Herpes simplex is a virus. One form causes cold sores and fever blisters on the face. Another form called genital herpes causes genital sores, itching, burning, and pain. Both forms spread through sex or skin to skin contact. There is no cure. A person will have times without symptoms and times when symptoms flare up.
Cold sores can heal without treatment. They can also be treated with medicine. Genital herpes is treated with medicine to help control symptoms and future outbreaks.
Natural treatments have not been proven to treat herpes.
May Be Effective
- Bee propolis may ease cold sores and genital herpes D1, D2
- Honey may heal sores inside the mouth more quickly when used with standard medicine A1
- Lemon balm may shorten cold sore healing time and protect against infection B1-B3
- Lysine may ease cold sore symptoms C1-C5
- Rhubarb and sage extract may be as effective as standard medicine E1
Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.
Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution
Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some can interfere with treatment or make conditions worse.
A1. Abdel-Naby Awad OG, Hamad AH. Honey can help in herpes simplex gingivostomatitis in children: Prospective randomized double blind placebo controlled clinical trial. Am J Otolaryngol. 2018 Nov - Dec;39(6):759-763.
B1. Vogt M, Tausch I, et al. [Melissa extract in herpes simplex: a double-blind placebo-controlled study]. Der Allgemeinarzt 1991;13:832-841.
B2. Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine 1994;1:25-31.
B3. Koytchev R, Alken RG, et al. Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis. Phytomedicine 1999;6:225-230.
C1. Milman N, Scheibel J, et al. Lysine prophylaxis in recurrent herpes simplex labialis: a double-blind, controlled crossover study. Acta Derm Venereol 1980;60:85-87.
C2. McCune MA, Perry HO, et al. Treatment of recurrent herpes simplex infections with L-lysine monohydrochloride. Cutis 1984;34:366-373.
C3. Thein DJ, Hurt WC. Lysine as a prophylactic agent in the treatment of recurrent herpes simplex labialis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol 1984;58:659-666.
C4. Singh BB, Udani J, et al. Safety and effectiveness of an L-lysine, zinc, and herbal-based product on the treatment of facial and circumoral herpes. Altern Med Rev 2005;10:123-127.
C5. Chi CC, Wang SH, et al. Interventions for prevention of herpes simplex labialis (cold sores on the lips). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Aug 7;(8):CD010095.
D1. Vynograd N, Vynograd I, et al. A comparative multi-centre study of the efficacy of propolis, acyclovir and placebo in the treatment of genital herpes (HSV). Phytomedicine. 2000 Mar;7(1):1-6.
D2. Arenberger P, Arenbergerova M, et al. Comparative Study with a Lip Balm Containing 0.5% Propolis Special Extract GH 2002 versus 5% Aciclovir Cream in Patients with Herpes Labialis in the Papular/Erythematous Stage: A Single-blind, Randomized, Two-arm Study. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2017;88:1-7.
Rhubarb and Sage Extract
E1. Saller R, Büechi S, et al. Combined herbal preparation for topical treatment of Herpes labialis. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2001 Dec;8(6):373-382.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC Last Updated: 11/16/2020