In medieval England, physicians would treat inflamed, croaky throats by placing a live frog into a patient’s mouth. Hence, the phrase “a frog in your throat.” Today, thankfully, the remedies are much less cumbersome—and much more effective. Paul Anderson, ND, chair of clinical sciences at Bastyr’s School of Naturopathic Medicine, likes to use herbs. Here, he picks the four best herbs to soothe your throat.
Editor’s Note: Anderson prefers tinctures to capsules for delivery because they come into direct contact with affected throat tissues.
Black elder (Sambucus nigra)
This herb is great for kids because it tastes fruity and also packs a triple punch against sore throats: The compound ursolic acid fights inflammation, while other components expel mucus and stimulate circulation (thus promoting detox). What’s more, research by the US Department of Agriculture found that elderberries are up to 50 percent higher in antioxidants than other berries, like blueberries and cranberries.
Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium)
The root of this yellow-flower shrub is rich in alkaloid compounds called berberines, “which have been shown to be antiviral and antibacterial,” Anderson says, killing pathogens that have infected throat cells and rallying immune defenses. It can taste bitter, however, so “for children, use a glycerite form,” he suggests, “since it will be sweeter, and many are flavored to mute the bitterness.” Contraindications: Pregnant women should avoid Oregon grapes due to some animal studies that indicate possible increases in uterine contractions.
Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia)
OK, we’ve all heard about echinacea before, but for good reason: It works. In fact, a 2007 meta-analysis published in The Lancet Infectious Disease found that echinacea reduces the chance of catching the common cold by 58 percent and cuts the cold’s duration by 1.4 days. “It contains compounds that directly stimulate local immune activity,” Anderson says, recruiting defense cells to the area, while also inhibiting the action of bacteria and viruses through substances called polysaccharides. Since echinacea can taste bitter, opt for a glycerite form for kids.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
By this we mean the herb, not the red-and-white, pinwheel candy. This fragrant, dark-green plant contains menthol, a volatile oil that thins mucus (breaking up phlegm) and gives you that sensation of your sinuses opening up. Menthol also has a calming, numbing effect on sore throats, and test-tube studies have found peppermint kills some types of viruses and bacteria. “Peppermint is directly antiseptic and soothing,” Anderson says. “I use it with echinacea or berberis because it makes them palatable orally.” Contraindi-cations: If you have heartburn, peppermint can worsen symptoms by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter muscle.
How to Blend Tinctures
For Adults: Combine 1 ounce berberis, 1 ounce echinacea, and 1 ounce peppermint. (Use tincture or fluid-extract forms.) Stir about 1 teaspoon of the solution into about 2 ounces of water, and drink. Do this four to six times a day for sore throats. “If you find the aftertaste unpleasant, you can drink some acidic juice or eat something to get the taste off of the tongue,” Anderson says, “but the longer the herbs sit on the throat tissues, the better.”
For kids: Combine 2 ounces of black elder, 1/2 ounce peppermint, and 1/2 ounce of either echinacea or berberis. (Use glycerite or syrup forms.) Give the child 1/2 to 1 teaspoon three to five times daily.
Tip: Along with drinking the herb blend, make sure to gargle with salt water at least three times per day, which “soothes and shrinks swollen tissues,” says Anderson: Stir 1 teaspoon of salt into 4 ounces of warm water, gargle, and spit out.