Waking up with a sore throat may feel more alarming nowadays than before, but there are lots of reasons your throat may feel scratchy and swollen. A sore throat can be a symptom of seasonal allergies. Maybe you’ve been talking too long or singing too loudly. Most often, though, a sore throat is caused by a viral infection, such as a cold or flu (and yes, also COVID-19). These types of sore throat usually just need to run their course, with the exception of strep throat, which is caused by a bacterial infection and requires antibiotic treatment.
Regardless of the reason for your sore throat, you can find relief from pain, irritation, and difficulty swallowing. We asked wellness experts to share their best remedies for easing the discomfort.
Ease a sore throat with herbs
Sage: The aromatic herb’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties calm a raw, red throat. It can also treat bacterial infections such as strep. The simplest way to take it: chew fresh sage leaves. For a tea, mix 2–4 fresh sage leaves (or a teaspoon of dried), a squeeze of lemon, and a teaspoon of honey in a cup of hot water. Steep for several minutes. Drink it warm as a tea, or let it cool and use as a gargle.
Marshmallow root & slippery elm bark: These plants are demulcents—soothing agents that protect mucous membranes and relieve irritation—that also combat inflammation. Stir a teaspoon each of powdered marshmallow and powdered elm bark in a cup of hot water or make a quart at a time and drink as needed.
—Cameron Allen, herbalist and astrologer
Treat sore throat with Ayurveda
Salt water gargle: Gargling with warm salt water is a cheap, easy, and reliable way to loosen up and remove stubborn, irritating mucus. It also helps wash away germs, bacteria, pollutants, and other immune agitators.
Dissolve 1/4–1/2 teaspoon organic rock salt or Himalayan pink salt into 8 ounces of warm water. Gargle a mouthful for about 30 seconds, then spit it out. Then keep gargling until you’ve emptied the cup. Repeat 3–4 times per day until symptoms subside. Adding ½ teaspoon organic turmeric powder to the water adds extra antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties.
Soothing spray: Herbal throat sprays can provide fast and lasting relief. Look for one containing slippery elm or licorice (to lubricate a dry, scratchy throat) turmeric or echinacea (for immune support), and clove or ginger ( to clear excess phlegm). I like Banyan Botanicals’ Throat Soother.
—Larissa Hall Carlson, E-RYT 500, Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher
Foods that heal sore throat
Fruit: Fresh lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, and berries contain vitamin C and antioxidants, which support the immune system and neutralize free radicals in the body that can cause inflammation. For cooling relief, blend frozen berries and other fruits into smoothies or suck on no-sugar-added frozen fruit bars.
Warm liquids: Hot tea with lemon and honey and broth-based soups—like chicken noodle or matzo ball —are A+ for sore throats, according to studies that tout their effectiveness. Add turmeric and black pepper to the broth; they contain curcumin and piperine, respectively, which work in tandem to decrease inflammation.
—Jerlyn Jones, MS, RDN, LD, owner of The Lifestyle Dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.