The tell-tale signs of a sore throat are itchiness and irritation, which feels even worse when you swallow. Not fun. The most common cause is a viral infection, like a cold or the flu. Unlike strep throat, which is a bacterial infection and requires medication, a sore throat clears up on its own (you should, of course, still consult with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment protocol.) Until then, there's one simple remedy that can help: sipping tea.
"Warm teas cause the vessels of the throat and the muscles to open and relax more, thereby soothing the sore throat," says Harvard Medical School- and Mayo Clinic-trained ENT and allergy expert, Shawn Nasseri, MD. Choosing a warm tea, he says, will be more soothing than reaching for a cold ice-pop because it will feel more comforting and help the throat muscles to relax more. "Icy drinks can sometimes cause throat spasms which definitely don't feel comforting," he says.
While any warm tea may feel soothing on your sore throat, some scientific studies point to one in particular that is especially helpful in healing a sore throat. One double-blinded randomized controlled study found that a tea made primarily with licorice root was more effective at minimizing pain than a placebo tea, which tasted similar.
Best tea for a sore throat
"Licorice root contains glycyrrhizin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help soothe a sore throat," says Brad DeSilva, MD, an otolaryngologist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, as to why licorice root tea in particular is an especially good one to brew when you have a sore throat. Dr. Nasseri confirms the connection, explaining that licorice has natural antiviral and antimicrobial properties that are both great to help the pain and irritation of a sore throat. "It soothes and coats a sore throat and can help to improve the symptoms of phlegm and mucus in the throat and lungs," he says. Dr. Nasseri adds that it's long been used in Ayurvedic medicine because of these healing properties.
But Dr. Nasseri emphasizes that you don't want to overdo it. "The Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than two to four ounces of licorice root per day as it can have a variety of side effects if overdosed," he says. He also adds that it's important to be careful about mixing different herbs together to avoid unwanted side effects. "I definitely recommend medicinal teas be under the watchful eye of a solid naturopathic practitioner," he says. (There are also certain foods you'll want to avoid in a sore throat.)
So what do you do if you don't like the taste of licorice? No need to force it down. Licorice root tea may be the best tea for a sore throat, but it's not the only one that can help. According to Dr. Nasseri, there are plenty of other teas that can soothe a sore throat. His favorites are chamomile, slippery elm, cardamom, mint, and echinacea. "These all typically soothe, coat, and comfort without overwhelming the palate," he says. After all, your throat is going through enough right now—there's no need to drink something you don't like the taste of.
If you like the taste of licorice, stock up on it so you have it on hand for when your throat starts feeling a bit scratchy. If it's not your thing, go for one of the others he recommends instead. Either way, you're sipping something that will bring comfort to your poor throat, and that's the first step toward healing.
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