Garlic and Cold Sores

Woman cutting garlic
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Cold sores are blister-like lesions caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1, often manifesting around the lips, nose and chin. The virus associated with this condition is highly contagious, being passed from one person to the next by an active lesion. Using utensils, razors, towels and other shared objects can also spread the virus and lead to a breakout. Most people turn to topical or oral medications to reduce symptoms and speed recovery, but alternative treatments are said to provide similar results, including garlic.


According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, raw garlic has shown promise in treating microbial infections. Enzymes found in this herb can act as an antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic agent. The fact that cold sores are caused by a virus has led some people to use garlic to speed recovery time of active lesions.


One of the more common uses of garlic to treat cold sores is the clove itself. Cutting the clove in half and placing it directly onto the active lesion is recommended by a number of people, according to Earth Clinic, a website devoted to folk remedies. Apply the clove for 10 minutes at a time, three to four times a day. Website Homemade Medicine says this can shorten your recovery time by three to five days.


Another alternative method used to treat cold sores is garlic capsules. Like applying the clove to the lesion, taking two supplements of garlic a day can speed recovery time by three to five days, explains Homemade Medicine. No specification is made on the exact milligrams, but most garlic supplements come in 500 to 1,000 mg pills. To be safe, stick with 1,000 mg a day to start.

Side Effects

The main side effect of using raw garlic to treat cold sores is pain. While the enzymes may be of benefit in speeding recovery, they're slightly acidic, so expect to feel some burning discomfort when placing the clove on the lesion. Ingesting garlic in pill form may lead to nausea, bloating, body odor and bad breath, warns the University of Maryland Medical Center.


Though garlic shows promise in treating microbial infections, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center does caution that no scientific evidence exists that this herb will act as an antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal or antiparasitic agent in the human body. Always talk to your doctor before using alternative treatments for this or any other condition.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker before leaving the house.
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