Endemic North American Plants as Potentially Suitable Agents for Wound Cleaning Under Resource Scarce Conditions

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Introduction: Skin and subcutaneous infections are dangerous sequelae of soft tissue injuries, especially in austere situations where medical technology is not available. Numerous plant species endemic to North America have been described as having antibacterial properties. Of these, St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), and white oak (Quercus alba) were selected for testing against Staphylococcus aureus. Our objective was to assess the suitability of all 3 plants as potential antiseptic agents using methods easily replicated in a resource-scarce environment. Methods: Water-soluble natural products were extracted from different concentrations of each plant part using either mechanical agitation at ambient temperature or boiling in unsterilized tap water. Antibacterial activity of each extract against S aureus was assessed using a conventional agar well diffusion bioassay. Zones of inhibition were measured using electronic calipers and were compared to tap water as the negative control. Results: Aqueous extracts of St. John's wort and white oak bark displayed antibacterial effects against S aureus, with St. John's wort being more potent. Chamomile displayed no inhibitory properties at the concentrations examined. Conclusions: These data suggest that both St. John's wort and white oak are potential candidates for infection prophylaxis and therapy in austere wilderness scenarios, with St. John's wort being the more potent agent. White oak may be more logistically feasible because the larger surface area of a white oak tree allows for harvesting a larger quantity of bark compared to the smaller surface area of the St. John's wort plant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-406
Number of pages6
JournalWilderness and Environmental Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Hypericum
  • Matricaria
  • Quercus
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • antiseptic


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