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Topical Use of Lemon Balm for Cold Sores

Cold sores may be a common viral infection but science has shown that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can help treat and keep the herpes simplex virus at bay. We explore the research behind these natural herb and the use of nutrition in warding off the virus.

  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) extracts have been shown to exhibit antiviral action against the Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).
  • Studies have found the herb can speed up the healing process of cold sores and reduce the severity of symptoms when applied topically.
  • Research into supplementing with lysine has shown the nutrient to reduce the frequency of cold sore recurrences being less severe and lasting a shorter period.
  • Other nutrients vitamin C, zinc and vitamin E have resulted in positive healing effects.


Melissa officinalis also referred to as lemon balm is an herbaceous perennial which grows to about three feet tall and is native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia1. This herbaceous plant appears as toothed leaves which have a fragrance and flavour of lemon and is classified under the mint family5

Lemon balm – natural relief for cold sores

Lemon balm has shown antibacterial activity in several resistant bacterium.  However, extracts of Melissa officinalis have been shown to inhibit protein synthesis and exhibit antiviral action against the Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

 The herpes simplex virus is an infection which causes cold sores, these can appear in various parts of the body however it is common around the mouth. These appear as small red blisters around the mouth and can result in pain and discomfort.

Lemon balm exerts its antiviral properties through speeding up the healing process of cold sores and reducing the severity of symptoms when applied topically2.

What has the research shown?

A five-day intervention involved 34 adults with recurrent herpes simplex infections. The intervention required the participants to apply a lemon balm cream four times daily. Response rate to the treatment of lemon balm extract group showed 64.7% of participants had an excellent or moderate response. And 58.9% of participants either had none or one blister on day two of the lemon balm treatment. The results were positive and showed a reduced healing period, reduced spread of the infection and rapid effect on typical symptoms3.  


Beeswax and lemon balm

Beeswax in combination with lemon balm acts as a carrier and exerts beneficial effects. Over a 28-day period, topical application of beeswax made a beneficial base ingredient over petroleum formulations through its direct benefits in skin integrity and reducing trans epidermal water loss. When rosmarinic acid blended with beeswax shown greater penetration of the skin layers. These results displayed the potential for skin barrier recovery and protection3.  

Lysine and lemon balm

Arginine is required for the replication of herpes simplex virus. Arginine rich foods are known to trigger cold sores and consequently they can make the symptoms worse. Lysine has been studied for its mechanisms to antagonize arginine. These observations show by increasing lysine intake or the ratio of lysine-to-arginine intake would result in the prevention and treatment of herpes simplex.

Lysine supplementation raised the possibility the recurrence rate of herpes simplex infections can be reduced. The optimal dose shown in studies for lysine to be effective in treating herpes simplex is between 500-3000mg daily. When participants with recurrent herpes simplex reduced their intake of high-arginine food and supplemented with 500mg of lysine, recurrences were less frequent, less severe and of a shorter duration4 .  


Other nutrients for managing cold sores


  • Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) has been shown to inactivate herpes simplex virus and enhancing immune function. During a double-blind trial, 200mg ascorbic acid was prescribed to patients with Herpes simplex over a duration of three times daily for three days. Results indicate treatment was the most effective during the prodromal stage, this is the stage at which the participants may have experienced some symptoms or changes4.
  • Zinc has shown to inhibit the replication of herpes simplex virus. Topical treatment of zinc applied four times daily over four days reduced severity of symptoms and within the first 24 hours reduced tingling and burning in the affected areas4.
  • Vitamin E has shown encouraging effects in treating herpes simplex in uncontrolled trials. When applied topically to the areas affected by herpes simplex, vitamin E aided in the healing of lesions and contributed to a reduction in pain relief. Some benefitted from a single application of vitamin E, however during cases of multiple lesions these responded better when the treatment was applied three times daily over three days4



Several nutrients including lemon balm have resulted in positive healing effects for use of cold sores. Topical use of lemon balm for cold sores has shown encouraging effects through its use in healing, pain relief and reducing the severity of symptoms.  

Lemon balm has shown encouraging effects in treatment combined with beeswax to achieve greater penetration of the skin layers. Lysine has shown promising results through reducing recurrences, severity, and duration and may exert promising effects in combination with lemon balm.  

Author: Rupinder Dhanjal is a Technical Advisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc in Nutrition and Health. 

1 Gayle, E and Brinckmann, J (2017). HerbalGram; American Botanical Council. Melissa Officinalis. 115 pg: 8-16. [online] available from <>

2 Allahverdiyev, A and Duran, N (2004). Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of Melissa officinalis L. against Herpes simplex virus type-2. Phytomedicine. 11, (7) pg: 657-61 [online] available from <>

3 Koytchev R, Alken RG, Dundarov S. Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis. Phytomedicine. 1999;6(4):225-230

4 Gaby, A (2006). Natural Remedies for Herpes simplex. Alternative Medicine Review. 11 (2) pg: 93-98. [online] available from <>

5 Miraj, S et al (2016). Melissa officinalis L: A Review Study With an Antioxidant Prospective. Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 22 (3), pg: 385-394. [online] available from <>

The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.

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