Sore throat remedies don't have to come from the drugstore – relief may be right in your pantry. We'll share some of our best home remedies for sore throat, plus tips on what to eat and drink.
Note: If your sore throat pain is related to digestive upset, please see “10 Home Remedies for Acid Reflux and The Problem with PPIs“.
What Causes a Sore Throat?
Sometimes sore throat pain is simply caused by winter dry air. Sometimes it's linked to the common cold, flu or other viral infection. Bacterial infections such as strep throat can also make your throat feel raw.
Try a warm shower or humidifier to help with dry air, and rest your voice if you can.
Remember, if pain is severe or accompanied by high fever, bleeding, or trouble breathing, please see your healthcare provider.
#1 – Our Top Home Remedy for Sore Throat – Cayenne
Believe it or not, cayenne is our top recommendation for sore throat relief. Cayenne is loaded with capsaicin, a natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. This is why you often see it used in pain relief salves.
To use cayenne as a natural sore throat remedy, add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder to a glass of warm water. Gargle with this water several times per day, or as needed. You may also add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
If you don't have cayenne powder, you can check the pantry or refrigerator for hot pepper sauce. Put several drops of peppery goodness in warm water, and gargle as above.
Cayenne may interact with some prescription medications, so make sure to check for interactions before using it.
#2 – Honey
Combining honey with cayenne provides a “one two punch” as a sore throat remedy. First, the capsaicin desensitizes the throat, then the honey coats and soothes. It's also great for soothing coughs.
Honey is naturally antimicrobial, and studies show that it helps relieve symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.
You can use a spoonful of honey straight, make these homemade cough drops, add it to warm drinks, or mix a little honey and cayenne together. Take as needed to soothe your throat.
Honey is safe for children, but if you are concerned about botulism, try elderberry syrup instead. (Botulism spores cannot grow in real raw honey, which has a pH of around 3.9. If you honey has additives like corn syrup, it might be possible for the spores to grow, but unlikely. You can read more about botulism risks here.)
#3 – Warm Salt Water
If you're battling bacteria or a virus, it can throw your throat pH out of whack. A warm salt water gargle helps to restore the proper pH levels.
The warmth also acts to relax tight, aching throat muscles, making it an effective natural sore throat remedy. Use 1/4 teaspoon salt per 4 ounces of warm water, and gargle several times per day.
#4 – Zinc Lozenges
Zinc interferes with the ability of rhinoviruses, which are responsible for most colds, to reproduce and lock on to cells. These taste a little funny, so you may want to rotate them with other sore throat remedies.
#5 – Pickle Juice
Combine vinegar and salt in a more tasty package, and you have pickle juice sore throat relief. Some folks swig it right out of the jar (stick to your own jar, please); others gargle from a glass.
Warming your pickle juice up a bit gives the muscle relaxation mentioned earlier, but it may taste a bit less palatable. If you have a nice fermented pickle like raw sauerkraut juice, which also contains vitamin C and probiotics, all the better.
#6 – Sore Throat Teas
Sipping any warm liquid will help, but some of the best teas for sore throat include:
- Chamomile – relaxing, soothing
- Licorice root – lightly sweet, antimicrobial
- Turmeric – antimicrobial, antiinflammatory
- Peppermint – cooling, soothing
- Ginger – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory
- Cinnamon – anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial
- Horehound – anti-inflammatory, mild expectorant
- Slippery elm – coats and soothes
- Rose hips, which are high in vitamin C
- Elderberry and echinacea, which are known virus fighters
- Cloves, which contain eugenol, a natural numbing agent
Pair your favorite herbal tea with honey and lemon to help coat your throat and break up mucus. Sipping warm broth is also good.
Is chai tea good as a sore throat remedy?
In some cases, the caffeine in chai tea blends may cause irritation, but in general, any warm liquid will help soothe a sore throat. Most chai blends contain some of the herbs recommended above that help fight colds and flu.
If you need more rest, opt for non-caffeinated herbal tea blends instead.
Herbal Sore Throat Tea Blend
This herbal sore throat tea from the Herbal Academy brings together:
- sage (an antihistamine)
- licorice root or slippery elm (to coat and soothe)
- cinnamon (antiviral, antibacterial)
- ginger (warming and boosts the immune system)
Add some lemon and honey and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper for extra “oomph”! This tea opens airways and reduces sinus drainage without the pharmaceutical side effects.
Herbal Sore Throat Tea Ingredients
- 1 part sage leaf
- ½ part licorice root or slippery elm
- ¼ part cinnamon chips
- ¼ part ginger root
For instance, combine 1/4 cup sage leaf, 2 tablespoons slippery elm, and one tablespoon each cinnamon chips and ginger root. Increase amounts for a larger batch.
- Combine herbs in a bowl and store in a sealed container when not in use.
- To Make a Medicinal Infusion – In a glass quart jar, pour boiling water over 4-6 Tablespoons herbal tea, filling the jar to the top. (For one cup of tea, use 1 tablespoon of herb mix.)
- Allow to steep, covered, for at least 15 minutes.
- Strain the herbs and enjoy! Breathing the vapors of your tea is encouraged to maximize the benefits.
- You can refrigerate any excess infusion and heat it up to drink later.
#7 – Garlic
Garlic has antiviral and antibacterial properties, so it fights against many types of sore throat causes. The pungent smell of garlic comes from the sulfur rich compounds that it contains, including allicin and alliin. Cooking makes these compounds less effective, so raw is the way to go.
Crushing or chopping the garlic and letting it sit before use will help to produce more of the helpful sulfur compounds. Let sit at least fifteen minutes, but consume within an hour of crushing/chopping.
To make your raw garlic a little easier to swallow, you can mix it with some honey and lemon, add it to your herbal tea of choice, or steep it in hot water to make a simple garlic tea.
Foods that Help Sore Throat
To help soothe your sore throat, look for foods that have a smooth texture and are nutrient dense. If you can include immune boosting herbs, so much the better. Garlic, honey, cayenne, and the herbs in the tea section are welcome ingredients.
Hot or warm foods relax the throat, cool or cold foods may help numb it. Many guides recommend dairy products, but these may increase congestion, so keep that in mind at meal time.
Some of our go to foods include:
- Homemade soup with plenty of broth
- Gently cooked eggs
- Oatmeal or other hot cereal
- Finger “Jello” with immune boosting herbs
- Fruit juice popsicles
- Smoothies, applesauce, bananas
Avoid scratchy foods, excess caffeine, and high acidity tomato products.
More Tips for Cold and Flu Season
If you're sick, or want to avoid getting sick, you may find our Cold and Flu Care series useful. It includes over 10 articles on prevention and treatment of cold and flu symptoms.
What's your favorite sore throat remedy? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
Originally published in 2015, last updated in 2022.