Herbal remedies are a time-honored approach to treat many different conditions.
They can both strengthen the body’s immune system and treat diseases.
Cold sores are one of the ailments that may be treated naturally with medicinal herbs.
Since cold sores are caused by a virus (herpes simplex virus 1), medicinal herbs that have antiviral properties are the most effective.
Furthermore, herbs that have immune-boosting properties are also believed to be of great help as herbal remedies for cold sores.
Clinical studies have indicated that some herbs can be used for preventative care, as well as, a treatment.
Herbal remedies for cold sores or herpes simplex 1 relief should always be discussed with a medical doctor or natural health practitioner before any treatment begins.
It is essential to establish the cause of the cold sore outbreak to rule out that it is not something of a more severe nature.
9 Medicinal Herbs for Cold Sores
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is now among the most popular herbal remedies for cold sores. This may come as a surprise when historically it was known more predominately for its sedative properties.
As recently as 1964, water extracts of Melissa officinalis were discovered to have substantial antiviral benefits, and it became more commonly known for this purpose.
Evidence from numerous clinical studies suggests that lemon balm is a successful preventative measure for fighting viruses such as herpes simplex. In turn, it also acts as a treatment once a viral infection manifests.
One trial was run consisting of 115 patients with cold sores having manifested less than 72 hours. Each patient was directed to apply a cream containing lemon balm to the infected area five times a day.
An astounding 60% of patients were completely healed after only four days of use. After six days 87% of patients were cured of the natural remedy and 96% after eight days.
The standard recovery rate from herpes simplex is 10 to 14 days with no medicinal assistance. With this in mind, results from this study indicate that a lemon balm cream reduces the recovery time by nearly half. 1
Another study conducted in hospitals and dermatology clinics in Germany supports the same results.
The untreated blisters of the control group healed in 10 days while the natural treatment, lemon balm cream, healed them in just five days.
It is important to note that lemon balm creams can have different potency levels. The cream used in the study had a concentrate of Melissa extract of 70:1. 2
When assessing the quality of the cream, look for the concentration, as well as, information concerning quality control testing and in vitro antiviral testing.
The suggested usage is the application of a 1% 70:1 extract of lemon-balm cream, four times daily for five days or until the sore is completely healed.
Olive leaves (Olea europaea) have a long history in the natural treatment of cold sore outbreaks. Typically it is administered orally in either liquid or capsule form.
One small study of six subjects indicated 50% of the patients reported complete relief of blisters within 36 to 48 hours.
The same study suggested that continued use acted as a viable preventative option despite consuming cold sore inducing foods such as onions, corn, and pork. (Townsend Letter For Docs, May 1997: 110)
Also, when olive leaf tincture was compared to acyclovir, the olive leaf tincture natural remedy was found to be more effective.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) has shown to have anti-viral properties.
It is believed to be the proanthocyanidins in witch hazel that successfully combats the herpes simplex 1 virus in test tube trials.
Usually, a topical cream containing 2% witch hazel bark extract is suggested for use six times a day for three to eight days.
Studies have shown that by the eighth day, there should be noticeable results in the size and spread of the inflammation. 3
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is a type of mushroom with immune boosting qualities much like echinacea.
It has been used for centuries in traditional Asian medicine. It is often used in conjunction with the herb astragalus to enhance its performance.
This medicinal mushroom can be obtained in both powder and tablet form. The recommended dose is 600 milligrams once or twice a day.
Patients who are taking aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or any other medications or supplements that interfere with blood clotting should consult a doctor before taking Reishi.
This is a substance that bees collect from tree buds and other botanical sources.
Bee propolis contains antioxidants which are considered to be the active ingredient in aiding cold sores. This remedy has quite a long history as being used for wound infection and other illnesses.
Studies show it to be active against bacteria and other microorganisms when applied topically.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is another herbal remedy for cold sores.
Licorice extracts that contain glycyrrhizin or glycyrrhetinic acid should be used, as these are the properties that are most likely to provide help in the treatment of cold sores.
Licorice in the forms of creams or gels can be directly applied to the sore three to four times a day.
Echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia, echniacea purpurea) is yet another herbal treatment for the herpes simplex virus based on a study by the University of Ottawa.
It is thought to boost the immune system which then defeats the virus. Perhaps the effect is due to a substance it contains which works to protect mucous membranes known as collagen from the harmful effects of bacteria and viruses.
The recommended procedure for administration is to swish about one teaspoon of liquid echinacea root decoction or ½ teaspoon tincture in the mouth for few minutes and then swallow the solution.
Repeat three or more times a day to maximize both preventative and healing potential.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is one of the herbal remedies for cold sores that has been gaining in popularity.
It contains the substance bisabolol which aids in the healing of cold sores of the mucous membranes and serves as an antimicrobial as well.
It also contains chamazulene, which is an anti-inflammatory substance.
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a herb many choose above all else due to its antiseptic properties that are very high in natural iodine.
Black Walnut can be used both externally for pain relief and internally for future prevention.
Other Medicinal Herbs Used for Cold Sores
- Oregon grape – (Berberis aquifolium )
- St. John’s wort – (Hypericum perforatum)
- Astragalus – (Astragalus membranaceous)
- Peppermint – (Mentha piperita)
- Self-Heal – (Prunella vulgaris)
- Black Currant – (Ribes nigrum)
- Sage – (Salvia Officinalis)
- Rhubarb – (Rheum Polygonaceae)
- Wakame – (Undaria pinnatifida)
- Elderberry – (Sambucus nigra)
- Myrrh – (Commiphora molmol)
- Golden seal – (Hydrastis Canadensis )
- Comfrey – (Symphytum officinale)
- Aloe vera – (Aloe barbadensis)
- Slippery Elm – (Ulmus rubra)
- Alfalfa – (Medicago sativa)
- Calendula – (Calendula officinalis)
- Styrax Benzoin – (Styrax benzoin)
- Bergamot – (Citrus bergamia)
- Camphor Tree – (Cinnamomum camphora)
- Avocado – (Persea americana)
Ernst E.: The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. Mosby, Edinburgh. 2001.
Wagh VD. Propolis: A Wonder Bees Product and Its Pharmacological Potentials. Advances in Pharmacological Sciences. 2013;2013:308249. doi:10.1155/2013/308249.
Gaby AR.: Natural remedies for Herpes simplex. Alternative Medicine Review. 2006.
Rotblatt M, Ziment I.: Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine. Philadelphia, PA. Hanley & Belfus, Inc. 2002.