Herbal medicines for treatment of bacterial infections: a review of controlled clinical trials

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2003 Feb;51(2):241-6. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkg087.


Objectives: Many hundreds of plant extracts have been tested for in vitro antibacterial activity. This review is a critical evaluation of controlled clinical trials of herbal medicines with antibacterial activity.

Methods: Four electronic databases were searched for controlled clinical trials of antibacterial herbal medicines. Data were extracted and validated in a standardized fashion, according to predefined criteria, by two independent reviewers.

Results: Seven clinical trials met our inclusion criteria. Four of these studies were randomized. Three trials of garlic and cinnamon treatments for Helicobacter pylori infections reported no significant effect. Bacterial infections of skin were treated in four trials. Positive results were reported for an ointment containing tea leaf extract in impetigo contagiosa infections. Two trials of tea tree oil preparations used for acne and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and one trial of Ocimum gratissimum oil for acne, reported results equivalent to conventional treatments.

Conclusions: Few controlled clinical trials have been published and most are methodologically weak. The clinical efficacy of none of the herbal medicines has so far been demonstrated beyond doubt. This area seems to merit further study through rigorous clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections / therapy*
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Helicobacter Infections / drug therapy
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Humans
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Staphylococcal Infections / drug therapy
  • Streptococcal Infections / drug therapy


  • Plant Extracts