I don’t know about you, but to me, sore throats and coughs are probably the worst cold symptoms—worse than all the others combined! When I get a sore throat in the winter months, it’s a surefire sign I’m about to be feeling like crap for a few days, and the pain can be unbearable. (When you can’t even swallow because it hurts—ugh.)
Of course, the first line of defense against sore throats is to keep your immune system working properly by eating the right foods, getting plenty of rest, and managing your stress level. But, at some point or another this fall or winter, you’re bound to feel it coming on—a dry, scratchy feeling in the throat that signifies the onset of a cold. When the inevitable sore throat or cough strikes, here are eight inexpensive and effective ways to kick it to the curb:
12 Natural Sore Throat Remedies
1. Ginger Echinacea Herbal Throat Spray
Instead of buying an over-the-counter throat spray that’s loaded with chemicals, try making an herbal spray to soothe your sore throat instantly and decrease inflammation.
Echinacea has been shown to reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the common cold, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It’s also helpful in healing wounds and soothing raw skin when applied topically. When combined with ginger, thyme, and mint, all powerful anti-inflammatory herbs, it makes for an effective throat-soothing spray.
Note: this is a good recipe to start a couple of weeks before the onset of the cold and flu season since it takes two weeks for the long version to steep. There is also a 20-minute version, however, in case you need it now!
Echinacea Throat Spray
- 1 tablespoon each dried echinacea, ginger, thyme, and mint
- 1/4 cup boiling water
- Food-grade alcohol like vodka or rum
- Pint-size mason jar with lid
- Glass spray bottle
- Combine the echinacea, ginger, thyme, and mint in a mason jar.
- Add ¼ cup boiling water and let steep for 10 minutes.
- Fill the rest of the jar with a food grade alcohol and let sit for at least two weeks to achieve maximum potency.
- Transfer the mixture to a glass spray bottle and spray the tincture directly on the back of your throat regularly for as long as you have a sore throat.
- For a speedier option: combine the herbs in a mason jar and add enough boiling water to cover the herbs. Let steep for 20 minutes, then strain out the herbs and mix the tea with an equal amount of food-grade alcohol. Transfer to a glass spray bottle and spray as needed.
2. Warm Salt Water Gargle
A sore throat, whether caused by dry air or illness, is a result of the mucous membranes lining the throat becoming swollen and inflamed. Because salt naturally draws water out of cells, it can help to decrease the swelling and ease the pain when used as a gargle. Salt water also helps to loosen mucus and flush out bad bacteria, further helping to clear the illness from the body.
I always opt for this easy saltwater gargle as soon as I feel the first tickle in my throat. Combine 1 cup warm water with ½ – 1 teaspoon table salt and stir until the salt is dissolved. Gargle as long as you can possibly stand. (Don’t eat or drink anything for a few minutes afterward.) Repeat every three hours if your symptoms return.
3. Lemon Baking Soda “Tea”
Baking soda is great for sore throats because it has a slightly alkaline pH that soothes irritated skin and calms inflammation. When combined with lemon, which is chock full of vitamin C and anti-bacterial properties, it’s a bug-killing elixir that will reduce throat pain and shorten the duration of the illness.
Lemon Baking Soda Tea
- Combine all the ingredients in a mug and stir until baking soda is dissolved.
- Sip like you would an herbal tea throughout the day.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar and Raw Honey
Because apple cider vinegar is a potent antibacterial and antiviral, it helps to contain the infection-causing bacteria taking up residence in your throat. When combined with raw honey, another natural antibacterial agent, it further helps to bring the infection under control and decreases the associated pain and swelling. Honey has even been shown in studies to improve throat pain in children after tonsillectomy, so imagine what it can do for your sore throat. Your body will take care of the rest.
Mix 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar with 2 teaspoons raw honey in 8 ounces of water. Drink every two hours throughout the day until symptoms disappear.
5. Herbal Steam
Steam is especially helpful for sore throats caused by cold, dry weather. It works by warming the respiratory tract, relaxing throat muscles, and clearing away excess mucus in the lungs and throat. Add a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus essential oils to further kill bacteria and soothe inflamed throat tissue. And as an added bonus, it doubles as a skin-clearing facial, so you can look radiant, even if you don’t exactly feel radiant.
Pour 6 cups boiling water in a large bowl and add 2 drops eucalyptus or peppermint essential oil. Lean over the bowl with your face several inches from the top. Place a large bath towel over your head and shoulders to help trap in the steam. Breathe through your nose and mouth for 10 minutes. Repeat as necessary to ease the discomfort and reduce swelling.
6. Hot Toddy
Lucky for you, your grandma may have been right about this one! Studies show that a hot toddy (adults only, and sipped in moderation, of course) can help shorten the duration of a cold and ease sore throat pain.
Raw, organic honey is a cough suppressant (although you shouldn’t give raw honey to kids under 1 year of age) that will soothe your throat and help you stop coughing. Just like over-the-counter cold medicine, the alcohol in a hot toddy eases congestion and helps us fall asleep so we can heal a little more quickly.
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 herbal tea bag
- 8 ounces hot water
- 1/4 lemon, juiced
- 1 tablespoon bourbon or whiskey
- Pour hot water into a mug and steep tea for 2 minutes.
- Add honey, lemon juice, and bourbon.
- Stir until honey is completely dissolved.
7. Licorice Root Tea
Among herb enthusiasts, licorice root is known most commonly as a demulcent—a soothing herb used mainly to protect and heal damaged and inflamed tissue. Not only is it effective in healing a sore throat, but it can also help prevent a sore throat from occurring in the first place if sipped at the first sign of dryness, coughing, or irritation.
You can either buy pre-made licorice root tea bags or make your own tea by boiling ¼ cup dry, chopped licorice root in 1 quart water for 10 minutes. Pour the tea through a mesh strainer before serving and sip throughout the day.
8. Raw Garlic
A friend introduced me to this trick years ago, and it works! When you first feel a tickle in the back of your throat, eat a raw garlic clove and make sure to chew it thoroughly, so all the allicin (a powerful antibacterial compound that is released for a short time when raw garlic is crushed) flows right into your system.
The allicin helps kill the bacteria that causes a sore throat. Know that this method is not for the faint of heart. The garlic is hot, and if I do it on an empty stomach, I usually end up nauseous. Mix it into some honey if you need to, and repeat every 4 hours or so if needed. If you can’t handle garlic straight up, there are many different ways to benefit from garlic, whether in the form of a tea, tincture, or by simply adding a few extra cloves to your dinner.
9. Boycott Sugar (and maybe Dairy and Caffeine) Immediately
It never fails. The day after Halloween, the day after Thanksgiving, the day after my mom’s annual holiday cookie-baking day and the day after Christmas, I wake up exhausted with an awful sore throat and the sniffles. You might not have the same reaction, but for me, sugar is often the culprit when I get a cold—probably because taking in too much simple sugar in the form of alcohol and sweets (especially if you’re not consuming it a lot normally) depresses the immune system.
If I avoid sugar— sticking to veggies and soup for a day or so—without fail, it goes away much more quickly than if I kept gorging on Mom’s sugar cookies. It disappears even faster if I stay off dairy and alcohol, too.
10. Homemade Cough Syrup
You can also make homemade honey-thyme cough syrup if you’re not a fan of choking down (and being knocked out cold by) over-the-counter cough suppressants. Boil 2 cups of water in a pan. Remove from heat and add 3 tablespoons of fresh thyme. Let steep for at least 10 minutes, or until cool. Stir in the honey. Continue stirring until dissolved. Strain out the thyme, if desired, and transfer to a glass jar.
Immune-boosting DIY elderberry syrup also helps soothe inflamed mucous membranes and stop coughing (source) and its potency for killing bacteria is increased when it is combined with honey (source). It can be made for a fraction of the cost of store-bought.
11. Homemade Cough Drops
It’s easy to feel like you’re living on cough drops when you have a cough or tickly throat, and the sugar hangover from the store-bought kind is not very pleasant. Good news, though: With a few pantry ingredients you probably already have on hand, you can make soothing lemon-ginger homemade cough drops that won’t put you in a cherry lozenge sugar coma.
12. Make a Green (or Red or Yellow) Juice
Mom might have given you OJ when you felt a little under the weather, but the sugar in OJ may offset any vitamin C benefits. Instead, make a fresh juice with immune-boosting and cold-fighting ingredients like lemon, turmeric, ginger, beets, and greens. Here are 3 cold-busting recipes to get you started.56