Herbal Medicine and Urinary Tract Infections
A woman came to see me about chronic urinary tract infections and said, “Please don’t tell me to pee after sex.” She then went on to explain that seems like the only advise she has heard along with anti-biotic prescriptions that are not working in the long term.
She was like most of the people I see in Clinic. She had googled ways to avoid urinary tract infections (UTI), drink more water, drink unsweetened cranberry juice, wear cotton underpants, wipe in the right direction and don’t put anything in the bath tub. She had even stopped having baths; she only showered. These things seemed to help, but every three months the symptoms would start up again, burning when pee, the increased need to pee and odd smelling pee. The infections were becoming more frequent.
From my point of view as a herbalist she was experiencing an increase in UTIs for two reasons.
There was irritation to the interior mucous membrane that lines the bladders. The mucous membrane had not been given the support it needs to heal.
The anti-biotics killed of most of the offending bacteria, but more than likely not all. Remember bacteria are crafty. The antibiotics probably also killed off the friendly bacteria that keeps the unfriendly ones in check.
The first step in resolving the imbalance of flora (bacteria) in the body was regular fermented foods. I did not recommend a litre a day of kombucha or a plate of sauerkraut. I recommend small portions, like a tablespoon, of fermented foods twice a day for 10 days. After 10 days, take a tablespoon of fermented foods once a day.
The second step is to offer herbs that heal the mucous membrane of the urinary tract while changing the environment of the urinary tract so that it no longer a friendly place for unwanted bacteria.
Corn silk (Zea mays) is my number one herb for the bladder and urethras. It’s the corn’s flowers, the silk white threads you peel off the cob before cooking it. Corn silk is a complex medicine that acts on the urinary tract in several ways.
Allantoin: This phytochemical heals irritations of the mucous membrane. It is found in many plants. In corn silk, it is specific to the urinary tract.
Saponins: These are detergent-like phytochemicals that are anti-bacterial.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is great to take on it's own when the initial signs of infection appear. It creates an acidic urine that is inhospitable to many unwelcome bacteria. Corn silk being high in it is an added bonus.
Flavonoids: Flavonoids are healers. They deactivate free radical that can damage the bodies tissues. Infections can lead to high levels of free radicals.
Corn silk is an okay tea. It’s just not very interesting. I also use it as a tincture with a low alcohol percentage. Often I will recommend drinking corn silk tea for several months to be sure the chronic infection is fully resolved.
Corn silk also helps to heal any damage caused by passing kidney stones and limit the formation of stones.
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) Bearberry contains a phytochemical called arbutin. Arbutin is strongly anti-microbial when the urine is alkaline. It also contains tannins that support healing irritation to the mucous membrane. A tincture made with 30% alcohol is the most effective form of bearberry against infection, however a tea will help as well.
One more note: Bearberry is also supportive in limiting a herpes outbreak.
Golden Rod (Solidago Canadensis) is a diuretic. Taking a herbal diuretic will flush out any linger bacteria. It also has mild anti-microbial actions and is high in healing flavonoids. This is a lovely tea.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is another strongly anti-bacterial herb and has a long history of use against urinary tract infections. It also has pain killing actions and tannins. Tannins support the healing of irritation to the wall of the bladder. I personally enjoy meadowsweet as a tea, how some people find the taste too strong and lingering, in that case, use a low alcohol percentage tincture.
An interesting study on meadowsweet:
Meadowsweet was used in an ointment for 48 women with cervical dysplasia. A complete remission was recorded in 25 cases and a positive response in 32 women in all. No recurrence was observed in 10 of the women after 12 months. The study does not say how long they used the ointment for but it is presumed it was a single course (Peresun'ko AP, Bespalov VG, Limarenko AI et al. Vopr Onkol 1993;39(7-12):291-295)
These are just a few plants that can bring relief from chronic bladder infections. It is important to remember that a herbalist generally does not treat the condition but the person. It is in this way the deeper healing, the underlying cause of the infection is healed.