Herbal Remedies for Canker Sores

Canker sores, also called aphthous ulcers or aphthous stomatitis, are painful lesions inside your mouth. The Mayo Clinic states that there are many causes of canker sores, including stress, mouth injury, allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, certain diseases, nutritional imbalance and immune disorders. Doctors may prescribe topical anesthetics, steroids and antibiotics, but these medications often have unpleasant side effects. You can treat canker sores with herbal remedies that will relieve pain, reduce inflammation and prevent infection.


Myrrh (Commiphora molmol) is gum resin from the myrrh tree. Myrrh has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and astringent properties and is used to treat wounds and infections, especially in the mouth. Conventional treatment of canker sores involves prescribing steroids to reduce inflammation. Since these drugs can lower your resistance to infection, herbs with anti-inflammatory actions may be a safer alternative. A study published in the March 2006 issue of “Toxicology In Vitro” found that myrrh essential oil reduced inflammation produced by gingival fibroblasts, which are gum tissue cells involved in the healing process. In their 2009 book, “Medicinal Plants of the World,” Ben-Erik van Wyk and Michael Wink cite myrrh as a topical herbal medicine for treating mouth ulcers.


Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia; E. purpurea), also known as purple coneflower, is a potent antimicrobial and immune system modulator. Echinacea supports the body’s immune response, prevents infection and repairs tissue damage. In his book “Holistic Herbal,” herbalist David Hoffmann recommends treating mouth ulcers with a combination of echinacea and myrrh. This formula, used as a mouthwash, will reduce pain and inflammation, prevent bacterial infection in the sores and aid the healing process.

Rock Rose

Rock rose (Helianthemum canadense), also called frostwort, is a small perennial with yellow flowers that only open in sunshine. Rock rose is rich in tannins, which are plant polyphenols that shrink or dry up tissue and stop bleeding and other exudates. Tannins have anti-inflammatory action and will protect inflamed mucous membranes like the inside of your mouth where canker sores grow. Rock rose has a long history of treating ulcers and skin and mouth infections. In their 2000 book, “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” Dr. James Balch and Phyllis Balch recommend rock rose as a mouthwash to reduce pain and heal canker sores.


Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an anti-inflammatory and demulcent–an herb that protects and soothes inflamed tissue. Licorice is used topically to treat the pain and inflammation of canker sores. Licorice contains glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid, which may cause hypertension, but it is possible to find deglycyrrhizinated licorice, which does not contain these compounds. The Mayo Clinic recommends making a paste of an alum and deglycyrrhizinated licorice and applying it directly to the canker sore. A study published in the 2008 issue of the “Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice” found that mouth patches made with licorice extract were as effective as prescription medication in reducing the pain, duration and size of canker sores.

About this Author

Janet Contursi has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Minnesota and has been a freelance writer for 23 years. Her articles have appeared in professional journals, magazines, newspapers, and on the Web. Contursi has a Master Herbalist diploma from the American College of Healthcare and Sciences. Her interests are the environment, herbal medicine, and forensic science.