Also known as milk vetch, huang qi (or huangqi)

Herbal Help for Herpes Infections

Astragalus may help suppress inflammatory proteins produced by herpes simplex keratitis.

Research suggests astragalus may help treat serious and painful conditions in the eye and brain caused by herpes.(52121)

Type of Herpes Infection Details

Herpes Simplex Keratitis (HSK)

  • Eye infection with swelling and cloudiness in the cornea.(122)
  • Most commonly caused by the same type of herpes that causes cold sores, herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1).(122)
  • May also occur in newborns as a result of herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2, the genital type).(122)

Herpes Simplex Encephalitis (HSE)

  • Brain infection with severe inflammation caused by both herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2.(123)
  • One of the most common viral encephalitis in adults (10-20%) but also occurs in children (5% of encephalitis cases).(123)
  • Symptoms include altered mental status (e.g., confusion), fever, headache, personality changes, and difficulty speaking.(123)
  • Untreated, HSE can be fatal. HSE caused by HSV-1 can also lead to widespread brain lesions that may lead to brain death.(121)

How Does Astragalus Work Against Herpes?

Astragalus helps normalize levels of proteins called cytokines that are released by cells, including immune system cells. By helping to regulate protein production, astragalus boosts the immune system functioning. Researchers think this may be the mechanism by which the herb helps HSK patients.(52)

With HSE caused by herpes simplex 1, lab and animal studies show that astragalus promotes receptors in brain cells that help detect virus infection. Instead of inhibiting inflammatory proteins, astragalus actually helped activate inflammatory cytokines to help attack the virus. Even though inflammatory proteins were boosted, overall inflammation in the brain cells caused by the virus was actually significantly reduced.(121)

Evidence of Benefit

In people with HSK, certain cytokine levels are different than in people without this viral condition. Results of a clinical trial demonstrated that astragalus significantly improved the balance of these immune system proteins in the HSK patients.(52)

Conversely, HSK patients randomly placed in the control group treated with the antiviral drug ribavirin showed no changes at all, suggesting that astragalus could be an effective treatment for HSK infections.(52)

There have not been any clinical studies using astragalus to treat encephalitis caused by herpes. Still, preclinical studies suggest that astragalus can help the virus from infecting brain cells by boosting the immune system response.(121)

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