Herpes and Cold Sore Natural Remedies

"About one-third of all traditional medicinal plants are for treatment of wounds or skin disorders, compared to only 1-3% of modern drugs."

Currently, there is no medical cure for herpes. However, there is an evidence that certain herbs and natural substances may be useful in treatment of acute herpes simplex outbreaks and preventing their recurrences.


Lysine (L-Lysine) is an essential amino acid found in many proteins. It appears to be effective for reduction of frequency, severity and healing time for herpes simplex infection.

The study which included people with cold sores, canker sores, and genital herpes indicated that Lysine supplementation can promote healing of herpes lessions, prevente recurrence or decrease the frequency of infection.

Supplementation with free-form lysine is also beneficial in controlling herpes. This remedy appears to do no harm and may be a useful therapeutic measure. To be effective lysine must be taken at fairly high doses, 1 g three times a day. Arginine must also be restricted.

Researchers have found that in order to replicate, the herpes virus needs arginine, another common amino acid. Lysine competes with arginine for absorption and entry of tissue cells. When lysine is present, it prevents the growth of HSV by depleting the strength of arginine. Therefore, arginine must be restricted.

Scientific evidence of Lysine effectiveness

  • Griffith RS, Walsh DE, Myrmel KH. Success of L-lysine therapy in frequently recurrent herpes simplex infection. Treatment and prophylaxis. Dermatologica. 1987 PubMed
  • Milman N, Scheibel J, Jessen O. Lysine prophylaxis in recurrent herpes simplex labialis: a double-blind, controlled crossover study. Acta Derm Venereol. 1980 PubMed
  • Griffith RS, Norins AL, Kagan C. A multicentered study of lysine therapy in Herpes simplex infection. Dermatologica. 1978
  • Walsh DE, Griffith RS, Behforooz A. Subjective response to lysine in the therapy of herpes simplex. J Antimicrob Chemother. 1983 PubMed
  • McCune MA, Perry HO, Muller SA, Treatment of recurrent herpes simplex infections with L-lysine monohydrochloride. Cutis. 1984 PubMed
  • Thein DJ, Hurt WC. Lysine as a prophylactic agent in the treatment of recurrent herpes simplex labialis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol. 1984 PubMed


Zinc is a safe and effective alternative remedy for herpes. It is an essential trace element and a component of many enzymes, that are needed to repair wounds. Zinc works by inhibiting the replication of herpes virus and enhancing the immune system.

Topical preparations of zinc have shown benefit in relieving symptoms and preventing recurrences of herpes infections. Long-term topical application of zinc salts appears to greatly reduce or eliminate recurrences of genital herpetic infections. Oral zinc sulphate helps to reduce the number of episodes and accelerate recovery from herpes labialis (cold sores).

In high doses (greater than 8 times the RDA) zinc can cause stomach upset, nausea, and vomiting. Zinc can interact with quinolone and tetracycline antibiotics. Anyone taking zinc should inform their health care provider. The oral dose of zinc is 25 mg per day. The topical solution of 0.025% zinc sulfate can also be applied to outbreaks three times a day.

Scientific evidence of Zinc effectiveness

  • Kneist W, Hempel B, Borelli S. Clinical double-blind trial of topical zinc sulfate for herpes labialis recidivans. Arzneimittelforschung. 1995 PubMed
  • Eby GA, Halcomb WW. Use of topical zinc to prevent recurrent herpes simplex infection. Med Hypotheses. 1985 PubMed
  • Zinc salts inactivate clinical isolates of herpes simplex virus in vitro. J Clin Microbiol. 2000 PubMed
  • Wahba A. Topical application of zinc-solutions: a new treatment for herpes simplex infections of the skin? Acta Derm Venereol. 1980 PubMed
  • Femiano F, Gombos F, Scully C. Recurrent herpes labialis: a pilot study of the efficacy of zinc therapy. J Oral Pathol Med. 2005 PubMed
  • Godfrey HR, Godfrey NJ, Godfrey JC. A randomized clinical trial on the treatment of oral herpes with topical zinc oxide/glycine. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 PubMed


Propolis, a natural waxy substance produced by honeybees, is loaded with flavonoids and antioxidants that help fight infection and boost immune function. It is a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral remedy.

Propolis produces antiviral activity against HSV types 1 and 2 by preventing the virus from entering body cells and by blocking the replication and spread of the virus.

The study showed that using an ointment containing propolis may help sores to heal faster than using ointment containing the antiviral drug acyclovir. The ointment was applied 4 times a day.

Scientific evidence of Propolis effectiveness

  • Vynograd N, Vynograd I, Sosnowski Z. A comparative multi-centre study of the efficacy of propolis, acyclovir and placebo in the treatment of genital herpes (HSV). Phytomedicine. 2000 PubMed
  • Huleihel M, Isanu V. Anti-herpes simplex virus activity of an aqueous extract of propolis. Isr Med Assoc J. 2002 PubMed
  • Nolkemper S, Reichling J, Sensch KH, Schnitzler P. Mechanism of herpes simplex virus type 2 suppression by propolis extracts. Phytomedicine. 2010 Feb;17(2):132-8. PubMed

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has proven antiviral activity against the herpes virus. According to several studies, lemon balm is one of the most potent herbal remedies for herpes. Applying strong lemon balm extracts to initial herpes outbreaks can prevent recurrence and speed healing. Lemon Balm's flavonoids, polyphenolics and other compounds are thought to be responsible for its antiviral actions. The predominant theory is that the herb blocks viruses from attaching to cells.

Studies of melissa ointments showed a significant reduction in the duration and severity of herpes symptoms and, when the cream was used regularly, a marked reduction in the frequency of recurrences. Melissa officinalis is widely sold in Europe as a topical cream for the treatment of genital and oral herpes.

Lemon balm has no known contraindications, interactions with other drugs, or restrictions regarding its use during pregnancy or lactation.

Scientific evidence of Lemon balm effectiveness

  • Allahverdiyev A, Duran N, Ozguven M, Koltas S. Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of Melissa officinalis L. against Herpes simplex virus type-2. Phytomedicine. 2004 PubMed
  • Schnitzler P, Schuhmacher A, Astani A. Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses. Phytomedicine. 2008 PubMed
  • Mazzanti G, Battinelli L, Pompeo C, Serrilli AM, Rossi R, Sauzullo I, Mengoni F, Vullo V. Inhibitory activity of Melissa officinalis L. extract on Herpes simplex virus type 2 replication. Nat Prod Res. 2008;22(16):1433-40. PubMed

Aloe Vera

The succulent aloe plant is famous as a treatment for burns and minor wounds. Aloe vera exerts antiviral action against herpes virus and accelerates the healing of the lesions. Aloe vera gel or ointment can be applied topically to lesions and also taken internally. Recent research has identifed several immune stimulating compounds in aloe gel.

A 2-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial enrolled 60 men with active genital herpes. 7 Participants applied aloe cream (0.5% aloe) or placebo cream 3 times daily for 5 days. Use of aloe cream reduced the time necessary for lesions to heal, and also increased the percentage of individuals who were fully healed by the end of 2 weeks.

Limited evidence from human studies suggests that 0.5% extract from Aloe vera in a hydrophilic cream may be an effective treatment of genital herpes in men.

Scientific evidence of Aloe vera effectiveness

  • Vogler BK, Ernst E. Aloe vera: a systematic review of its clinical effectiveness. Br J Gen Pract. 1999 PubMed

Prunella Vulgaris

According to some laboratory studies, Prunella vulgaris has many useful properties, including anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-oxidant. Researchers have also found that the herb Prunella vulgaris, and an edible mushroom, Rozites caperata (the "gypsy mushroom"), contain chemicals that fight both HSV-1 and HSV-2.

Prunella may have activity against herpes simplex virus which could be of benefit in oral and genital herpes. Its anti-herpetic action was demonstrated on rats during a scientific study. However, human studies are lacking therefore not much more can be said about the clinical uses of a prunella vulgaris supplement. Laboratory tests also showed that Prunella vulgaris has a different type of anti-herpes action than currently available treatments, such as Zovirax (acyclovir).

An extract from the plant Prunella vulgaris is showing promise for stopping HSV-1 and HSV-2 viral growth in cells, even in acyclovir resistant strains. More research is warranted on this interesting substance.

Scientific evidence of Prunella vulgaris effectiveness

  • Chiu LC, Zhu W, Ooi VE. A polysaccharide fraction from medicinal herb Prunella vulgaris downregulates the expression of herpes simplex virus antigen in Vero cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 PubMed
  • Zhang Y, But PP, Ooi VE. Chemical properties, mode of action, and in vivo anti-herpes activities of a lignin-carbohydrate complex from Prunella vulgaris. Antiviral Res. 2007 PubMed
  • Xu HX, Lee SH, Lee SF, White RL, Blay J. Isolation and characterization of an anti-HSV polysaccharide from Prunella vulgaris. Antiviral Res. 1999 Nov;44(1):43-54.

Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Tea tree oil has activity against some viruses in laboratory studies, and it has been suggested that a tea tree gel may be useful as a treatment for herpes infection. Although more research is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn, there is some scientific basis for this use.

First, tea tree oil has the ability to fight both strains of herpes viruses. Secondly, there has been one small study comparing use of tea tree oil gel to placebo in those with recurrent oral herpes. The herpes lesions of those who used the tea tree oil healed more quickly than those who used placebo. Tea tree oil affect the virus before or during adsorption, but not after penetration into the host cell. Thus tea tree oil is capable to exert a direct antiviral action on HSV.

Scientific evidence of Tea tree oil effectiveness

  • Schnitzler P, Schön K, Reichling J. Antiviral activity of Australian tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil against herpes simplex virus in cell culture. Pharmazie. 2001 PubMed
  • C. F. Carson, K. A. Hammer, T. V. Riley. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006 PubMed
  • Carson CF, Ashton L, Dry L. Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil gel (6%) for the treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy 2001

Rhubarb root extract & Sage extract

Rhubarb root extract and a sage extract showed a promising activity against herpes virus. The combined topical sage-rhubarb preparation proved to be as effective as topical acyclovir cream and tended to be more active than the sage cream.

Scientific evidence of Rhubarb root extract & Sage extract effectiveness

  • Saller R, Büechi S, Meyrat R. Combined herbal preparation for topical treatment of Herpes labialis. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2001


Astragalus (known as huang chi or milk vetch) enhances the immune system and acts as an antibiotic. It has also been found to enhance the activity of macrophages. Astragalus membranaceus has obvious HSV-1 inhibiting efficacy and minimal cytotoxicity.

Scientific evidence of Astragalus effectiveness

  • Sun Y, Yang J. Experimental study of Astragalus membranaceus against herpes simplex virus type 1. 2004 Jan;24(1):57-8.
  • Zhang L, Liu Y, Yu Z. Study on the anti-herpes simplex virus activity of a suppository or ointment form of Astragalus membranaceus combined with interferon alpha 2b in human diploid cell culture. 1998 Sep;12(3):269-71.

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