Those Awful Cold Sores

UGH! Not another cold sore


Nothing like a cheerful morning “Screw you!” from the universe. You look in the mirror, feel that painful bump as you brush your teeth. You watch in mounting horror as the bump becomes a cluster of blisters which erupt and eventually, scab over right in front of your eyes as the day progresses. Congratulations, you have a cold sore… AGAIN. If the pain isn’t insulting enough, the unsightly blemish certainly is. The anxiety of going out in public? Mortifying. People look at you as if you have leprosy. A fact to keep in mind is that at least half the populations in America have the virus before they are 20 years old (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2017). You are not alone in your miserable state. So, why does it happen? And more importantly, how can I get it off my face as fast as possible?

The brief science nerd part

Cold sores are an ugly expression of Herpes Simplex I. This virus is passed from person to person who are involved in close contact like when kissing (MFMER, 2017). The virus can be contracted at any time and can lie dormant for years in the skin or nerve ganglia near the original infection site (de Vries, 1996). An eruption of the virus on the skin can occur at any time but seems to occur more often during times of higher or accumulated stress on the body whether emotional or physical. The body works continuously to keep all systems balanced within itself and to keep all our viral and bacterial loads in check. So when stress is increased or new stress is introduced, the body may have to take some of its little fighting armies to go and assist in those battles, leaving the herpes virus to flair and explode on your face. If you tend to be anxious and are facing a challenge like an exam, an interview, an illness or a new exercise regime – anything that is a change from your normal routine, you may want to keep a few herbs on hand. Lucky for you, several herbs are known to lessen the length of the herpes outbreak.

      A brief word about food allergies and herpes. Any allergy will cause the body to act because our bodies are always working to heal themselves. This will cause stress on the body. So, food allergens like peanuts can trigger a herpes outbreak as well (Ferreira, et al., 2014).

Herpes responds to tannins found in certain herbs (Hoffmann, 2003). Tannins are astringent and will bind to all types of molecules, including the molecules of the virus. They invade the DNA and RNA of the herpes virus cells, causing it to stop reproducing itself. Thereby, stopping the spread of the virus and minimizing the outbreak. Pretty great, right? Tannins will also create a drying effect on the infected area and reduce the swelling and inflammation. Tannins are found in all parts of the plant. These constituents protect the plant from bacterial pathogen invasions. Tannins can do the same for us. Amazing! Licorice has been shown to permanently stop the activation of the herpes virus by invading the DNA and RNA of the virus (Hoffmann, 2003). It’s like the zombie apocalypse for your cold sores, minus the chainsaws, of course…

A few herbs that will use their tannins to help with your cold sores are Lemon Balm, Saint John’s Wort, Licorice, Tea Tree, Peppermint and Calendula. There are many more but I am endeavoring to keep this brief so I’ll stick to the heavy-hitters! Lemon Balm has the bonus effect of anti-viral properties, possibly due to the polyphenolics like rosmarinic acid (Hoffmann 2003; Schnitzler, Schumacher, Astani & Reichling, 2008). Another option is an infusion of St. John’s Wort, Elderflower and Soapwort which was shown to inhibit the activity of herpes simplex I (Hoffmann, 2003). Tea tree oil, balm oil and peppermint oil have also shown to be effective in treating a herpes outbreak (Schnitzler & Reichling, 2008).

Ok, so it wasn’t super brief but I could so write pages and pages about this until your eyes bleed and my name becomes a curse word upon your lips.



The cool healing part

First things first. I am a functional herbalist and a nutritionist. I have two master degrees for both fields of study and can only offer recommendations based on those fields of alternative medicine. Choosing which herbs would best suit your body and situation depends on several factors and should not be done without considerable thought. These factors include the pharmaceuticals or medications which you are prescribed, any other physical and mental conditions which you are experiencing, and your constitution. It would be in your best interest if you have any questions, concerns or complicated situations to find a local herbalist or you can contact me if you like. I am best reached by email ( and we can schedule an appointment over the phone or via Skype.

Secondly, there are thousands and thousands of plants all over this beautiful planet. Many of them have healing properties and can be used to treat the same conditions. I will discuss the ones that I adore and are most familiar. These plants are my allies in treating the body. Herbal medicines come in many forms and can be used for a multitude of ailments. Herbal medicine works on the whole body and targets the causes, not just the symptoms. So, let’s dig in!

Let’s look at the safest and easiest form of herbal medicine for treating cold sores. Using topical medicine will treat the specific area and are easy to apply. Several herbs come to mind and are available in teas, oils and salves. The simplest form of herbal medicine is a tea.

Lemon balm steeped in hot water for fifteen minutes and then applied directly to the infected site with a cotton pad three times a day is so simple and a whole lot easier on the wallet than some of the other medications available to treat herpes. The warmth of the tea is soothing and the rosmarinic will begin to stop the spread of the virus and dry out the sores by containing the virus to one spot and destroying the “brain” and communication pathways of the virus (yes, the zombie thing again).

Saint John’s Wort is an amazing herb and combines to create a wonderful synergy with other herbs like calendula and elderflower. It has such a rich history of healing which will have to be saved for another blog. The beauty of Saint John’s Wort is that it can be taken internally as well as applied as a topical when dealing with herpes simplex. However, SJW has to be used with some caution when taking with prescribed pharmaceuticals. Seeking out an herbalist to minimize any unwanted interactions is the best practice here. [Hint, hint! ;)]. Nevertheless, SJW can be taken regularly to help the body contain the virus and when an outbreak occurs can be doubled to control the spread of the virus. Combined in a ointment, oil or salve with calendula, SJW can be applied directly to the sores. Beautiful flowers that have the power to heal our faces! Plants vs. Zombies – Plants win!

Finally, a few oils can be applied directly to the infected area. Tea tree oil and peppermint oil have been shown to be helpful in containing the outbreak and drying up the sores. Tea tree oil should be used with care and it can be caustic. I recommend just a drop or two to the affected area. Make sure you have something to squeeze when applying tea tree oil. I have very little experience with using peppermint oil for herpes but who doesn’t love the smell! A little “aromatherapy” certainly wouldn’t hurt the situation! 🙂


Astani, A., Navid, M. & Schnitzler, P. (2014). Attachment and Penetration of Acyclovir-resistant Herpes Simplex Virus are Inhibited by Melissa officinalis Extract [ABSTRACT]. Phytotherapy Research 28(10).

Ferreria, D., et al. (2014). Peanut allergy as a trigger for the deterioration of atopic dermatitis and precursor of staphylococcal and herpetic associated infections – case report. Annual of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine 22(3):470-2. doi: 10.5604/12321966.1167716.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medicinal Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017). Cold Sore. Retrieved from

Schnitzler, P. & Reichling, J. (2008). [Efficacy of plant products against herpetic infections]. HMO 59(12):1176-84. doi: 10.1007/s00106-010-2253-0.

Schnitzler, P., Schumacher, A., Astani, A. & Reichling, J. (2008). Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesvirus. Phytomedicine 15(9).