants can produce new biochemicals in different combinations in order to repel bacteria that might become resistant. This is an active process – driven by living organisms that are fighting other living organisms (bacteria).

The particular extract used for the above study utilized the leaves, but the fruit berries have also been utilized for centuries in herbal medicine. Myrtle has been used traditionally for ulcers, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, respiratory conditions, and of course, skin diseases. It has also been used for general inflammation. In addition, it makes an excellent natural insecticide.

Read more:  Seven Herbal Essential Oils for Acne

Modern studies have shown that Myrtle is also antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-diabetic. It also helps the liver and has cognitive benefits.

Nature’s intelligence is a thing of beauty. Observing it simply requires a little humility.


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  • Case Adams, Naturopath

    California Naturopath, Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, Doctorate in Integrative Health Sciences, Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. Diplomas in Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Colon Hydrotherapy, certificates in Pain Management and Case Management/Contact Tracing. Has authored more than 30 books and hundreds of periodical articles on natural medicine. Recreational activities include surfing, sailing, running, biking, swimming, SUPing, hiking. Contact: case(at)caseadams(dot)com.

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