How to Treat Sore Throat

Sometimes a sore throat is due to a “strep” infection; the throat will usually look beefy red and the uvula (that doohickey that hangs down at the back of the throat) may be elongated and lying on the back of the tongue. Please see a doctor if you suspect a strep throat. But most sore throats are viral and will resolve on their own. Read on for some tips on how to hasten the healing. General measures for expediting the resolution of a viral infection include, of course, drinking lots of water and increasing Vitamin C intake. Also, restrict food intake (which allows your body to focus on immune stimulation, rather than digestion), especially refined grains, sugar, alcohol and food allergens. If you have a fever — great! Try to intensify it. (Please read the post Suppressing Fevers for two options for home fever treatment.) This is your body’s natural anti-viral mechanism. Viruses live inside the cell so need to be “burned” out, as opposed to extracellular bacteria, which produce pus and green snot and all that other slimy stuff. If you do have a bad bacterial bug and opt for antibiotics, be sure to take probiotics (acidophilus and bifido bacteria) along with and 10 days beyond the antibiotic therapy.

A few more general measures for reducing sore throats include salt-water gargles and changing toothbrushes regularly. If you have a dishwasher and get scalding hot water, you can put the whole family’s toothbrushes in with the dishes once or twice monthly. Otherwise you can just get a new toothbrush once a month or so. If you have tonsils, that’s great, but you’ll need to perform “tonsil maintenance” regularly. The easiest way is a deep gargle with garlicky salt water one to four times monthly. Take a pint of water and simmer 4-5 cloves minced fresh garlic for 10-15 minutes. Strain, and add tsp. sea salt. When cool enough, gargle each mouthful for 10 seconds. It’s OK to swallow, but not recommended. Finally, zinc lozenges help many folks improve sore throat recovery time. If zinc tastes really yucky to you, that’s a sign you probably don’t need it. Another potent over-the-counter anti-viral remedy is Vitamin A (50,000 IUs daily) or the water soluble form, beta-carotene (use up to 200,000 IUs daily). When you are replete in carotenoids, your palms will have a mild orange coloration. That’s good!

Herbs for Sore Throat

Echinacea purpurea or angustifolia
Try good old Echinacea, between 200-400 mg in standardized capsule form daily, with extra water, or 2 dropperfuls of the liquid extract 3 times daily. A good quality Echinacea will have a slight metallic back-bite. Choose organic herbs whenever possible to promote that market and ingest less pesticide residue. Echinacea is both anti-viral and anti-bacterial, mostly though its ability to activate macrophages and increase T-lymphocytes. It also protects the gut from harmful micro-organisms, which you are at risk of swallowing when treating a sore throat. One of the constituents of Echinacea, echinacin, is specifically useful in treating pediatric tonsillitis. Avoid Echinacea in the first two trimesters of pregnancy and use sparingly in the third trimester. Otherwise, it is very safe. I have found it works less well for folks with type O blood. Choose another of the herbs below (but not Goldsenseal) if you are type O.
Hydrastis Canadensis
Goldenseal is anti-catarrhal and thus indicated for all mucus membrane infections, including sore throat, but also for conjunctivitis (“pink eye”), infectious diarrhea and bladder infections. Avoid throughout pregnancy. Doesn’t work so well for blood type O folk. Goldenseal is very bitter and can be rather expensive since it is becoming endangered. I prefer to deliver Goldenseal in a glycerite (glycerin, not alcohol base) form, which takes the edge off the strong taste. Use 2 dropperfuls 3 times daily of the liquid extract or double the dose recommended on capsules for up to 5 days. You may be able to find a combo Echinacea/Goldenseal, maybe even in spray form so the herbs can be applied directly where they’re needed.
Lomatium dissectum
This potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial in the parsley family is a good choice for anyone, especially blood type Os, who are likely to get less benefit from Echinacea/Goldenseal. Lomatium is especially useful for respiratory tract infections, including the throat, but may produce a skin rash in sensitive individuals. Also, prolonged use of Lomatium is contraindicated for people on blood-thinners. The liquid extract can be gargled or ingested, or both, about 1 tsp. twice daily; dilute with cup water. This combines well as a gargle with Bistort root (Polygonum bistorta), a powerful and soothing astringent particularly indicated for laryngitis/pharyngitis or other inflamed conditions of the mouth, tongue or throat. Equal part Bistort and Lomatium in water will be particularly effective with a drop or two of Oil of Bitter Orange (Citrus vulgaris).
Ulmus rubra or fulva
Slippery Elm when wet is moisturizing and soothing, so makes a wonderful herbal tea choice for a sore throat. The inner bark of the plant is the most useful part medicinally. Be aware that less scrupulous purveyors of herbal medicine will use the outer bark, which is not nearly so effective. Traditional Medicinals makes a tea called “Throat Coat” that is powdered Slippery Elm inner bark with Licorice, Marshmallow and other soothing herbs. Never use Slippery Elm in capsule form unless you are treating diarrhea; it is drying. Up to 4 cups of tea daily, with about 1 tsp. herb to 1 cup water, will relieve the tenderness of sore throat.
Populus gileadensis or candicans
Balm of Gildead, or Cottonwood, has long been prized for its sweet, resinous odor. It was reputedly one of the Queen of Sheba’s gifts to King Solomon. It is an unparalleled remedy for sore throats — not only because of the salicin content (like aspirin) which reduces pain, but also because of the bisabolol in the oil (similar to chamomile), which is both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere near cottonwood trees, you can gather the buds in the spring as soon as that wonderful odor fills the air. Stuff the buds into a mason jar and cover with a light oil (like safflower or almond) for at least 3 months, and up to 2 years. After awhile the oil will take on the aroma of the buds and is ready to use medicinally. At the first hint of a sore throat, rub a small amount of oil onto the outside of the neck then cover with a warm towel. This therapy works great in combination with a fever treatment. Repeat the hot applications as needed throughout the day. You may be able to find Balm of Gilead commercially as a volatile oil, in which case it probably needs to be diluted with cooking oil before applying to the skin. You can also gather the buds to dry, then make a tea with 5-6 dried buds to 1 cup boiling water. Infuse for 15 minutes then take 3 times daily or more until relief is obtained.


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  • Murray, Michael, ND and Pizzorno, Joseph, ND. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA. 1998