Wherever I live, I seem to become the neighborhood witch doctor—usually without asking. People bring me their children, their friends and even their...

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Wherever I live, I seem to become the neighborhood witch doctor—usually without asking.

People bring me their children, their friends and even their pets (the one I remember best was a dog with mouth warts) to ask me whether there is anything “natural” they can try to help whatever it is. I love the fact that people trust me enough to ask me their questions, though sometimes it throws me off a bit.

So, true to form, I was recently at a party eating some lasagna when a woman stopped me midbite to ask about cold sores. Her son apparently has a breakout on his lips about twice a year. She wanted to know if there was anything topical — simple, natural, cheap and easy — that he could use to accelerate healing. She is a working mom with two young kids at home so, ideally, she wanted to use something she already had in the house.

Here’s what I told her:

Aloe. One study showed that using a 0.5 percent aloe cream three times per day accelerates healing of the sores by 1 week for some people. You can buy the cream, or you can buy a $4 aloe plant, which has the added benefit of looking pretty in your kitchen (and being super-easy to maintain).

Just break off a small piece of leaf, and rub a bit of its gooey gel on your lip. Usually, the more often you apply it, the better, but I would recommend at least three times per day. Like most topical treatments, it’s best to start as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on.

Zinc-oxide ointment. In one study, people using a 0.3 percent zinc-oxide cream within the first day of developing a lesion healed more quickly. Zinc-oxide creams are more commonly used for babies with diaper rash, but those creams have a much higher concentration of zinc — around 40 percent. In practice, some people have told me that a small amount of the high-concentration cream on the sore works just as well. Just make sure not to get it in your mouth or swallow it, which applies to any topical treatment. It can also look a bit funny if you are going to work, since it is white.

Other, more sophisticated, options include:

Lemon-balm ointment. A 1 percent lemon-balm ointment was found in one study to decrease symptoms and heal lesions.

Super Lysine Plus. This combination of zinc oxide, lysine and many other ingredients helped speed up healing in one study, when applied every two hours.

Sage and rhubarb cream. This mixture eased pain and symptoms in one study.

Dr. Astrid Pujari is a Seattle M.D. with an additional degree as a medical herbalist; she practices at the Pujari Center and teaches as part of the residency programs at Virginia Mason and Swedish/Cherry Hill hospitals. Send questions to apujari@seattletimes.com for possible use in future columns. All information is intended for education and not a substitute for medical advice. Consult your doctor before following any suggestions given here.