Natural Treatments for Sore Throat

By Dr. Mao Shing Ni


SORE THROAT, MEDICALLY KNOWN AS PHARYNGITIS, occurs when the tonsils in the pharynx acquire a viral or bacterial infection, creating inflammation and irritation. A sore throat often accompanies or precedes the common cold and flu. Some of the better-known culprits include the adenovirus, mononucleosis, the Epstein-Barr virus, and streptococcus. A sore throat can also be caused by prolonged straining of the vocal cords and throat muscles. Many singers, actors, and people who talk for long periods of time experience sore throats that aren’t related to infections. In some cases, a severe sore throat can cause loss of voice.


Chinese medicine treats sore throat with acupuncture for pain relief and herbal therapy to help the immune system combat infections and heal strained muscles. A sore throat is viewed as a pathogenic heat condition that needs to be cooled, and the pathogens must be expelled. I see many noninfectious cases of sore throat that result from postnasal drip or acid reflux, both of which can be addressed with Chinese medicine. I use topical herbal sprays and solutions of herbs for gargling that soothe the throat muscles and relieve swelling and inflammation, helping patients to quickly recover from the symptoms. Here I offer some advice for sore throat relief. If a sore throat doesn’t clear up within three days and is accompanied by fever, you should see your physician immediately. In rare cases, a potentially dangerous infection of diphtheria can cause sore throat and should be addressed immediately by a physician.


Related Conditions: Cold, Cough





Adding more cooling dandelion greens, chrysanthemum flowers, mint, scallions, cabbage, cilantro, burdock root, apples, pears, bitter melon, and rose hips to your diet can help ward off infections and relieve sore throat. Drink plenty of warm or room temperature water, at least eight glasses a day.


Pear juice is soothing to the throat, as are cucumber juice and honey.


Avoid foods that are greasy, deep-fried, barbecued, and spicy, as they can irritate the throat. Shellfish should be avoided as well.





Slowly swallow 1 tablespoon of honey to coat the throat. Repeat 3 to 6 times a day until the sore throat is gone. The honey works as a natural antibiotic.


As a throat cleanser, make a solution of 1 part 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and 3 parts warm water, and gargle in the back of your throat for 1 minute twice a day. Do not swallow the solution. This will help disinfect the throat and kill any bacteria or viral infection. A less potent but still effective gargle can be made with sea salt and warm water.


Cut thin slices of ripe lemons. Add a pinch of salt and eat whole with the peel. This acts as an astringent and kills bacteria.


Mix 1 tablespoon horseradish, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 teaspoon ground cloves in a glass of warm water and stir well. Sip slowly to soothe the throat and inhibit the development of microbes.





•Taking vitamin C (1,000 milligrams) 3 times a day can help fight infections. Vitamin A (200 IU) or beta-carotene (1,000 milligrams) taken twice a day helps to strengthen immunity.

Zinc (50 milligrams) lozenges taken every 2 hours at the onset of a colds can reduce duration.





Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to


Andrographis (king of bitters) 3 times daily can reduce symptoms of colds quickly and inhibit microbe formation. Drink chamomile, echinacea and goldenseal tea to support immune function and reduce the frequency and shorten the duration of sore throats.


Boil 1 teaspoon dried honeysuckle, 1 teaspoon mint leaves, and 1 teaspoon licorice root in 12 ounces of water for 15 minutes, and add 1 teaspoon honey. Strain, and drink as a tea 3 times a day to relieve a sore throat. This is a good remedy for children.


Traditional Chinese herbs for relieving sore throat and fighting infections include fructus arctii, mulberry leaves, rehmannia, licorice, forsythia, honeysuckle, prunellia, and andrographis.





Exercise is important for stimulating blood circulation, maintaining a healthy immune system, and preventing colds. I recommend a regimen of daily qi gong and tai chi combined with moderate cardiovascular exercise.

The following is an ancient Taoist vocal qi gong exercise called the Six Healing Sounds meditation. When practiced twice a day it can help relieve sore throat, build strong vocal cords, harmonize the organs, and strengthen the body.

  1. Sit comfortably at the tip of a sturdy chair with your spine erect, your arms placed on your legs, and your head tilted slightly forward.
  2. Begin breathing slowly and rhythmically, inhaling deeply and gently and exhaling slowly through the mouth for 1 minute.
  3. Now begin the practice. You’ll be making 6 different sounds, all soft and quiet, barely audible. You’ll repeat each sound 6 times, for a total of 36 vocalizations.
  4. The first sound is for the liver: a prolonged “shh” (as if quieting a baby). Utter the sound softly and gently on an exhale 6 times.
  5. The second sound is for the heart: a prolonged “ho” (as in “hi ho”). Utter the sound softly and gently on an exhale 6 times.
  6. The third sound is for the spleen and stomach: a prolonged “hoo” (as in “who”). Utter the sound softly and gently on an exhale 6 times.
  7. The fourth sound is for the lungs: a prolonged “sss” (as in “hiss” without the ‘’hi”). Utter the sound softly and gently on an exhale 6 times.
  8. The fifth sound is for the kidneys: a prolonged “foo” (as in “food” without the “d’’). Utter the sound softly and gently on an exhale 6 times.
  9. The sixth and final sound is for the gallbladder: a prolonged “shii” (as in “she”). Utter the sound softly and gently on an exhale 6 times.
  10. Conclude the practice with 1 minute of relaxed, rhythmic breathing.





Find the acupoint Valley of Harmony (LI-4), at the web between your right thumb and index finger. Apply steady pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left hand.


•Locate the acupoint Fish Belly (LU-10), in the fleshy part of your right palm just beneath your thumb. Apply steady pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left hand.





Exposure to dry, dusty, and cold conditions. Use a humidifier in dry climates.

Alcohol, overeating, eating spicy foods, and smoking, all of which produce heat and can irritate the throat.

Stress and overexertion, and get plenty of rest and sleep.

Using old toothbrushes; change them often, or soak them in hydrogen peroxide every other day, as bacteria may collect on the brush.