There are two types of human herpes viruses, Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2. Both viruses often reactivate in the body and cause recurrent infections, affecting the mouth, lips, skin, eyes and genital organs. Conventional treatment in severe cases focuses of antiviral medication. Echinacea is a medicinal herb frequently recommended by alternative health care providers to support immune system and fight infections. Echinacea supplements do not replace standard drugs, and you should consult your doctor before taking this supplement.
Several herbs belong to Echinacea family, but three of them --- E. pallida, E. purpurea and E. angustifolia --- are commonly used for medicinal purposes. Echinacea herbs have been studied as an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agent, as well as for its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosing qualities, with some positive results. Echinacea may help in both treating and preventing infections with herpes viruses.
An alcohol-based extract of the juice of Echinacea pallida has potential to treat herpetic infections, say S. Schneider and colleagues, based on their research study published in February 2010 in the journal "Planta Medica." The scientists observed that topical application was found effective against herpes virus; other forms, such as tinctures, tablets or tea, of Echinacea pallida may not yield the same therapeutic benefits. This study used animal models, thus more research is required to evaluate antiherpes effects of this herb in humans.
An extract from Echinacea purpurea helps prevent recurrent infections with herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1, according to a study conducted by A. Ghaemi and associates from Golestan University of Medical Sciences and Health Care, Iran. The researchers noted that the antiviral action of E. purpurea was effective when used prior to infection. The study was was published in April 2009 in the journal "Intervirology." Larger clinical trials are necessary to confirm these findings.
Do not use echinacea supplements if you suffer from autoimmune diseases, if you are pregnant or if you are under treatment with immunosuppressive drugs such as corticosteroids.
Echinacea-based products are not approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat herpes or any other medical condition. Various brands may have different efficacy. Michael Murray, N.D., author of " The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines," suggests using pressed juice of E. purpurea because it has the greatest amount of active compounds and is the most researched form of the herb.