When your sick child really needs antibiotics—to treat a diagnosed case of strep throat, for instance—the medicines can bring quick, welcome relief. Unfortunately, extensive reliance on these miracle drugs has had unfortunate side effects. Today, antibiotics are overprescribed and put into everything from livestock feed (thus, our meat and dairy foods) to toys, lunch boxes, and upholstery. Overuse has helped create strains of bacteria that resist antibiotic treatment, raising serious concern globally. “The major contributor to antibiotic resistance is human use, particularly using these drugs when they are not needed, such as for viruses,” says Stuart Levy, MD, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Experts caution to use antibiotics only when necessary—preferably after test results determine the specific type of bacterial infection—and exactly as prescribed (for example, finish all medication), so they’ll work when you really need them.

The best backup plan: Prevent infection with natural remedies. These six infection fighters have potent antibacterial and antiviral properties that can banish bugs—or help clear up common infections faster.