Antiviral Herbs that can Treat & Prevent Viral Infections

Manveen Sibia
Manveen had an illustrious career in journalism and writing. She is the mother of a super active 7-year-old. While chasing her around the house, she also finds time to pursue her passion for writing on parenting, education, health, fitness, and entertainment.

Herbal therapy has been a part of the health and wellness of hundreds of years. Our ancestors have used herbs for their medicinal properties since ancient times. Many herbs have antiviral properties. They contain potent plant compounds that boost immunity and help fight viral infections.  Modern science has also shown that many herbs provide medicinal health benefits. Here’s a list of herbs that offer powerful antiviral benefits –

1. Astragalus

Astragalus(Astragalus membranaceous)is one of the most important herbs of traditional Chinese medicine. One of its critical uses in alternative medicine is to improve immune function. It contains astragalus polysaccharide, which helps to regulate the body’s immunity and has antiviral properties (1).

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Studies have also shown that astragalus is effective against Avian influenza, herpes virus, and hepatitis C(2, 3, 4).

2. Basil

Sweet basil has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Sweet basil has a high concentration of eugenol, while the lime and lemon basil is rich in limonene. Both eugenol and limonene have antioxidant properties. According to a study from Taiwan, sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) contains linalool and ursolic acid, which exhibit a broad spectrum of antiviral activity. These compounds showed strong activity against hepatitis B, enterovirus, and herpes virus (5).

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) is a revered medicinal herb. According to a study from Delhi, when 24 volunteers took 300 mg capsules of ethanolic extracts of basil, it increased the levels of  T-helper cells and NK-cells, which help protect the body from viral infections (6).

3. Dandelion

Most of us know of dandelion as the stubborn weed that never leaves our garden. However, in traditional medicine, dandelion is revered for its medicinal properties. Research also shows that dandelion has antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which could help us fight infection.

Several lab-based studies have found that dandelion extract can inhibit the ability of viruses to replicate (7, 8, 9). Studies have also shown that dandelion extract can inhibit the replication of dengue virus (10).

4. Echinacea

Echinacea is a common herb that people take to combat colds and flu. This plant, also known as purple coneflower, has strong antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-strengthening properties.

According to a 2015 study, drinking Echinacea tea helps to reduce the length of the recovery period of people with flu. It also has a lower risk of complications and adverse effects (11). Studies also show that Echinacea extracts possess beneficial actions for the treatments of viral respiratory infections (12).

5. Elderberry

There are over 30 different varieties of elderberries found around the world. Sambucus nigra, the European type, is the most common and used for its medicinal properties. Elderberry has strong antiviral properties and is used for the treatment of influenza (13). Another study that included 180 volunteers showed that supplementation with elderberry could reduce upper respiratory symptoms due to viral infections (14).

6. Fennel

Fennel is a celery-like licorice-flavored plant. It is valued for its ability to treat ailments related to digestive, endocrine, reproductive, and respiratory systems. It has played an essential part in traditional medicine due to its antiviral, antitumor, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

According to a test-tube study, fennel essential oil has strong antiviral effects against viruses like Herpes simplex type-1 (HSV-1) and the RNA virus parainfluenza type-3 (PI-3) (15). Essential oils of fennel contain more than 87 compounds, including polyphenol antioxidants, rosmarinic acid, quercetin, apigenin, and chlorogenic acid, which help improve your health.

7. Garlic

Garlic is a popular remedy for cold and flu. It contains a compound known as allicin, which converts into other sulfur-containing compounds that give garlic its medicinal properties. These compounds help to boost the disease-fighting response of specific white blood cells when they encounter viruses that cause common cold or flu (16). A few older studies have also shown that garlic extract is effective against influenza A and B, rhinovirus, HIV, viral pneumonia, rotavirus, and herpes virus (17).

8. Ginger

Ginger is a tropical plant that is related to turmeric and cardamom. It has strong antiviral properties thanks to its potent plant compounds. Studies show that fresh ginger has antiviral activity against the human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines (18).

Some other studies also show that the extracts of ginger can help in the prevention of foodborne human norovirus, Feline calicivirus, and anti-avian influenza virus (19, 20).

9. Ginseng

Ginseng is a slow-growing plant that has fleshy roots. It has been used for its medicinal benefits of centuries. Though there are many types of ginseng available, the Korean and the American varieties are the most popular.

The red Korean ginseng is mainly known for its ability to fight viruses. Studies show that it can exert antiviral effects by inhibiting viral attachment and replication. It also helps to boost immunity (21). Ginseng contains ginsenosides, a compound that has antiviral effects against norovirus, hepatitis B, and coxsackievirus.

10. Licorice root

Licorice root is not only used as a sweetener in candies, but it is also known for its medicinal properties. It contains 20 triterpenoids and nearly 300 flavonoids, which possess antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and other activities (22). Studies also show that licorice root extract is effective against HIV, HRSV, herpes virus, and SARS associated virus (23, 24, 25).

11. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm, a herb that belongs to the mint family, is considered to be a calming herb. It has strong antiviral properties, and it helps to heal cold sores when we apply it topically. Studies show that lemon balm essential oil inhibits influenza viral replication and can be useful in the treatment of avian flu (26).

Studies also show that lemon balm essential oil also has antiviral effects against HIV, herpes virus, and enterovirus 71 (27, 28, 29).

12. Oregano

Oregano oil is known for its antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It contains carvacrol and thymol, which have been associated with its antiviral properties. According to a study from The University of Arizona, carvacrol is effective in inactivating murine norovirus within one hour of treatment. This virus can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and nausea (30).

Another study from Chung Shan Medical University, Taiwan, showed that thymol and carvacrol inactivated 90% of herpes simplex virus within one hour (31).

13. Peppermint

Peppermint, an aromatic herb from the mint family, is native to Europe and Asia and has been used for its health properties for years. Peppermint tea, brewed from the plant leaves, and the essential oil of peppermint are used in traditional medicines. Peppermint essential oil is a promising antiviral remedy and is very useful in dealing with the herpes simplex virus.

Peppermint leaves contain rosmarinic acid and several flavonoids, primarily eriocitrin, luteolin, and hesperidin, which have antiviral, antioxidant, and antitumor actions and some antiallergenic properties (32).

14. Rosemary

Rosemary is primarily used as a culinary spice but is also known for its carminative, astringent, tonic and antispasmodic properties. It contains oleanolic acid, which displays antiviral activity against HIV, influenza, hepatitis, and herpes (33). Rosemary essential oil also shows antiviral activity against Hepatitis A and herpes virus (34, 35).

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15. Sage

Sage has a long history of use in Egypt, Rome, and Greek medicine.  The two primary compounds in sage, rosmarinic acid, and carnosic acid, are particularly associated with an antioxidant effect.

The antiviral properties of sage are mediated by safficinolide and sage one, two diterpenoids which are found in its leaves and stems (36). Some lab-based studies have also shown that extracts from sage leaves can fight against HIV-1, which leads to AIDS (37).  The antiviral properties of sage can also inhibit Indiana vesiculovirus and herpes simplex virus (38, 39).

Final thoughts

Herbs have been used since ancient times to treat and prevent viral infections. You can add these herbs to your food or make tea with them. Always check with your doctor before you use any of these herbs as extracts, tinctures, and capsules for the treatment of any viral infection.

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