Shingles: My Herbal Experience

If you have ever had chickenpox in your life, you have the potential to develop shingles. And, may I state: shingles is a b*tch. I can not stress enough how thankful I am to have Cristophe in my life. I’ve learned so much from him about Herbalism, and his knowledge has saved me many times over. His continued sharing of his personal research and education has even aided me spiritually. It’s lead us both to reconnect with the lost knowledge of my personal Native American ancestors, and our shared Indigenous European ancestors. Suffering through the pains of a shingles outbreak now has definitely reaffirmed my gratitude for this.

Diagnosing Troubles

When I first started to feel the symptoms of shingles, I really wasn’t sure what was going on. I knew it didn’t feel like anything I’ve experienced before. These include wasp stings, ant stings/bites, flea bites, and allergic skin reactions. So, I started off thinking of what I hadn’t been through. We had also just been spending lots of time outside, so insects were the first culprits I considered. This was a bit of a scary thought, since many species of recluse and widow spiders, plus the “kissing bug” (Triatominae) that is known to transmit Chagas disease, are found here in Texas, USA. The symptoms of each are all very similar and vary in severity from person to person.

After researching we ruled out a recluse spider bite and the acute phase of Chagas disease. The cramping, swelling, and redness across the upper right side of my back towards my chest spreading from the first raised bumps that appeared (we thought were possibly bites) near my spine, plus the initial numbness of those bumps, lead us to think widow spider bite. As the persistence of the symptoms continued past the first 72 hours though, we began to worry again. A widow spider bite should have healed by then.

Realizing It’s Shingles

Being as we are scientists (so the following is NOT something I recommend anyone else do), we decided to experiment by temporarily pausing my treatments in order to get a full experience of my symptoms to help us form a better diagnosis. Cristophe’s rosemary plantain salve was doing too good of a job in repressing the spread of the virus for us to tell what it was. So, on the third day of my symptoms, after our morning wash of the affected areas, we did not apply the salve. This did not go well. The bumps connected to form a full rash with multiple blisters wrapping from the right side of my upper back, under my right arm, and across the right side of my chest, stopping in the middle. This type of belt-like rash that does not breach the middle of the body is a telltale sign of shingles.

Picture of part of Rimakej's shingles rash made of large red bumps with multiple small blister heads wrapping across Rima's right upper back and side.
The back and side section of my shingles rash on day 3.

I was very glad to now know that I didn’t have anything worse. And, that I am suffering from something we can easily treat ourselves. Especially, since we were already doing a noticeably good job of treating it before diagnosis. We did this just by reasoning out what’s good for the symptoms presenting. But, boo for a much longer healing period of 2 to 4 weeks! Time to pull out all the stops in mitigating the extreme pain and discomfort.

My Herbal Regimen

Picture of a row of labeled glass bottles, glass jar, and round silver tin. The labels on the bottles read left to right, "organic lavender essential oil", "skullcap tincture", "meadowsweet tincture", "stinging nettles tincture", and "dried reishi tincture". The label on the glass jar full of pills reads, "ashwagandha root powder". And, the label on the tin reads, "rosemary plantain salve".

Pictured above are most of the all organic herbal tinctures, salve, oil, and pills that have been helping me. Missing from this picture is the raw organic honey, dried organic chamomile, and dried wildcrafted reishi mushroom I am using in my daily teas. Why am I using reishi tincture (as seen in the picture) And reishi tea? As stated in Cris’ Top 10 Questions Asked of Me as an Herbalist blog, the way the medicinal properties of each plant are extracted (i.e. through hot water, alcohol, or vinegar) changes it’s use. Taking the alcohol tincture and drinking reishi as a tea allows my body to benefit from a wider range of it’s medicinal properties.

What These Herbs are Doing for Me

The rosemary plantain salve contains beeswax and coconut oil. Beeswax acts as a humectant to keep the treated skin from drying out. The plantain herb (Plantago spp.) infused in the coconut oil acts as a vulnerary (soothes irritated skin). And, the rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) essential oil within the salve is an antiviral (aids the immune system to fight off viruses, such as the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles and chickenpox). The lavender (Lavandula stoechas) essential oil I have been applying with the salve is also antiviral. The raw organic honey and dried chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) in my teas are antiviral as well.

As far as the pills and tinctures go, the ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root powder and reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lingzhi) are both adaptogens and act as immunomodulators (helps the immune system to stay strong under stress, but not overreact into an auto immune issue). Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is an anti-inflammatory (reduces swelling). Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) is a antihistamine (reduces allergic reaction, such as itching). And, skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a nervine (supports the nervous system, where the shingles virus is rooted).

Is Shingles Contagious?

Until my rash is scabbed over, I have to potential to spread chickenpox to anyone who has not already had it. But, I can not spread shingles to anyone. Luckily, Cristophe also had chickenpox when he was a child, as most people our generation and older have. To be safe though, I am avoiding going anywhere public until I am no longer contagious. There are a few people who avoided getting chickenpox as a child. Them getting chickenpox at an older age can be deadly. Wouldn’t want to chance that, so I’m staying home with my herbs.

All Healed Update:

After the first 7 days of my shingles outbreak, I breached the worst of the pain by breaking a mild fever that lasted less than 24 hours. By day 11, the rash was fully scabbed. Within that time frame, we added a few more very helpful herbs to my regimen. First was dried organic lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) in my daily teas as an antiviral that specifically works against herpes viruses, which the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles and chickenpox is. Next we added organic astragalus (A. membranaceus) root powder to my daily teas as well as another adaptogen, and organic California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) tincture as another anti-inflammatory for my pain management.

The pain and fatigue slowly decreased every day after the fever break. Our herbal salve was also extremely helpful in mitigating the itchiness that accompanied my scabs peeling off. The surface of my skin was finally fully healed by day 27. The salve also continues to help reduce the visibility of my leftover scars.

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