Homeopathic practitioner

The herpes simplex virus is what causes cold sores. After the initial infection, the virus stays dormant in the mouth nerves and reappears when triggered, causing blisters. Conditions that trigger cold-sore recurrence include colds or flu, dental procedures, emotional or physical stress, trauma to the face, and exposure to cold winds or extreme temperatures.

If you are prone to cold sores, determine which homeopathic remedy you need by observing the symptoms of the outbreak. Rhus toxicodendron, prepared from poison ivy, is best if you experience clusters of itchy red blisters. If your outbreaks usually occur after sun exposure, try Natrum muriaticum (made from table salt). You’ll know if you need this remedy if your lips are dry and cracked, and if you crave salty foods. Or try Sepia if you get chilled easily and have hard, painful cold sores. It’s made from cuttlefish ink and is also frequently used to treat hormone imbalances. Take a 6X, 6C, or 12X potency pellet every two to eight hours for the first day or two. Reduce the frequency to two or three times daily as symptoms improve. Stop taking the remedy as soon you feel better to avoid overstimulating the body.

–Valerie Sadovsky, RSHom(NA), CCH, Marlev Homeopathy, Redmond, Washington

Chinese herbalist

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, cold sores—red, inflamed blisters that appear in and around the mouth—are an expression of excess stomach heat. Too much alcohol or fried, rich, or spicy food creates heat, so consume those only in moderation, and avoid stress, which can exacerbate the condition.

Treat cold sores by balancing the heat with cooling herbs such as coptis root, which is usually combined in tonics with other herbs. Huang Lian Jie Du Tang (Coptis Formula to Relieve Toxicity) is the most famous formula for diminishing heat. You can purchase it in capsule or powdered form from an herbalist or some supplement stores. Take two capsules three times a day, or dab the powdered herbs directly on the sore with your finger a few times a day. Discontinue use as soon as the sores go away—often within a week—because cooling herbs can cause fatigue and headaches, and lower immunity when taken for extended periods of time.

Black cumin seed oil can also be used to prevent or treat cold sores. Take up to 3 teaspoons a day during a severe outbreak. Mix it into herbal tea or chase it with juice.

–Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH, RH, The Essence of Being at Johnnycake Mountain Holistic Health Care Retreat, Burlington, Connecticut


A virus causes cold sores, but often a psychological source triggers the physical symptoms. The lip blister to one person is like the stiff neck or stomachache to someone else: It’s where stress manifests due to changes in climate, tension at work, or relationship troubles. In other words, it’s a physical weak spot vulnerable to pain or infection. Often, the symptoms go away once you relieve the stress. Give yourself time to walk in nature, or for calming practices such as meditation, tai chi, or yoga.

To treat cold sores, I place fine needles around the blister to disperse the heat from the infection along meridians (energy channels), away from the lips. Or you can use acupressure instead. Go to an acupuncturist to have this done, or visit your local library or bookstore to find books on how to perform acupressure on yourself. I recommend Acupressure Techniques (Healing Arts Press, 2004) by Julian Kenyon and Acupressure for Everybody (Henry Holt & Company, 1991) by Cathryn Bauer.

To prevent cold sores from coming back, I recommend using what I call the “Four Seasons Treatment.” Visit an acupuncturist four times a year, with the change of the seasons, to boost your body’s weakest spot.

–Max Muenke, MD, DABMA, Medical Acupuncture and Complementary Medicine clinic, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.