Most people don't know the difference between cold sores and canker sores. Luckily, there are herbal remedies for both conditions.
About Canker and Cold Sores
These are actually two different conditions. Canker sores are white ulcers with a reddened rim around them. Cold sores, on the other hand, are small, clear blisters that typically occur on the edge of the lips. They break open and usually form a yellowish crust.
Canker sores can be caused by a run-in with your toothbrush, braces that irritate a certain place, ill-fitting dentures, food allergies, mineral deficiencies, rough fillings, and in some cases, nutritional deficiencies. Cold sores are caused by a specific strain of the herpes virus, which can lie dormant for long periods of time, then flare up after stress, illness, or sometimes sun exposure.
Herbal Remedies for Cold Sores and Canker Sores
Herbs that are effective in healing canker sores include Oregon grape root, echinacea, and chamomile. Lemon balm, along with these, is helpful for herpes.
Licorice is best applied topically or taken internally for short periods while cold sores are present. Licorice root tea and a commercial preparation known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL for short) have been shown to help canker sores as well, with no chance of elevating blood pressure. Make infusions of any of the recommended herbs and use as a mouthwash, gently swishing them in the mouth for a couple of minutes to help shorten the healing time.
Cold sores need to be treated by herbs that have antiviral properties. Lemon balm and St. John's wort are particularly helpful in killing the herpes virus. Use them as a tincture to dab onto areas as soon as you first notice the tingling that often precedes a cold sore. Use it several times daily if the sore manifests. Commercially available, highly concentrated creams may be applied as well.
Oregon grape is an antiviral, too. Licorice also keeps viruses from replicating, so it can be used for cold sores as well as canker sores. Infusions of any of these herbs may help diminish activity of this unwanted "bug."
Echinacea and other immune boosters can help the body fend off the herpes virus. Echinacea also contains a substance that protects collagen, the basis of skin and mucous membranes, from breakdown by bacterial and viral enzymes. Taken internally it may help these types of sores heal more quickly. Swish about 1 teaspoon of strong echinacea root decoction or 1/2 teaspoon tincture in the mouth for several minutes, then swallow. Repeat three times per day or more.
Chamomile contains a substance called bisabolol that helps heal sores of the mucous membranes and is antimicrobial as well. It also contains chamazulene, an anti-inflammatory substance.
Cold Sore Recipe
1 tablespoon fresh lemon balm (or freeze-dried)
1 cup boiling water
Pour boiling water over lemon balm. Let steep 15 minutes. Drink as a tea, hot or cold. It is safe to consume as much lemon balm tea as you want. Several cups a day may help keep the herpes virus in check. Do not use dried lemon balm unless you just picked and dried it yourself and it still has a strong lemony smell, as its active ingredients are lost in the slow-drying process; freeze-drying retains them.
Canker Sore Recipe
1/4 teaspoon powdered licorice root
3/4 cup lukewarm water
Stir the licorice root into the water. Hold in the mouth and swish for two to three minutes, then spit out. Repeat each morning and evening until sores have healed.
For more information about the subjects covered in this article, try the following links:
- To see all of our herbal remedies, visit our main Herbal Remedies page.
- To learn more about treating common medical conditions yourself, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- To learn other ways you can stop an outbreak of cold sores, read Home Remedies for Cold Sores.
- Read about ways you can treat canker sores at home in the article Home Remedies for Canker Sores.
- Find out more about Oregon grape and the conditions it treats when you read Oregon Grape: Herbal Remedies.
- Learn about licorice and its use in herbal medicine in Licorice: Herbal Remedies.
Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) is a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist in private practice specializing in men's health and urology. He is an assistant professor in the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and is president or the Botanical Medicine Academy. He is the author of several textbooks including Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and Clinical Botanical Medicine; He writes a regular column on herbal medicine for Alternative and Complementary Therapies. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.