This is third part of a series on Herbal Remedies for colds and the flu.
Many sore throats are a result of a viral infection and while they cause considerable discomfort they will go away on their own. However, a small percentage is caused by streptococcus, which is a potentially serious infection. If you have a severe sore throat that lasts for more than a week see your doctor to get a test for streptococcus.
Sore throats can really be a pain. Luckily there are a variety of herbal treatments that can help prevent a situation from worsening, or can soothe an already raging sore throat.
One way we differentiate sore throats in Traditional Chinese Medicine is by deducing whether they are caused by Wind-Heat or Wind-Cold.
A Wind-Cold pattern may include a slight fever with more chills than fever, aversion to cold, sudden onset and the throat is itchy and slightly sore. Herbal strategies for this type of sickness include releasing the exterior with stimulating diaphoretic herbs. In general we'll have more success using spicy, pungent and warming herbs. (Garlic, ginger, cottonwood buds, bee balm, etc)
A Wind-Heat pattern may include a high fever with slight chills, sweating, aversion to heat, yellow secretions (through coughing, nasal discharge or even a yellow coating on the tongue) and a swollen sore throat. Herbal strategies for this type of sickness includes releasing the exterior through relaxing diaphoretics and using bitter, cooling herbs. (Boneset, elder flowers, horehound, marshmallow, Echinacea)
One way we differentiate herbs in western herbalism is by herbal actions. I've broken this materia medical for sore throats into four different categories. Rather than think of using one or the other, consider your specific symptoms and put together a blend that fits your particular circumstance. Also keep in mind that herbs rarely fit neatly into categories. Marshmallow root for example is demulcent, cooling, anti-microbial and immune supportive.
Demulcent herbs: These herbs are slimy in nature and help to coat the mucous membranes of the throat. This can bring instant relief to dry itchy throats. Demulcent herbs include licorice, marshmallow, and slippery elm.
Astringent herbs: These herbs can tighten the pores of the mucous membranes, helping to close out further infection and reduce inflammation and swelling. Astringent herbs include horehound, sage (Salvia officinalis), and red clover.
Antimicrobial herbs: These help to eliminate pathogens. Examples include cottonwood buds (Populus balsimifera), bee balm (Monarda spp.), garlic, ginger and goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis). I often like to take these infused in honey. Honey is soothing to the throat and is also antimicrobial.
Lymphatic herbs: Lymphatic herbs stimulate movement of lymph and can be very helpful when dealing with a sore throat combined with swollen lymph glands. Examples include Echinacea, calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis), cleavers (Galium aparine), burdock root (Arctium lappa), red root (Ceanothus spp.) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus).
Licorice is a wonderfully soothing and demulcent root that can help with a variety of cold and flu symptoms, including sore throats, coughing, and even bronchitis. Licorice is readily found in tea bags at grocery stores. Or you can buy the root in bulk and simmer for twenty minutes, strain, and enjoy. Licorice is not for use during pregnancy or nursing and should be approached with caution for those with hypertension or diabetes. Licorice root has also been shown to be anti-viral and is commonly used for cold sores.
Slippery Elm Gruel (Ulmus spp.)
To make gruel, place a tablespoon of powdered slippery elm into a pint jar and add a 1/4 cup of hot water and stir/shake well. Once it is mixed thoroughly, fill the jar with lukewarm water. Shake and stir well and then drink. This nutritive gruel is an easily digestible food for those too weak to eat normal foods. This blend is also one of my favorite remedies for heart burn and gastric ulcers.
Slippery elm trees are in trouble. Habitat loss and infestations have taken a big toll. Look for slippery elm that is cultivated. If you can’t find it, consider using other species of elm or substituting marshmallow.
Slippery Elm Lozenges (Ulmus spp.)
This is a wonderful recipe I first learned from the Gallagher family at Learningherbs.com. I now have a batch ready at all times so they are on hand when needed. Slippery elm is another herb that has been hard hit, both by the marketing industry and unethical harvesting, as well as by diseases affecting the tree itself. If you choose to buy slippery elm, please make sure it comes from a sustainable source.
The following recipe originally comes from Leslie Tierra and is copied here from her wonderful book for kids of all ages: A Kid’s Herb Book
- Make a tea of licorice using ½ cup of water and 1 teaspoon chopped licorice root. Simmer covered for 10 minutes, then strain. You should have ¼ cup tea. If less, add a little water to make ¼ cup liquid.
- Put ½ cup slippery elm powder in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour ¼ cup tea (or plain water if you don’t have licorice tea) into the hold and gently mix into the slippery elm powder to make a smooth dough.
- Sprinkle some slippery elm powder on a clean flat surface and roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness.
- Cut lozenges into small circles – a tiny bottle cap, such as the lid from a vanilla extract bottle works well. Or roll dough into small balls, flatten and smooth the edges with your fingers. Make sure all the edges are smooth so the lozenges aren’t sharp when you suck on them. You can press designs into each lozenge if you like. Set evenly spaced on a plate. Leave out uncovered overnight or for a day or two until completely hardened. (If you live in a really damp environment you may need to put them in the oven on the lowest setting to get them completely dry.)
- Store in a dark bottle or tin in a cool, dry, dark place. (Mine keep for months – but it depends on how dry you can get them.)
- Suck on the pill so it dissolves in your mouth and coats your throat to heal your throat and lungs. These can be taken liberally.
Marshmallow tea (Althea officinalis)
To make marshmallow tea simply put ¼ cup of marshmallow root in a pint size jar. Fill this jar with cold to lukewarm water and let sit for a minimum of four hours. You will notice that this brew will get more mucilaginous (thick) and slippery with time. Strain when ready and drink as desired.
|Marhsmallow root tea|
If you need the marshmallow tea NOW, you can also decoct the root by simmering it for twenty minutes. The cold infusion is slightly superior than a decoction, but the decoction will certainly work in a pinch.
Marshmallow is also anti-microbial and can stimulate phagocytosis, an important immune system function. You can read more about marshmallow here.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
A cup of sage tea can soothe a sore throat immensely. This common kitchen spice has been used for centuries in a variety of ways, including for sore throats. To make a cup of sage leaf tea place 1 tablespoon of crumbled leaf in a cup and pour 8 oz of boiling water over the top. Cover and infuse for about 30 minutes. When ready, strain and drink. Honey and lemon can be added to taste.
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Horehound remedies used to stock the shelves of medicine cabinets years ago. Used for sore throats and coughs, this intense tasting herb is very effective.
You can make a tea from horehound by placing a tablespoon in a cup, covering it with 8 oz of boiling water, and letting it steep for 20 minutes; then strain. You will most likely want to add honey to this mixture as this is a very bitter brew.
Horehound syrup is a much sweeter blend and may prove to have more patient compliance than the tea.
½ cup horehound (flowering tops)
2 cups water
2 cups local raw honey (this amount can be adjusted to your liking)
Boil the water and pour over the herbs. Let sit for two to four hours, strain, gently re-warm, and dissolve the honey into the tea. Store in the fridge and use within a month. For a faster syrup you can also gently simmer (not boil!) the herb in water and cover it with a lid for ten minutes, strain, and then add the honey.
Horehound is a stimulating expectorant that is also used for coughs, specifically for moist and unproductive coughs. It can further irritate dry coughs. Coughs will be discussed in more detail in the next section.
|Horehound growing in the Luberon in southern France|
Garlic honey is anti-microbial and soothing to your throat. To make this sweet and spicy treat, fill a jar with freshly minced garlic, add honey to fill the jar and stir well. To ensure the honey and garlic are mixed well you can turn the jar upside down a couple times a day. You can consume garlic and honey immediately and after a couple of days the mixture will transform into a more syrupy consistency. Honey also helps to relieve some of the hot and drying tendencies of garlic. A similar honey can be made with white onions and is especially nice for wet coughs.
Too much garlic can make you nauseous, so be sure to listen to your stomach and don’t over do it.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is a fabulous warming herb that is regularly used for people with colds and the flu. It is a stimulating diaphoretic that warms the core and drives heat out of the body.
It is also highly effective against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus spp., and Salmonella spp. If that’s not impressive enough it also aids upper respiratory infections and abates nausea. The list of medicinal benefits goes on and on, including it being a circulatory stimulant and an anti-inflammatory – whole books can be written about ginger.
I love ginger tea and drink it often whether sick or not. To make ginger tea I grate fresh ginger root with a cheese grater and then simmer gently (covered) for at least twenty minutes. How much ginger to water? Depends on how strong you want it. When it is through simmering I leave the ginger in the tea and drink it as well. Some people add lemon and honey to this mixture.
You can also add fresh or dried ginger to meats and vegetables. I’ve used the tincture with success when traveling, but since this root is easily found year round in grocery stores I like to make it fresh as described above. You can store your ginger in the freezer for longer keeping and there’s no need to peel the root when making the tea.
You can also make a delicious ginger honey simply by filling a jar with grated ginger and then covering the ginger with honey. Stir well. I set my honey on the counter for a few days and turn it upside down every couple of days. You can immediately eat ginger honey, but after a few days it will transform into a syrupy consistency that is oh so good. Store in the fridge for long-term use.
Sore Throat Pastilles
This recipe combines the demulcent quality of slippery elm with the astringent and antimicrobial properties of sage and rose. Special thanks to Kiva Rose for inspiring this recipe:
½ cup powdered slippery elm
¼ cup powdered sage leaves (Salvia spp.)
¼ cup powdered rose petals
Combine powders and then slowly add warmed honey. I like to add a little honey, stir well, then add a little more honey. We are looking for a dough-like consistency. Once that has been reached you can roll the dough and cut out circles as described for the slippery elm lozenges or you can roll the dough into small balls. Leave these to dry on the counter or dehydrate them. Once they are dried and stored in an airtight container they will last for a long time. I keep mine in a cool place.
|Sore throat pastilles|
Mullein leaves (Verbascum thapsus)
Mullein works wonders on the entire respiratory symptom. I especially consider its use when there is painful coughing and swollen lymph glands. To make a tea of mullein leaves fill a mason jar half full of the leaves and then cover with just boiled water. Let this sit for four hours, then strain it really well. Mullein leaves are covered in little tiny hairs that can be irritating to the respiratory system, because of this I strain it through a cheesecloth and I imagine a paper towel would also be useful.
Echinacea is great for swollen lymph glands. It supports the movement of lymph so the immune system can better do its job. I use echinacea as a tincture, 30 - 60 drops every one to two hours.
Red Root (Ceonothus spp.)
One of our most incredible lymphatic herbs, I often combine the tincture of red root with Echinacea for swollen lymph glands.
A Cold Compress Increases Vitality to the Throat
Using a cold compress is another gem of information learned from Paul Bergner’s Acute Symptoms CD Set. This procedure increases stimulation and “vital force” to the throat to increase healing.
To make this compress apply a cold wet cloth to the front of the throat. This can be done simply by wetting a washcloth with cold tap water and wringing it out. Do not cover the back of the neck, only the front. Then, cover this cold wet cloth with a dry cloth – a scarf may be used. Lie down and after about 20 – 40 minutes the body will heat up the cold cloth, thus bringing increased circulation to the area.