Cold sores are a common skin and mucous membrane condition caused by the herpes simplex virus 1. This virus is easily passed between people on contact. In fact, many people may be infected without realising. After the initial viral invasion, whether it shows on the skin or not, the virus remains in the body. It is hidden from the immune system. Yet, the virus can still cause recurring infections. 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. So peppermint 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 are known as a refreshing after dinner beverage. It also is a traditional herbal medicine. Widely known to help a variety of health problems, and often with the support of modern research. For instance, 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. It is also useful 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 effective against herpes simplex virus 1. Able to reduce plaque formation of herpes simplex virus 1, by more than 90%. In fact, even against acyclovir-resistant virus, peppermint was still more than 85% effective.
Researchers report that the peppermint had no effect on virus hidden within cells. But, 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 viral numbers outside of cells. So, potentially limiting 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. Yet still had significant reductions in virus. Even against the acyclovir-resistant herpes simplex virus strain. Furthermore, they suggest that longer exposure to peppermint oil could produce up to 99% reduction in plaque formation.
Tea-tree and herpes simplex
In fact, peppermint is not alone as a herbal medicine that combats herpes simplex virus. This study provides evidence that tea tree oil may possess anti-herpetic, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. It may also help to speed the healing of herpes lesions.
Furthermore, this study shows susceptibility of acyclovir-resistant herpes simplex virus to a number of essential oils. These include the 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. It is critical to dilute essential oils in a carrier oil prior to use on skin. Contact your local medical herbalist or doctor for more help.
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