Herbs for Health: Natural Relief For Sore Throats

You can make your own soothing cough drops from slippery elm bark, marsh mallow, or licorice root.

| February/March 1998

  • Marsh mallow
  • A ginkgo tree growing in Vancouver, British Columbia.
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Echinacea angustifolia
  • Echinacea pallida
  • Slippery elm
  • Marsh mallow
    Photography by Steven Foster
  • Licorice root

If sore throats are a common problem in your family, you may wish to consider building up your body’s immune system with herbal immunostimulants such as echinacea, astragalus, and Siberian ginseng. A strong immune system is a good defense against the viral or bacterial infections that cause sore throats.

If a bug has already gotten the better of you, some common herbal remedies may offer relief. Menthol, the main fragrance component of the essential oils of peppermint (Mentha ¥piper­ita) and Japanese mint (M. arvensis var. piperascens), and oil of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) are common ingredients of over-the-counter throat lozenges. You can also make your own soothing cough drops or teas from slippery elm bark, marsh mallow, or licorice root to make swallowing less painful.

Menthol and Eucalyptus

The only herbal ingredients approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat sore throats are menthol and eucalyptus oil, both local anesthetics. Commercial menthol-flavored throat lozenges usually contain between 1 and 10 mg of menthol, which may have been extracted from mint leaves or produced synthetically. Products containing menthol should not be given to children younger than two years old. In rare instances, products containing menthol applied to the skin has caused skin lesions or triggered asthmatic attacks.

Eucalyptus oil is an ingredient of many cough drops, nasal inhalers, balms, ointments, and mouthwashes. It is generally considered safe in the amounts used in these over-the-counter medications.

The lemon oil, hyssop, horehound, linden flowers, and other natural ingredients found in many sore-throat lozenges contribute only flavoring.

Slippery Elm

The mucilaginous inner bark of slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) has soothed irritated mucous membranes since colonial times. Slippery elm throat lozenges, with their distinctive sweet scent and bland taste, have stocked U.S. drugstore shelves for more than a century.

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