A sore throat can make talking or swallowing painful. Organic and natural remedies for sore throats are often packaged as sprays, lozenges or herbal teas. Common pantry staples such as salt and honey can also provide relief. Check with your doctor before trying any of these alternative treatments because they can interact with medications, supplements or other herbs.
Modern herbalists adopted the Native American use of slippery elm to treat everything from sore throats and coughs to skin conditions. A tree native to North America, slippery elm contains mucilage, a substance that turns into a slippery gel when combined with water. The gel coats a sore throat and provides soothing relief. This herbal remedy has not been extensively researched, but the University of Maryland Medical Center notes slippery elm as safe. It may slow down the absorption of other medications, however, because it coats the digestive system. (See References 1)
Licorice root typically grows in Asia, Greece and Turkey. Eastern and Western medical traditions have used it to treat sore throats, ulcers and viral infections. (See References 2) A July 2009 study published in "Anesthesia & Analgesia" examined the use of a licorice root gargle and its connection to soothing a patient's postsurgery sore throat. In this experiment, patients either gargled with a licorice root solution or plain water five minutes before they were placed under anesthesia. After surgery, the patients who took the licorice root solution reported less severe sore throats and diminished coughing than the group that was given plain water. (See References 3) Licorice root is available in peeled or powdered form, capsules, teas and extracts. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, licorice root can sometimes cause high blood pressure. People who already have high blood pressure or heart problems should avoid it. (See References 2)
Sage, a plant familiar to anyone who has ever tended an herb garden, adds flavor to savory dishes. Its oblong, textured leaves can also be used as a remedy for hoarseness, coughs and sore throats (see References 4). If you don't have a sage plant, you can buy the herb in the form of dried leaves, liquid extracts and essential oils. As with licorice root, gargling with a sage solution can soothe a sore throat. Kathi Keville, director of the American Herb Association, suggests pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of either fresh or dried sage leaves. Let it steep for a few minutes, then strain out the leaves and add a pinch of salt. This solution keeps for a couple of days in the refrigerator and can be used as needed. (See References 5) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regards sage as safe; however, it can have side effects in large amounts. More than 12 drops of sage essential oil becomes a toxic dose (see References 4).
Andrographis is sometimes known as "Indian echinacea" because it is found throughout India and other Asian counties. Thought to offer general support to the immune system, andrographis is increasingly available in the U.S. at stores that sell supplements and vitamins. According to Tufts Medical Center, a 2004 double-blind study performed with 158 adults found that andrographis extract provided relief of cold symptoms, including sore throat. The extract was also found to have a preventative effect against the common cold. Andrographis has not been found to cause side effects in human studies, but it has been found to impair the fertility of mice in lab studies. (See References 6)
Simple home remedies also offer relief for sore throat symptoms. Humidify the air with a cool mist humidifier or spend time in a steamy shower. Dry air can cause further irritation to a painfully sore throat. Gargle with saltwater. Use 1/4 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of warm water. Gargle with this solution every few hours for maximum relief. Suck on ice pops or eat cold foods such as frozen yogurt. Warm liquids -- such as soup, broth and tea mixed with honey -- also soothe a sore throat.
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Slippery Elm; February 2009
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Licorice Root; July 2010
- "Anethesia and Analgesia"; An Evaluation of the Efficacy of Licorice Gargle for Attenuating Postoperative Sore Throat ... ; Anil Agarwal et al.; January 2009
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Sage; December 2010
- The Herb Companion; Herbs for the Cold and Flu; Sore Throat Gargle with Sage; Kathy Keville; November 2002
- Tufts Medical Center; Andrographis; February 2011
Based in the Midwest, Bethany Wieman has been writing articles about gardening, DIY, finance, travel and sustainability for more than 10 years. She was featured in the book "The Complete Guide to Growing Vegetables, Flowers, and Herbs from Containers." Wieman's professional background is in marketing, working with such brands as Swiss Army, Timberland and Callaway Golf. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English.
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