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Will Stinging Nettle Banish Your Cold Sores?

A British reader discovered that stinging the area of an incipient cold sore repeatedly with nettle prevented the sore from developing.

Most adults have been exposed at some point to the virus that causes cold sores, herpes simplex (HSV1). Not everyone reacts by developing recurrent cold sores, but those who do would love a way to get rid of them quickly. One British reader discovered that stinging nettle offered a unique (if painful) solution.

Stinging the Cold Sore with a Nettle:

Q. I suffered frequently with cold sores starting when I was a teenager. One day, although the pain was excruciating, I felt the urge to sting it with a nettle. When the nettle sting wore off, I stung it again and again.
Surprisingly, the symptoms began to subside. Every time thereafter I felt the beginnings of a cold sore, I stung my lip. I no longer suffer from cold sores. I must have found a way to kill the herpes virus.

A. What a fascinating story! As it turns out, in central Italy stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is part of a traditional treatment for the herpes infection chickenpox (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, April 26, 2005). As a result, scientists studied whether it might fight off viruses. They found that stinging nettle extract appears to have antiviral activity, especially when it is combined with extracts of licorice and lotus (Virology Journal, July 26, 2012). It may prevent virus from attaching to cells (Antiviral Research, April 2011).

None of this research was carried out in people with cold sores, and so far yours is the only report of this approach. The remedy you devised is likely to cause pain and we doubt that anyone else would want to try your experiment. There are effective antiviral drugs for treating cold sores, and people who have recurrent difficulties with this might benefit from acyclovir, famciclovir or valacyclovir.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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