How to Treat a Sore Throat with Natural Medicine

These home remedies are readily available, easy to use, and work without side effects.

By Dr. J.E. Williams |

Brunette adult girl with fever wrapping herself in blanket on sofa

We’ve all experienced it. The winter months come on cold and windy, and sooner or later, you get a swelling and burning pain in the back of your throat, making it difficult to swallow. “Pharyngitis” is the medical term your doctor uses for sore throat. You may need to see a doctor when you have a sore throat, but not always. The good news is that natural medicine can be an effective way to treat sore throats.

Viruses Cause Most Sore Throats

Most of the time, common viruses are the cause of sore throats. Viruses that trigger a dry, scratchy, sore throat include cold and flu viruses. The virus that is responsible for mononucleosis (mono) attacks the throat and lymph nodes in the neck; Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is the most common cause of mono. Latent EBV infection is also associated with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Patients with CFS often complain of low-grade sore throats.

Acute, mild viral infections response well to natural sore throat remedies. They also help a dry, itching throat caused by allergies.

5 Ways to Treat Sore Throats Naturally

  1. Disinfect your throat with warm water and sea salt every two hours.
  2. Sooth your throat with warm water, raw honey, and a half-teaspoon of fresh lemon juice.
  3. Suck on herbal lozenges containing menthol (derived from peppermint oil), or slippery elm bark, licorice, sage, or aloe.
  4. Spray your throat with colloidal silver.
  5. Take 30-60 mg of zinc twice daily, or suck on zinc lozenges.

Chinese Medicine for Sore Throat

Xi Gua Shuang Watermelon Frost Lozenges
Stronger medicine is needed for more severe throat inflammation. In my practice, I’ve found the most reliable treatments for a sore throat are traditional Chinese medicines. One of the most effective Chinese herbal formulas for a sore throat is Watermelon Frost (Xi Gua Shuang). It’s available as lozenges or as a fine-powder throat spray. Watermelon Frost contains several traditional herbs known to reduce inflammation, fight bacteria, and inhibit viruses.

Bacterial Infections Cause Serious Sore Throats

Bacterial infections can cause serious sore throats. Type A streptococcus bacteria is the cause of about 10 percent of sore throats in adults and up to 30 percent in children.

Strep infection is a serious condition. It can cause long-term complications, including infection in the heart and kidneys. If you suspect that you have strep throat, see your doctor. You’ll get a rapid test in the clinic, and the results are ready in 10 to 15 minutes. You may also get a throat culture requiring a sample from your throat be sent to a lab.

It’s hard to tell from symptoms alone whether a sore throat is strep or virus based. That’s why doctors rely on lab testing to determine the cause of an intense sore throat. In cases of severe sore throat caused by strep, an antibiotic might be necessary, but natural medicines can be effective in treating mild to moderate strep throat.

However, stronger herbal therapies are needed to treat bacterial sore throat that those causes by common viruses. My choices include Echinacea tincture, and Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) or Isatis (Isatis tinctoria or I. indigotica) extracts.

TipThree Echinacea species are used as medicines: Echinacea purpurea, angustifolia, and pallida. The active component in Echinacea is alcohol soluble. So, the best forms are as a tincture or standardized extract.

One study found a sore throat spray containing Echinacea and Sage was equally as effective compared to chlorhexidine/lidocaine treatment. (Schapowal, Berger, Klein, & Suter, 2009)

Active Infection Home Treatment

To treat an active throat infection:

  • Echinacea: Mix 1/3 teaspoon of a tincture in 4 ounces of pure water. Drink three times daily. If you prefer the extract, choose Echinacea purpurea extract composed of 3-4% phenolics. For adults take three 500 mg capsules three times daily between meals.
  • Andrographis: Use Andrographis paniculata standardized to 5% andrographolides for its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and immune stimulating activity. Take two 400 mg capsules or tablets three times daily to treat infections associated with sore throats. (Okhuarobo et al., 2014)
  • Isatis indigotica: This herb has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. (Liu et al., 2017) Researchers found Isatia root possess potent antiviral properties, including inhibition of H1N1 swine flu virus. (Li et al., 2015)

Reduce Strep Risk with a Probiotic

A new probiotic, Streptococcus salivarius K12, can reduce your risk of getting strep throat. Researchers found that S. salivarius K12 stimulates a powerful anti-inflammatory response against infections in the mouth, throat, and nasal passages, and acts against the type of strep bacteria that cause sore throats. (Zupancic, Kriksic, Kovacevic, & Kovacevic, 2017)

Benefits of S. salivarius K12

  • Prevents infection by streptococcus bacteria.
  • Eliminates bad breath.
  • Reduces inflammation.
  • Boosts immunity.
  • Inhibits viruses.

S. salivarius is not new to scientists. It was first discovered in the early 1980s. Researchers found that people who rarely got sore throats harbored a specific strain of S. salivarius, which they named K12.

It seems that S. salivarius K12 is good at producing natural antibiotics. These rare microbe fighting compounds are peptides that stimulate immunity against infections. Some are fast acting with direct bacterial killing effects; others modulate the immune response against bacteria.

Clinical trials show that regular use of a S. salivarius K12 lozenges helps prevent bacterial and viral wintertime sore throats.

Your Best Treatment for Sore Throat

For common viral sore throats, use home remedies, including saltwater gargling and supplementing with zinc. If you’re prone to sore throats, take an S. salivarius K12 supplement daily during the winter months to reduce your risk of throat infections. Use herbal extracts like Echinacea, Isastis, or Andrograhis for an even stronger effect during active infections.

Herbal remedies work most of the time for common sore throats, but don’t underestimate the potential consequences of strep throat. If your sore throat is super painful and accompanied by high fever, see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.