Urinary tract infections (also known as cystitis) – What is it? What can be done? Are herbs useful?

What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection, or UTI (also known as cystitis), is when bacteria enter the urethra and cause an infection (although in some cases there are other causes). Due to the female urethra being shorter and more exposed, it is much easier for women to get UTIs then men.

Changes in pH that often occur before menstruation can often mimic the symptoms of a UTI .

What are the symptoms?
  • pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • a need to urinate more often
  • pain in the lower abdomen

The conventional medical treatment of UTIs is antibiotics and in some cases antibiotics are needed to ensure the infection does not become a kidney infection.

The NHS recommendation is to visit your GP on day 5 of a urinary tract infection and that is important because as stated above antibiotics may be needed.

If you would like to try alternative treatments before you reach the day 5 point, here are some things that you can do.

If you fall into any of the following categories it is important that you see a GP or medical herbalist before proceeding with any treatment.

  • you develop a high temperature
  • your symptoms suddenly get worse
  • you are pregnant
  • you have¬†diabetes
  • you have blood in your urine

Alternative treatment plan for UTIs


Dietary changes

Reducing the pH of your urine by making the following changes can reduce the irritation/pain of passing urine while having a UTI.

  • Avoid meat and protein
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid sugar
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Avoid tea and coffee

Increasing your water intake will dilute your urine avoiding further irritation.

Herbal medicine

There are strong urinary antiseptics available that can be taken as either tinctures or teas to kill off the bacteria, change the pH of the urine and dilute the urine. This multi action approach has made them the go to choice for alternative UTI treatments.

Herbal medicines are not necessarily safe because they are natural (a common misconception), it is important to get the correct dose and correct prescription for your needs. If you want to treat your UTIs with this type of herbal medicine then I recommend seeing a medical herbalist (visit www.nimh.org.uk to find your local medical herbalist).

A simple herbal remedy that can be used is yarrow tea, yarrow is a urinary antiseptic.

Use 1 tablespoon of herb per cup of hot water, steep for at least 20 minutes and drink as hot as you can stand and drink the tea constantly for at least three days.

Please note: Do not use in pregnancy or if you have any form of kidney disease.

Remember, if you have tried this alternative method and your symptoms remain at day 5, or worsen before day 5, you must visit your GP.


Prevention is better than cure and the following are recommended by the NHS to prevent UTIs. I would also add a healthy diet to the list because without that your immune system will not be able to function correctly and more infections will occur.

  • Ensuring you remain hydrated
  • Emptying your bladder after sex
  • Wiping from front to back after going to the toilet
  • Avoiding constipation
  • Drinking cranberry juice

Recurring infections

If you suffer from recurrent UTIs and are requiring several courses of antibiotics, herbal medicine may be able to help you. The cells of the urinary tract can become damaged after recurrent infections, and the damage can mimic the symptoms of a UTI but there is often no infection. Herbal medicine can often be used to repair the damage and break this cycle.

For more information visit the NHS website.

If you are unsure if you have a UTI or if an alternative treatment plan is right for you, it is important to speak to either you GP or your local medical herbalist.