I'm sure it has happened to many women--you wake up feeling kind of "off" one day, and then, when you use the bathroom, the tingling begins--the very first sign of a Urinary Track Infection (UTI). That's exactly what happened to me one day a few weeks ago. I had a particularly busy day on campus, full of meetings that I could not avoid, and I did my best to get through the day. As the day went on, though, it quickly grew worse and I drank some nettle tea for it's diuretic action (I didn't have anything else with me) while I finished up the last of my meetings. I must admit, I secretly rejoiced with this particular UTI. The UTI is the herbalist's moment of truth. I've been studying herbalism for many years, and I have been waiting for a UTI to come during all of those years--and I had helped others knock out their UTI. But, I hadn't had a UTI for over a decade, and firsthand experience is an important part of herbal practice. And so my moment of truth had arrived--was I up to the task?
By the time I made my way home, urination was painful and frequent, the color was dark, the entire area was burning, and I was feeling faint. All the signs of the typical UTI! This was the stage that, before I was an herbalist, I would have immediately gone to the doctor. Instead, I decided to give myself four hours to see if I could knock it out and avoid a trip to the doctor and a course of antibiotics.
The good news about herbal supports for UTIs is that, as long as it is caught early, herbs are really effective for this condition. Many herbs have a contact antibiotic or anti-microbial effect, which means essentially that as long as the herb can touch the tissue that is infected, it can do healing work. This is particularly useful for UTIs, since anything you ingest goes through your digestive system and into your kidneys, then into your bladder, and then down into your urethra and out. Teas and tinctures suspended in water, in this case, are the absolute best preparations for an UTI because they go through the body quickly and hit all the areas necessary.
Given my increasing pain and suffering, I created a regimen that attacked the UTI from several angles.
1. Tinctures. Since things had already progressed a lot in a few short hours, I began as soon as I got home with a big dose of tinctures in water while everything else was brewing. I took a dropperful of goldenseal (not tasty at all, used for it's antimicrobial effects), supported with echninacea (for its immune stimulating effects) and goldenrod (for its anti-inflammatory effects). I continued to take this combination every few hours.
2. Tea. I brewed up a tea with oregon grape root (tasting slightly better than goldenseal, but with the same anti-microbial effect through berberine), nettles (for the diuretic and supportive action), lemon balm (to chill me out), and reishi (to stimulate my immune system). I boiled the reishi and oregon grape root for 15 minutes covered, removed the heat, and then added the nettles and lemon balm. This tea was not particularly appealing, so I added some mint to make it taste better. I added raw honey (another contact anti-microbal) after the tea cooled and drops of echinacea tincture and began drinking this by the quart as soon a it was completed.
3. A Sitz Bath. Because UTIs often include a burning sensation on the outside, I also created a berberine-rich sitz bath. This included again Oregon grape root and goldenseal boiled for 20 min, goldenrod added after the boil period and waiting till it cooled a bit. I strained this and added to my bath water. I sat in the bath, peeing when necessary in the tub, for about an hour. The medicine worked well and this particular strategy brought great relief.
4. Juice. Finally, I supplemented my tea with juice. You can use cranberry or blueberry here. I prefer blueberry because it tastes better and is not as drying on the whole digestive system as cranberry. Both of these juices help prevent bacteria from sticking to and growing in your urethra.
Within an hour, I had a lot of relief. I got out of the tub, kept up the fluids, and within a few hours felt much better. I took a second sitz bath later in the evening again. I kept up the strong regimen for 24 hours, and then went to just juice and tincture after 24 hours for 72 full hours. At the end of 72 hours, there were no signs of infection. This is important--just because you feel better doesn't mean the UTI has passed. You need to keep things going for at least three full days to ensure that the infection won't start breeding again. If the herbal home remedies aren't effective for you, don't hesitate to go to the doctor for antibiotics instead!