6 Herbs With Impressive Antiviral Activity

Health + Wellness
An array of fresh green herbs including rosemary, basil, sage and oregano.
An array of fresh herbs including rosemary, basil, sage and oregano. fcafotodigital / E+ / Getty Images

The human virome is made up of an estimated 380 trillion viruses, some of which harm the body and others that may benefit the body by coexisting within it. As much as half the stuff in your body, such as viruses and bacteria, may not be your own biological matter. From birth, viral infections serve an important part in human disease and survival. 

A 2006 workshop at the National Institutes of Health analyzed the impact of globalization on infectious disease emergence. It notes that plague epidemics in colonial African cities were closely tied to the advent of the steamship and increased travel and trade. Similarly, we live in a fast-paced technological age with a high population density with shifting commodities, food and capital moving across political borders. Pathogens can easily hitch global rides, as evidenced by the spread of the coronavirus.

Can our immune systems keep up with the speed with which we live our lives? Recent viral outbreaks following the advent of globalization and modern travel also means that we must shift our attention to newer ways of safeguarding public health. Sometimes, that means returning to older ways. Here are six impressive herbs with antiviral activity to include in your diet and home remedies.

1. Sage

Sage is a part of the mint family and often used in traditional medicine to treat viral infections. A 2014 review published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine discusses the therapeutic potential of the sage species which may provide natural solutions for the relief or cure of life-threatening diseases like dementia, lupus, heart disease and cancer. Sage also can be used to treat common illnesses.

Aqueous extracts from sage, peppermint and lemon balm present significant anti-HIV-1 activity by raising the virion density, according to 2008 findings published in Springer Nature’s Retrovirology. HIV-1 was severely impaired once treated with Lamiaceae extracts (from the mint plant family).

The antiviral activity of sage is linked with safficinolide and sage one which are found in the stem and leaves of the plant, according to a 2017 analysis of the pharmacological properties of sage. These findings were published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.

2. Oregano 

Oregano is also a plant with antiviral properties, thanks to the chemical compound carvacrol that belongs to the mint family. Both oregano oil and carvacrol decreased the activity of murine norovirus (MNV) within 15 minutes of exposure to the virus. MNV is extremely contagious and a main cause of stomach flu. These results were published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology in 2014.

Oregano oil and carvacrol also reveal antiviral activity when it comes to the herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and rotavirus. The findings were published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology in 2011.

3. Fennel

Fennel is a member of the carrot family that tastes like licorice. Studies show it demonstrates antiviral activity against certain viruses.

A 2014 test-tube study revealed that fennel extract presents potent antiviral activity against parainfluenza type 3 (PI-3) and herpes viruses. PI-3 contributes to respiratory infections in cattle. The findings were published in Biomedical Research International.

Fennel essential oil contains the chemical constituent trans-anethole, which also presents antiviral effects against herpes, according to an article published in Evidenced-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2011.

The Korean Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology reports animal research conducted in 2015 demonstrates the potential of fennel to decrease inflammation and boost the immune system, thereby fighting off viral infections.

4. Garlic 

Garlic is a member of the Allium family and related to shallots, chives, leeks and onions. It’s a popular remedy for many conditions, such as viral infections.

An older study published in the International Journal of Dermatology analyzed the efficacy of garlic extract applied to warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) twice daily. All 23 participants found that their warts were eliminated in just one to two weeks.

A review on the therapeutic effects of garlic conducted in 2014 suggests that garlic presents antiviral activity against viral pneumonia, influenza A and B, HIV, HSV-1 and rhinovirus. The results were published in Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine.

Garlic also contains anti-inflammatory compounds that stimulate an immune system response which could protect the body against viral infections, according to findings published in the Journal of Immunology Research. However, these results were based on animal and test-tube studies, not human trials.

5. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a part of the mint family known for its lemony zest and taste. It’s commonly used in dressings, seasonings and teas. It also contains potent medicinal qualities, including plant compounds that benefit the body through antiviral activity. These compounds have shown efficacy against the influenza A virus, according to 2016 findings published in Virusdisease.

Additionally, test-tube studies have revealed the antiviral activity of lemon balm against herpes, HIV-1, enterovirus 71 and bird flu. These results were published in the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry in 2021.

6. Basil

Particular varieties of basil, especially holy and sweet basil, could effectively combat viral infections. 

Holy basil is also commonly known as tulsi and may improve immune response to viral infections, inhibiting the interaction between SARS-CoV-2 Spike S1 and ACE2. The compound eugenol is responsible for augmenting the immune system in this study, according to findings published in the 2021 Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

Sweet basil extracts, that include the compounds ursolic acid and apigenin, have been shown to exhibit powerful antiviral effects against hepatitis B, herpes and enterovirus. These results were reported in an older comparative study published in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology & Physiology.

A clinical four-week study found that those who supplemented with 300 milligrams of tulsi extract experienced raised levels of natural killer and helper T cells. These are immune cells that defend the body against viral infections. The systematic review was published in 2017 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Much progress has been made in drug development and immunization, but antiviral therapies that match the pace of human evolution are lacking in our fast-paced global society. The discovery and development of novel antiviral drugs, especially from natural herbal sources, is a vital next step in pharmacology.

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