What are Herpes and Shingles?
Herpes and shingles are both part of the same viral family and very common. Cold sores, sometimes referred to as fever blisters, generally erupt around the lips or mouth and are classified as herpes simplex virus one (HSV-1). Herpes blisters that are found in the genital region are HSV-2. Both are extremely contagious when a person has active blisters. Skin to skin contact during an active phase is the most common form of transmission.
Shingles are also part of the herpes family but is caused by the chickenpox virus, otherwise known as varicella-zoster virus. If you have had chicken pox, the virus remains dormant in your system until it becomes reactivated by weakened immune function, such as when we are under stress or have experienced trauma, are fighting cancer, have recently been sick, or have compromised immunity from food and lifestyle choices. About 10% of shingles cases are linked to a previous chickenpox infection and you are more likely to experience shingles if you are over 50 years of age. The first symptoms of a shingles outbreak is usually pain, however you can also experience headaches, fever, fatigue, or light sensitivity. The fluid-filled blisters erupt in one area of the body and are often extremely painful. Many also experience a tingling sensation and itching.
Effective Medicinal Herbs for Preventing and Treating Outbreaks
If you would like to avoid vaccines or antiviral pharmaceuticals, medicinal herbs are a safe and effective alternative. Most are aimed at fortifying the immune system and several have potent antiviral action. Here are my top picks for managing herpes and shingles.
Interested in giving these remedies a try? Find lemon balm, turkey tail, reishi, and cordyceps in my Apothecary!
Lemon Balm — Medicinal extracts of this herb were shown to have significant antiviral activity against HSV-1 and HSV-2 when applied topically. Many use Lemon Balm tincture externally for mouth sores. Additionally, it can be used internally as an antiviral. Lemon balm also soothes the nervous system and reduces stress, which can help to prevent a herpes simplex or shingles outbreak. You can learn more about the additional benefits of lemon balm here.
Turkey Tail — An outstanding internal herbal remedy for fighting bacterial and viral infections, turkey tail is highly effective for treating herpes and shingles, especially when combined with reishi mushroom. It is also helpful in treating human papillomavirus (HPV) and cancer. For the highest potency, use dual-extracted tinctures that only utilize the fruiting body of the mushroom, like what is found in my Apothecary.
Reishi — This mushroom is truly a healing wonder. Reishi is antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-bacterial, and antiviral. It regulates the immune system and helps the body to heal. It has been shown to effectively treat HSV-1 and HSV-2, shingles, HIV, and influenza when taken internally. It also is helpful for urinary tract infections. As an adaptogenic herb, it helps you to adapt to stress, thereby reducing the harmful effects on the body and immune system.
Cordyceps — With anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and antiprotozoal properties, this unusual-looking mushroom is helpful for a range of viral illnesses — including herpes and shingles. It also improves immune function and reduces the damaging effects of stress. It is an excellent internal remedy for fortifying the system to avoid outbreaks.
Geranium Essential Oil — Used topically, this oil has been shown to dramatically reduce the pain of shingles, sometimes within minutes. Mix two drops of the essential oil into a quarter of a teaspoon of coconut oil and rub directly onto the affected area.
Recipe. Soothing Anti-Viral Oil. Infuse equal parts lemon balm, heal-all (self-heal/Prunella vulgaris), sage, rosemary, and calendula in organic almond or olive oil. Tear or crush the herbs and lightly pack into a sterilized glass jar. Fill the jar 1/3 full with your dried herbs, then pour in your oil. Fill to within a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) of the top of the jar. Mix well to remove any air bubbles. Cap, label, and date. Store for 6 to 8 weeks (no longer). Strain the oil with cheesecloth into a clean, sterilized jar. When stored in a cool, dark location it will last for 1 to 2 years. Apply topically.
Recommended Supplements, Diet, and Lifestyle Tips
Certain nutrients are important for preventing and treating herpes and shingles. Focus on adequate zinc (30 mg/ twice per day), vitamin C (1,000/mg daily), and B-complex vitamins (50 mg/day). Vitamin B-12 is crucial for speedy healing of shingles and reducing the associated pain. Aim for 1000 to 5000 mcg daily. The amino acid L-lysine (1,000 mg/3x per day) has also been found helpful when you are experiencing an active outbreak.
Your diet is important for avoiding activation of viruses. Foods that are rich in L-lysine include pasture-raised chicken and turkey, wild-caught fish, legumes, and vegetables. Grass-fed beef is high in bioavailable zinc. Orange and red fruits and vegetables provide bioflavonoids, vitamin C, and other important nutrients for immune function and overall health.
Foods to avoid include refined sugar, fruit juices, alcohol, caffeine, soda pop, processed foods, and fried foods. When dealing with an active outbreak, steer clear of wheat and chocolate as both are high in L-arginine which is known to stimulate herpes virus replication.
Lastly, stress management is also important for avoiding outbreaks and encouraging a healthy immune system. Gratitude, spending time in nature, connecting with friends and family, laughter, and kindness to others are all excellent practices for promoting wellness of both body and mind.