You’re going through your day, and you start to notice a faint, dry scratching feeling in the back of your throat. As the day goes on, it gets worse.
We’ve all been there! A sore throat is often the first sign that your immune system is fighting something.
Herbal teas can be a great way to soothe throat irritation. In this article, we’ll discuss the cause and nature of sore throats and share some of the best tea for sore throat symptoms.
Table of Contents
A sore throat is characterized as an irritating, scratchy sensation that can cause discomfort in the back and sides of the throat. It’s also typically difficult to swallow when one has a sore throat.
In the US, a sore throat makes up approximately 2% of annual outpatient visits, and around half of sore throat conditions occur during and before adolescence. General causes of a sore throat include pharyngitis, bacteria or viral infection, flu or common cold, allergies, and pollution.
Inflammation of the mucous membrane is one of the most common causes of sore throats. If a runny nose is present, mucous dripping in the back of the throat can also cause irritation.
Sore throats can also be the result of bacteria, which tends to collect in the upper respiratory tract from common functions like breathing, drinking, and eating.
Herbal teas have the ability to soothe redness and irritation – in addition to having anti-microbial properties.
Best Tea for Sore Throat
Below is a list of the best herbs to use in tea for sore throat issues. These natural sore throat remedies have been known to ease sore throat complications in numerous ways.
Licorice is a popular therapeutic herb commonly known for its flavoring in candy. It’s been discovered that licorice root may support heartburn, coughs, upper respiratory issues, and reduce inflammation.
A clinical study observing patients with acute pharyngitis found that Throat Coat tea (which includes licorice root, elm inner bark, marshmallow root, and licorice root) provided relief after a few minutes. Researchers noted that the participants needed to continuously drink the tea every 30 minutes, as the effects would wear off.
Another clinical trial involving participants who had a throat tube put in for surgical purposes found that patients who gargled with licorice experienced a more significant decrease in throat discomfort than those that gargled with sugar water. The licorice gargle reduced throat complications by half.
A similar study found that gargling with licorice before an operation with a breathing tube significantly decreased sore throat discomfort and the likelihood of a cough for patients.
A review on the effects of Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root) for postoperative sore throat discovered that applying licorice topically is more effective for easing discomfort than other non-pain-relieving methods. There were no side effects noted with licorice.
These studies suggest that licorice would be a great herbal tea for sore throat discomfort due to its soothing properties.
Summary:Clinical research has found that licorice root tea may work to decrease common sore throat symptoms.
2. Marshmallow Root
Marshmallow root is an herb that has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal plant and food. It is known for its mucilage content which is a slippery, cooling substance that coats and soothes irritated tissue.
In a clinical study observing an herbal tea called Throat Coat (which includes licorice root, elm inner bark, marshmallow root, and licorice root aqueous dry extract), participants with sore throats experienced significant relief within minutes. It should be noted that the effect only lasted 30 minutes, so the tea had to be continuously consumed throughout the day.
In a lab study observing Phytohustil®, an herbal product for irritated mucosa containing Althea officinalis (marshmallow root) as its active ingredient, researchers discovered that the product provided both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. This suggests that marshmallow root may have the ability to soothe inflamed tissue and ease sore throat discomfort.
A survey found that marshmallow root lozenges and syrup are effective for soothing sore throat discomfort from a dry cough. Participants reported relief within 10 minutes of taking both supplements.
Summary:Studies show that marshmallow root tea may benefit sore throats through its soothing properties.
3. Slippery Elm
This herb is the bark of the slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) tree. The tree’s name is derived from the inner bark’s texture, which is slippery when chewed due to its high mucilage content.
A review of slippery elm found that hot teas or lozenges made from the bark are perfect for soothing irritated sore throats. The review mentions that this effect is due to slippery elm’s ability to potentially reduce inflammation and pain in the throat.
The American Botanical Council calls slippery elm a “superior medicine” for easing the discomforts of sore throats and coughs.
Summary:Slippery elm tea is thought to improve sore throats by its ability to reduce inflammation and pain.
This herb belongs to the Asteraceae, or daisy, family and has been highly-revered by herbalists for millennia. When the elecampane root is steeped in cold water, it produces a “mucilage” that coats the respiratory tract and provides comfort.
In a clinical trial involving children with an acute cough, a cough syrup containing elecampane was able to soothe and protect the upper respiratory tract from inflammation. This study suggests that KalobaTUSS® may soothe the discomfort of a sore throat and protect it so the tissue can rehydrate.
In a lab-based study observing inflammation-based respiratory complications, researchers found that a blend of elecampane and Grindelia squarrosa (curlycup gumweed) produces an anti-inflammatory effect. This suggests that this herbal blend may be helpful for reducing inflammation in the respiratory tract while also supporting recovery.
The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP) lists elecampane as an “antitussive” and “bactericidal,” meaning it helps ease painful coughs and it may clear out bacteria within the respiratory tract. A sore throat often accompanies both of these conditions.
Summary:Elecampane appears to benefit sore throat symptoms by easing coughs and inhibiting respiratory bacteria.
Peppermint is a well-loved herb in the Lamiaceae, or mint, family and is used as a flavoring for food and oral health products. It has been used therapeutically for thousands of years and is noted for its cooling effects.
In a clinical trial observing patients with upper respiratory tract infections, a spray blend of 5 herbs (lemon, eucalyptus, & other herbs) was able to immediately and significantly improve sore throat, hoarseness, and coughing. Researchers noted that they believed the cause was due to the herbs’ antimicrobial properties.
A lab-based study discovered that tea tree oil, lavender oil, thyme oil, peppermint oil, and eugenol oil effectively eradicated bacterial strains known as “oral pathogens” that may cause sore throats.
The German Commission E, a government organization, recommends peppermint tea for respiratory tract issues and upper respiratory tract inflammation, suggesting it may be helpful for sore throat discomfort.
Summary:Peppermint may benefit sore throat pain through its respiration supporting properties.
Common Symptoms of Sore Throat:
A sore throat can manifest in numerous ways. Symptoms are usually mild at first and then progress.
Some common symptoms of a sore throat include:
- Scratchy sensation
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swollen tonsils or glands
- White bumps
Cause and Improving a Sore Throat:
Sore throats can be caused by numerous factors. Addressing some of these factors may help prevent and ease sore throat irritation.
Some common causes of a sore throat include:
Some lifestyle changes that may help prevent sore throat include:
- Avoiding smoking
- Wearing a mask in polluted areas
- Using an air filter during allergy season
- Taking a preventative herbal supplement or tea during cold and flu season
Having a sore throat can significantly impact quality of life. Drinking herbal tea for a sore throat may support a quicker recovery and help avoid complications in the future.
It is highly important to consult with a professional healthcare practitioner if you’re considering adding an herbal tea to your daily routine.
Barati F, Pouresmaieli M, Ekrami E, Asghari S, Ziarani FR, Mamoudifard M. Potential Drugs and Remedies for the Treatment of COVID-19: a Critical Review. Biol Proced Online. 2020 Jul 23;22:15. doi: 10.1186/s12575-020-00129-1. PMID: 32754003; PMCID: PMC7377207.
Ben-Arye E, Dudai N, Eini A, Torem M, Schiff E, Rakover Y. Treatment of upper respiratory tract infections in primary care: a randomized study using aromatic herbs. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:690346. doi: 10.1155/2011/690346. Epub 2010 Nov 1. PMID: 21052500; PMCID: PMC2967840.
Bonaterra GA, Bronischewski K, Hunold P, Schwarzbach H, Heinrich EU, Fink C, Aziz-Kalbhenn H, Müller J, Kinscherf R. Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidative Effects of Phytohustil® and Root Extract of Althaea officinalis L. on Macrophages in vitro. Front Pharmacol. 2020 Mar 17;11:290. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.00290. PMID: 32256361; PMCID: PMC7090173.
Carnevali I, La Paglia R, Pauletto L, Raso F, Testa M, Mannucci C, Sorbara EE, Calapai G. Efficacy and safety of the syrup "KalobaTUSS®" as a treatment for cough in children: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. BMC Pediatr. 2021 Jan 11;21(1):29. doi: 10.1186/s12887-020-02490-2. PMID: 33430841; PMCID: PMC7798282.
Fink, C., Schmidt, M., & Kraft, K. (2018). Complementary medicine research, 25(5), 299–305. https://doi.org/10.1159/000489560
Gierlikowska, B., Gierlikowski, W., Bekier, K., Skalicka-Woźniak, K., Czerwińska, M. E., & Kiss, A. K. (2020). Inula helenium and Grindelia squarrosa as a source of compounds with anti-inflammatory activity in human neutrophils and cultured human respiratory epithelium. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 249, 112311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2019.112311
Herbal tea helps reduce the pain of acute pharyngitis. BMJ. 2003 Sep 27;327(7417):0. PMCID: PMC200788.
Kenny CR, Stojakowska A, Furey A, Lucey B. From Monographs to Chromatograms: The Antimicrobial Potential of Inula helenium L. (Elecampane) Naturalised in Ireland. Molecules. 2022 Feb 18;27(4):1406. doi: 10.3390/molecules27041406. PMID: 35209195; PMCID: PMC8874828.
Kuriyama, A., & Maeda, H. (2019). Topical application of licorice for prevention of postoperative sore throat in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of clinical anesthesia, 54, 25–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclinane.2018.10.025
McKay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2006). A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.). Phytotherapy research : PTR, 20(8), 619–633. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1936
Ruetzler, K., Fleck, M., Nabecker, S., Pinter, K., Landskron, G., Lassnigg, A., You, J., & Sessler, D. I. (2013). A randomized, double-blind comparison of licorice versus sugar-water gargle for prevention of postoperative sore throat and postextubation coughing. Anesthesia and analgesia, 117(3), 614–621. https://doi.org/10.1213/ANE.0b013e318299a650
Tanz RR. Sore Throat. Nelson Pediatric Symptom-Based Diagnosis. 2018:1–14.e2. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-323-39956-2.00001-7. Epub 2017 May 12. PMCID: PMC7152117.
Thosar N, Basak S, Bahadure RN, Rajurkar M. Antimicrobial efficacy of five essential oils against oral pathogens: An in vitro study. Eur J Dent. 2013 Sep;7(Suppl 1):S071-S077. doi: 10.4103/1305-7456.119078. PMID: 24966732; PMCID: PMC4054083.
Wijesundara NM, Rupasinghe HPV. Herbal Tea for the Management of Pharyngitis: Inhibition of Streptococcus pyogenes Growth and Biofilm Formation by Herbal Infusions. Biomedicines. 2019 Aug 24;7(3):63. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines7030063. PMID: 31450579; PMCID: PMC6783935.