A Natural Self Help Approach to Cold Sores and the Herpes Virus
A discussion of some simple natural treatments for cold sores (herpes simplex virus HSV-1) & genital herpes (HSV-2)
Lots of people get cold sores repeatedly, especially when they are run down. They find them highly embarrassing. Once the virus is in your body it can be hard to manage. People with genital herpes find this even more distressing. Here I look at some herbs and dietary approach that help many people to prevent herpes outbreaks.
What is herpes?
Cold sores are sores that develop as painful bumps under the skin, commonly near the lips but in the case of genital herpes, in the genital region. The symptoms of herpes are that these red, angry bumps then break out ons toe surface of the skin. Once the bumps have erupted they weep, get crusty and they get really, really sore. Conventional treatment is a cream from the chemist which can alleviate some of the symptoms but rarely stops them in their tracks. Herpes sores can erupt over and over again. Sometimes they go away for a while, lying dormant, only to reappear later in life.
What causes cold sores?
These sores are caused by a virus called herpes simplex. Most of us get infected during childhood and the virus then lives dormant in our bodies. When it is reactivated it shows up as a cold sore, or genital sore, often in the same place, particularly if we are run down (low immunity), stressed or not eating properly. For some women they also seem linked to the menstrual cycle.
Natural remedies for cold sores
Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) is my herb of choice for treating cold sores as it is active against the herpes virus family. It is fantastic both for cold sores (HSV-1), genital sores (HSV-2) and for shingles (herpes zoster).
In the winter I always have a little bottle of blended melissa essential oil in my handbag because, if you put it onto the usual place that cold sores break out, at the very first tingle, it will often stop the cold sore from developing at all1.
This is useful to know because quite a few other essential oils will help a cold sore to dry up quicker (tea tree oil, clove oil and lavender oil are good examples) but only melissa oil works so fast. Apply it with a cotton bud to minimise the risk of spreading the infection… and no kissing!
How to prevent cold sores
If you get cold sores regularly you need a deeper approach. Firstly, take melissa as a tea, drinking three cups a day for a week or two. True to its common name of ‘lemon balm’, it has a wonderful delicate lemon taste that you will come to love! You can get the dried leaf from Napiers or any good herbalist.
Is there a natural cure for herpes?
If you like the taste of liquorice, add that to your tea as well. People often ask if there is a cure for herpes and generally the virus is with us permanently after the first infection. However, lab tests on liquorice root (the plant not the sweeties!) have shown that it can irreversibly inactivate the herpes simplex virus2. Liquorice tea is available loose from Napiers and in teabags from most supermarkets and health food shops. Trametes versicolor, the Turkey Tail mushroom has also been shown to inactivate the virus.
Looking after your immune system
The other thing to look at is your general health. If you have a low or weakened immune system and seem to catch every cough, cold and flu that is going around, you will have more cold sore outbreaks. In that case, you need to examine your diet. Your body needs nutrients to stay healthy. It’s as simple as that! If you don’t eat enough fresh (and ideally raw) fruit and veg, are dieting too much, smoking or living on junk food or processed foods, you are denying your body the essential nutrition it needs and the first place it will show is your skin!
As well as melissa, taking a course of good quality echinacea for two weeks will help to boost your immunity especially if you are prone to colds and flu.
If stress and fatigue triggers infections you could also try rhodiola root and take up yoga or meditation to learn how to handle stress longer term. Both herbs are available as licensed herbal medicines.
As a dietary supplement, elderberry syrup diluted with warm water as a tea or fizzy water as a refreshing drink with a dash of lemon, makes a pleasant addition with natural immune stimulating and antiviral properties. Adding fresh, crushed garlic to every meal or to salad dressings helps enormously too.
1. Allahverdiyev A, Duran N, Ozguven M, Koltas S. (2004) Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of Melissa officinalis L. against Herpes simplex virus type-2. Phytomedicine. 2004 Nov;11(7-8):657-61.
2. Pompei R., Flore O., Marccialis M.A., Pani A and Loddo B. (1979) Glycyrrhizic acid inhibits virus growth and inactivates virus particles. Nature 281, 689 - 690 (25 October 1979); doi:10.1038/281689a0
Astani A, Reichling J, Schnitzler P. (2012) Melissa officinalis extract inhibits attachment of herpes simplex virus in vitro. Chemotherapy 2012 58(1):70-7 PMID: 22377592
Mazzanti G, Battinelli L, Pompeo C, Serrilli AM, Rossi R, Sauzullo I, Mengoni F, Vullo V. (2008) Inhibitory activity of Melissa officinalis L. extract on Herpes simplex virus type 2 replication. Nat Prod Res. 2008;22(16):1433-40.
This article was first appeared in The Ethical Hedonist magazine.