Glandular Fever

Catching a kissing disease sounds like fun. Well, it’s not. Not remotely fun. Caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, glandular fever is a common infection in children and teenagers. It often cruelly strikes students at the end of their schooling, around the time of important exams and assessments. Also called acute mononucleosis, an episode of glandular fever can last a couple of weeks, or symptoms can linger for months and sometimes years. Glandular fever is thought to be a possible precursor to chronic fatigue syndrome. That threat alone is enough to treat this kissing disease very seriously.


  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck, underarms and groin.
  • Swollen tonsils.
  • Sore throat.
  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Headache.
  • Night sweats.
  • The spleen and liver can also be affected by glandular fever.

What causes it?

  • The Epstein Barr virus is spread by saliva, so in addition to kissing, you can catch it by sharing cutlery and crockery, or being downwind from someone sneezing or coughing.

What to do

If you treat your glandular fever with the recommendations below, and make sure you rest well, then there is every reason to expect you will be fighting fit within a couple of weeks.


  • If your appetite has reduced, don’t force yourself to eat big meals. Your appetite will return as soon as your body is ready to digest more solid sustenance. But the meals you do eat need to be nutritious. Lean meat, chicken and fish. Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit.
  • It is important to consume plenty of fluids.
  • Soup is good but avoid those based on cream, cheese or milk. Make a broth from vegetable, fish, chicken or beef stock and add vegetables, onions, beans and garlic.
  • Drink fresh vegetable and fruit juices. Vegetables to include are carrots, celery, parsley, beetroot, kale and ginger and for fruit, try berries, pineapple, oranges, grapefruit and mandarin.
  • Avoid sugar. Studies have shown that within a few minutes of sugar consumption, lymphocyte activity is reduced markedly. Lymphocytes (white blood cells) are major players in the immune system. Sugar also tends to increase mucus. A little raw honey is better and soothes a sore throat.
  • Calendula is a plant that is good for the immune and lymphatic system. If you grow this colourful flower, use some petals in your salads and sandwiches.


  • Herbs to support and strengthen the immune and lymphatic systems are mandatory. Choose from andrographis, echinacea, cat’s claw, baptisia, calendula, poke root, golden seal and/or olive leaf and take twice a day in tablet or tincture form. If you are using the gargle mentioned below, you don’t need this mixture as well. Use one or the other.
  • If your throat is inflamed and sore, add 5 mls of poke root, calendula, echinacea, golden seal and/or myrrh to 30 mls of water. Gargle 3 times a day and swallow. This will probably be one of the worst experiences of your life. As above, if you are using the gargle, you don’t need to take tablets or tinctures as well.
  • Vitamin C and zinc are important to keep your immune system in good nick. Take 2–3 times a day.
  • The herb, poke root (Phytolacca decandra), is specific for swollen glands and is marvellous when treating glandular fever. Poke root is quite strong so only take 10–15 drops three times a day. Best mixed with the other immune and lymphatic herbs mentioned previously. Poke root is not easy to come by, so you might need to consult a herbalist.
  • Calendula is another herb for the lymphatic system and is particularly suited to glandular fever. Drink calendula tea or mix it with other herbs including echinacea, ginger and peppermint.
  • If the infection has passed and you still feel fatigued, take a (long) course of the adaptogen herbs. The stalwarts of the materia medica, adaptogens help the body recover after illness, restoring energy and physical resilience. Many of these herbs also support immunity. Choose from Siberian ginseng, withania, rehmannia, licorice and/or panax ginseng. (For more on adaptogens, see chronic fatigue syndrome on page 00.)
  • If the liver has been affected (ascertained by a blood test), keep away from fatty foods and drink juices made from a combination of carrots, celery and beetroot. The juice of half a lemon in the morning in hot water is good for the liver. So are the herbs St. Mary’s thistle, dandelion root and globe artichoke.


  • Go to bed. To make sure your bout of glandular fever does not end up as chronic fatigue syndrome, take the advice from one of Australia’s leading herbalists, Kerry Bone. He recommends that as soon as you have got some extra energy, GO TO BED. Keep your energy as a reservoir for recovery. This is particularly difficult information for normally active teenagers to hear, but it is so important for recovery.
  • Don’t exercise. As mentioned above, any extra energy should be kept in reserve for recovery. Try a gentle stroll or stretch, no more.
  • The Bach flower Olive is appropriate if you are horribly tired, and Hornbeam if feeling just weary.
  • Before this illness, were you inclined to take on too much? Did you have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends? If so, take this as a warning, and don’t push yourself so hard in the future.

At a glance


  • Don’t force yourself to eat if you are not hungry. But make sure what you do eat is nutritious. Lean meat, chicken, fish, fresh vegetables and fruit.
  • Avoid sugar.
  • Keep up your fluids; soups and juices are a good idea.


  • Take herbs for glandular fever as a gargle (and swallow) 3 times a day if you have a sore throat, otherwise take in tablet or tincture form.
  • Vitamin C, zinc and the bioflavonoids will boost your immune system. At a time like this, boost away.
  • If you are still fatigued after a couple of weeks, take adaptogen herbs. These herbs help the body recover after illness.


  • Take rest. There is a tendency to underestimate the ferocity and tenacity of glandular fever. It is wise to take weeks away from work or school, rather than days. Be warned. Unless treated well, glandular fever has been known to come back to haunt you.