Cold sores are a common skin and mucous membrane condition caused by the herpes simplex virus 1, which is easily passed between people on contact. In fact, many people may be infected without realising, since after the initial viral invasion, whether it shows on the skin or not, the virus remains in the body, hiding from the immune system. The virus can cause recurring infections and I wrote about ways to minimise this. See my article Stop cold sores coming back. However, researchers believe that the herbal medicine peppermint may destroy the herpes virus on the skin, and so may have the potential to limit the spread of a cold sore infection.
Peppermint, Mentha piperita, is a native plant of the Mediterranean region. The leaves have been used as a refreshing after dinner beverage and also in traditional herbal medicine for a variety of health problems, many of which are supported by modern research. For instance, many studies support the use of peppermint for irritable bowel syndrome and other functional digestive disorders. Herbalists might also include peppermint in herbal remedies for coughs and colds, indigestion or intestinal spasms, as well as topically for relieving headaches and even muscle pain or itchy skin. Many studies have shown that peppermint leaves and peppermint essential oil also have antimicrobial and antiviral properties in vitro.
This study showed that a water based extract of peppermint was able to reduce plaque formation of herpes simplex virus 1, by more than 90%. In fact, on acyclovir resistant herpes simplex virus, the peppermint extract was still more than 85% effective. Researchers report that whilst the peppermint had no effect on virus within cells, it was effective topically on herpes simplex outside cells. In other words, whilst peppermint could not affect the virus that was already in cells, it was able to reduce the numbers of virus outside of cells and therefore potentially limit the spread of cold sores.
Similarly, with peppermint essential oil, researchers report significant antiviral activity against herpes simplex. Interestingly the study used very dilute concentrations of peppermint oil and had significant reductions in virus, even the acyclovir resistant herpes simplex virus strain. They report that longer exposure to peppermint oil could produce up to 99% reduction in plaque formation.
In fact, peppermint is not alone as a herbal medicine that can combat herpes simplex virus. This study provides evidence that diluted tea tree oil may possess anti-herpetic, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and may help to speed healing of herpes lesions.
Furthermore, this study specifically looked at the susceptibility of acyclovir resistant herpes simplex virus to a number of essential oils of herbs such as ginger, thyme, hyssop and sandalwood. All of which were highly effective against the virus.
If you are struggling with recurrent cold sores remember that essential oils are potent products and must be highly diluted in a carrier oil before applying to skin. Contact your local medical herbalist or doctor for more help.
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