Natural Solutions for Shingles

Cayenne for neuropathy

Dear Annie, I have shingles; it is painful. Is there anything that can help?

OH, Dear Friend, I’m so sorry. Shingles can be very painful. The good news is that natural solutions are often very effective for relieving the pain and itching rash of shingles. Herbal solutions may also help resolve the virus a little faster. (This is, of course, my opinion based on several years of experience, it is NOT a medical opinion.) To get started, let’s look at what shingles are. Then we’ll look at how to deal with the pain and strategies to shorten the course of the virus.

Table of Contents

About Shingles

Shingles happen when the chicken pox virus returns with a vengeance. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. A virus from the herpes family of viruses that also cause chicken pox, cold sores and genital lesions. After recovering from chicken pox, the virus (herpes zoster) can remain dormant in the nervous system for decades. Then under the right conditions, it reactivates, traveling along the nerve fibers and up to the skin’s surface. 

Some Facts About Shingles

  • Anyone who has had chicken pox can get shingles.
  • In the United States, about 1 million cases occur every year.
  • Approximately 1 in 3 adults will get shingles in their lifetime.
  • Shingles are contagious, but only to those who have never had chicken pox. Then after exposure, the person will get chicken pox, not shingles.
  • They now have a vaccine for the Chicken Pox.  Most people who have had the vaccine won’t catch the chicken pox.  As an added benefit their chances of experiencing shingles is reduced.
  • A Shingles vaccine is available through your doctor but it only helps before you get the shingles.  And although the vaccine isn’t 100%, it does decrease the likelihood of contracting shingles.
  • Risk increases with age. Over ½ of all shingle cases occur in people over the age of 60.

Symptoms of the Shingles

The viral progression usually starts with an itch, numbness, a tingling sensation, or stabbing pain. The sensation most often occurs on a band of skin on one side of the body. There may be an accompanying malaise, including: fever, chills, headache and/or an upset stomach. The pain or discomfort can range from mild to severe. With some people experiencing only a light itch, while others feel intense pain when touched by the slightest breeze.

After a few days, or up to 2 weeks after the initial symptoms, a rash appears. The rash resembles chicken pox and quickly develops fluid-filled blisters that may itch. New blisters continue to develop for several days. They scab over in 7 to 10 days. Shingles usually runs its course in three to five weeks. 

About Shingles

The pain and rash usually occur on one side of the body and/or on one side of the face. The most common location for shingles is a band of skin, called a dermatome. A dermatome is a band of skin where the nerves are supplied through a single connection to a spinal root. The illustration shows how the rash may manifest in relation to the dermatomes. In rare cases (usually among people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread.

Shingles Complications

Most healthy people weather the condition with no complications, especially if they begin treating the virus right away. That doesn’t mean it’s comfortable, but it does mean there are less chances of complications.

People with a compromised immune system are at a higher risk for shingles in general as well as manifesting possible complications. Complications can include:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia – is when the sensitivity and pain continue after the virus has run its course. The Pain that is caused by damage to nerve fibers and skin can last for weeks or months. The older you are the more likely this is to occur. The CDC estimates that as many as 50% of people over 60 years and 75% of people over 70 experience postherpetic neuralgia.
  • Complications of the head and senses – If shingles occur on the face, there can be facial paralysis, hearing problems or temporary or permanent blindness.
  • Scaring and bacterial skin infections can occur if blisters aren’t treated properly.
  • Encephalitis – inflammation of the brain
  • Meningitis – inflammation of spinal fluid

*Medical intervention should be sought if complications are severe such as if there is a high fever, swelling in the face or eye area etc.  Both Encephalitis and Meningitis can be life threatening. See a Doctor Immediately.

I should state here, that there is an immunization for shingles. It won’t help once you have the condition but may help prevent the problem altogether. The vaccine may be a good option, especially for elders and those with a compromised immune system. Visit the to learn more about the vaccine.

Natural and Herbal Solutions for the Shingles

Herbal remedies can help quite a bit. Going the natural route, we always want to support and vitalize the system, while dealing with the uncomfortable symptoms of the virus. The areas we’ll look at when working with a person with shingles are:

  • Pain relief.
  • Support, sooth and vitalize the nervous system
  • Heal and protect the skin, while addressing any uncomfortable symptoms like itching
  • Using Antiviral herbs to support the system through the course of the virus hopefully shortening its length and severity
  • Practice loving kindness with yourself by taking the time to take care of your physical, mental and emotional needs. 3-6 weeks of pain and uncomfortable itching takes its toll on body, mind and spirit. Nurture yourself as lovingly as possible through the process.

The Herbs

Skin sensitivity and pain relief are usually a top priority. The most effective herbs I’ve found to relieve the intense pain of shingles are Cayenne and Saint John’s wort. 

Cayenne (Capsicum annum and other species)

Cayenne for neuropathy

An external application of cayenne is often used for nerve pain. I have recommended its’ use many times and have never been disappointed. Capsaicin, the constituent that makes pepper plants hot, is found in most capsicum genus plants, all of which can be used interchangeably (the hot ones anyway). Studies show that cayenne, when applied to the skin, depletes nerve cells of “substance P.”  Substance P is a neurotransmitter in the sensory nerve endings that sends signals of pain to the brain. Therefore, the use of cayenne diminishes the transmission of painful stimuli from the peripheral nerve fibers to the central nervous system. It also helps stimulate the release of endorphins.

Cayenne is recommended for neuropathy of all types including the pain of shingles, Postherpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy and chemotherapy induced neuropathy. It also helps relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, joint and muscle pain, toothache and migraine. 10% to 20% in formula is enough. In a pinch, I like to use 1 teaspoon powered cayenne in 2 cups of body lotion (more or less according to your needs). Shake before each use and apply to painful area. Be warned, the cayenne may burn at first. No one has ever complained about the heat, probably because the results far overshadow any initial discomfort. Cayenne can be used as a spray, oil, salve, ointment, lotion, compress, and plaster.

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

St. John’s Wort is a trophorestorative for the nervous system. That means that it restores, nourishes, heals, protects and sooths nerve tissue and/or the nervous system. Additionally, this herb acts as an anti-viral agent to assist the body when dealing with viral infections and as a vulnerary to heal, sooth and protect the skin. This makes it a perfect choice for working with shingles. St. John’s Wort can be used internally as part of your antiviral formula and externally with cayenne to deal with shingles pain, while healing the nerve tissue and the rash. When purchasing St. John’s Wort in any form, look for a deep red color, indicating the highest level of healing constituents. St. John’s Wort does have some contraindications. If you are on medications, please contact your Dr. or qualified herbalist to be sure it’s safe for you to take. Also, high dosages or external application of this herb can cause photosensitivity.

Saint John's Wart
Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Chaparral (Larrea tridentate)

Herpes class viruses including shingles, cold sores, chicken pox, and venereal herpes often respond well to treatment with Chaparral. This is a well-documented herb. Research has identified dozens of special antioxidant compounds and flavonoids which act as cellular enhancers, with antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial qualities. When applied externally to the skin, chaparral helps heal the rash, itching, viral implications and to sooth general discomfort. When taken internally (in formula), chaparral interrupts the replication of the virus, improves cellular integrity and enhances immune function. Caution should be used by those with liver issues or by people taking medications that can be hard on the liver. This is a short-term herb and should only be taken for 2 weeks with a 1-week break between rounds.

Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)

A mild, supportive, nervous system restorative that has anti-viral properties. Lemon Balm is famous for its effectiveness against viral infections like herpes. I like to mix Lemon Balm with Elderflower and Yarrow at first stages of an irruptive viral infection like chicken pox or shingles, (or any cold or flu). Later in the viral process add it to your anti-viral formula to shorten the course of the disease. I love this herb, it is a gentle, relaxing and restorative. 

Lemon Balm for shingles

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)

Gotu Kola is one of my favorite adaptogenic herbs, meaning that it helps the body and mind deal with stress. Shingles, as with any longer-term condition that involves pain, creates a good deal of stress. Gotu kola is a good choice because it fortifies the immune system, both cleansing and feeding it while strengthening the adrenal system. It is especially helpful for the healing and repair of the skin and connective tissue that are hot, red and inflamed. Gotu kola, when used externally, helps prevent scaring and heals scar tissue. Internally, its use relaxes the mind and body and promotes restful sleep. This is a deeply healing, nourishing and rejuvenating herb, with an affinity to the central nervous system.

Milky/Wild Oats (Avena sativa)

Wild Oats is an adaptogen and trophorestorative for the nervous system. Milky Oats takes the nervous response down a notch. It is helpful whether there is increased anxiety, nervousness, upset, shaking, or heat, and uncomfortably high vibration. You may think angry or judgmental thoughts about yourself or others. There may be a sense of “I can’t” or “how will I get it through this?” Oats is soothing, cooling, nourishing and restoring to mind, body and spirit, helping us to get over the humps in life. Take this herb as tea, in your bath (think oatmeal bath – FABULOUS). Add wild oats to your infused oil or internally in your tincture formula. 

Milky oats for traumatic brain injury

This list is by no means exhaustive. Other antiviral herbs that have proven helpful for the chicken pox virus specifically and the herpes family viruses in general include: Licorice, Monarda and Artemisia species like Mugwort and Native Sage. Other herbs that may be helpful include mint family plants like sage, peppermint, thyme, oregano and prunella.

Remember, when working with holistic and herbal strategies there is no one size fits all approach or prescription to any physical or emotional condition. Everyone is unique. We all live life and experience things in our own way. We all have a different constitution, diet and background. All of this is taken into consideration when making any kind therapeutic suggestion. Please take your own special circumstances into consideration. If you need help, call your Dr, Herbalist or a knowledgeable friend for help. 

Always listen to your body and pay attention to what’s going on when starting a new protocol. If something feels off, then it is. All plants and supplements work differently with different people. It doesn’t mean herbs don’t work; it means THAT herb isn’t working for you. If you begin to feel uncomfortable in any way after beginning a new herb or supplement, STOP taking it. Give me or someone else a call and chat about what’s going on and how you feel. Contact me here if you have and questions or want to discuss your herbal plan.


Possible Shingles Tincture Formula

  • 2-parts Chaparral
  • 2-parts St. John’s Wort
  • 1-part Lemon Balm
  • 1-part Gotu Kola

Mix individual tinctures or plant extracts. Take 60-90 drops 3 or 4 times per day, beginning at the first signs of the illness to the conclusion of the outbreak. Take for 10 to 14 days with 3 to 5 days break. Then continue with another round.

External shingles formula for pain and healing

  • 16 ounces of St John’s wort infused oil (NOT the Essential Oil).  
  • Or 16 ounces of the skin lotion of your choice.  Any store bought lotion will work.
  • 2 teaspoons powdered Cayenne

Add Cayenne to St John’s wort infused oil. Shake well. Leave in a sunny window a day or two. Apply to painful areas 2 to 4 times per day for shingles pain.

*Feel free to use immediately.

DIY Singles Pain Ointment

If your industrious and would like to make your own infused oil here’s a good formula I keep on hand.

Place the following dry herbs into a crock pot

Equal parts dry herbs

  • Chaparral
  • John’s Wort
  • Monarda
  • Gotu Kola
  • ½ part cayenne powder or pepper flakes
  • ½ part kava kava (optional)

Place herbs in crock pot and cover with organic olive, sesame, almond or avocado oil. (Or a mixture). The oil should cover the herbs by about 2 inches. Stir. Put the crockpot on warm.  Stir several times per day. let steep on warm for 24 to 48 hours. Strain and use. Check the heat from the cayenne on a small patch of unaffected skin and dilute with oil to preferred temperature. 

The application temperature should be hot or warm. However, keep in mind that some folks are more sensitive than others. Too hot can cause welts on the old and infirm.

Other Natural Solutions for the Treatment of Shingles

  • Oatmeal Bath – Oatmeal in your bath is soothing and relaxing. Most people like the water pretty warm when dealing with shingles. Allow the water temperature to be whatever is the most comforting to you.
  • Homeopathic Remedies – A friend and fellow herbalist, Kendra Whittaker of Spirit Mountain Botanical Medicine, mentioned the use of Homeopathic remedies in relation to shingles. Homeopathics are wonderful formulations. I am not an expert in this area and invite you to contact Kendra for more information.

Product Suggestions

Wonderment Gardens

Wonderment Gardens LLC

Product Suggestions

Wonderment Gardens LLC handcrafts each of the individual tinctures listed above.   And are available in our online store.

As a clinical herbalist, I am always happy to assess your personal needs and help you develop an individualized healing plan. Contact Annie to find our more about scheduling a consultation or ordering a specialized formula.

Affiliate Product Suggestions

The following contains affiliate links.  Please assume, that if there is a link, I am an affiliate.  That means, if you purchase a product through one of the links, I make a commission at no additional cost to you.  I appreciate it each time you click on or make a purchase from one of my links.  Rest assured, only superior products are suggested.  Ones that I truly feel confident about.  Thank you for your support.


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These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

Herbs taken for health purposes should be treated with the same care as medicine. Herbal remedies are no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are serious about good health, you’ll want to combine diet, exercise, herbals, a good relationship with your doctor and a generally healthy lifestyle. No one of these will do it alone.

This information is designed to be used as part of a complete health plan. No products are intended to replace your doctor’s care, or to supersede any of his/her advice or prescriptions.

1 thought on “Natural Solutions for Shingles”

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