Western MA Folk Remedies for Sore Throats

Sore Throats

“I’ve learned that when I have stuff in my lungs, its best to get it out, or expectorate  it. Licorice tea works very well, but more recently I tried coffee with cream and sugar (what I drink when I’m not sick). The caffeine cheered me up, the coffee or cream made me cough up phlegm, and the defiance of drinking something so wrong, so chi-depleting, and so pitta felt like it gave my immune system a jolt of righteous anger.” — Dar Williams

“Being a singer I am always looking for potions to cure a hoarse voice. Here are all the cures I use:

• “Voice rest — there is absolutely no better cure for laryngitis than silence, patience, and time.
• “Hot water with honey and lemon. I usually use just hot water and honey to avoid the acid in the lemon, but that’s because I have reflux and have to avoid all citrus.
• “Cider vinegar bath.
• “Avoid menthol — it’s drying.
• “Avoid dairy — it’s mucous producing.
•”Have a cool mist humidifier going in whatever room you are in — especially when you are sleeping.
• “I also have a personal humidifier that is warm steam. I use that just before I have to sing and just before bed.

“I have a friend who swears by ginger tea. Just boil water with a bunch of ginger root in it. Let it steep all day. I find it too spicy, but he swears it works.” — Katryna Nields

“My grandfather was a doctor and attended medical school on the cusp of homeopathy and allopathy (in fact, he went to Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, the home of homeopathy). So I vaguely remember being given homeopathic style remedies when we were very young. He also, according to my grandmother, formulated his own medicinals and enlisted her help in the mixing and measuring process. She would give us a chunk of “licorice stick” for a sore throat. This was no ordinary piece of licorice, but something very intense and hard. We would suck on it and it always helped. By the way, grandpa firmly believed that there was an herbal cure for every disease. — We would also eat a bowl of cooked greens laced with hot red peppers. The hot peppers were supposed to “cauterize” the sore throat, and the greens (escarole, kale, dandelions, or broccoli rabe) were a “tonic”. This was delicious and effective. My modern day version of this is to go to the nearest Chinese, Indian, Mexican or Thai restaurant and order any really hot dish.” — Grace Edwards

“To treat a sore throat: 1 teaspoon of sugar with turpentine drops.  Gag and try not to throw up or you would have to swallow another one!” — Mindy’s maternal great grandmother (Submitted by Kristol St. Claire, Mindy’s mom)

“A cure for a sore throat that burns, aches, feels scratchy, or for swollen glands, or a dry cough is to steep 1 tablespoon of fresh or dried Rosemary & 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried Sage in an 8 ounce cup of water for at least 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and then gargle and swallow. This remedy is best when able to steep over night and then stored in the fridge for continued use.” — Alison Kleppinger (Easthampton, MA)

“For an uncontrollable bad cough I go to the Coffee Gallery on King Street in Northampton and ask for the saltiest Dutch Salt Licorice. It’s the best cough drop I’ve ever had. It completely soothes a painful scratchy throat and stops a cough. I use honey and lemon juice in hot water to soothe a sore throat if I don’t have the licorice. Most effective of all: you can just avoid having a lover and you won’t get sick.” — Becky Loveland (Northampton, MA)

“For sore throat and the beginnings of a cold make an infusion of thyme, marshmallow root and mullein leaf. It will soothe the throat, protect the lungs and the thyme acts as an anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Don’t forget to rest and eat chicken soup or miso with chopped garlic.” — Carrie Desmarais, Affinity Herbals (Northampton, MA)

“For sore throats or strep throat I’ve used sage gargles and drunk thyme tea, but what’s worked best for me is combining usnea and echinacea in tincture form (infusions would also be great). I used to get strep throat all the time as a kid and decided to try this combo a couple of years ago and it was gone in a couple of days.” — Cathy Whitely (Florence, MA)

“To treat a sore throat. Put 3 drops of Ravensara essential oil in 2 quarts of hot water from the tap. Stir. Soak cloth in mixture, ring out, wrap around neck. Secure with plastic wrap.” — Kathleen Duffy

“I do not remember who gave me this recipe, but as a singer and voice teacher it is the one I give out the most. It has rescued me many a time from sore throats and laryngitis, as well as keeping me warm from the inside out all through the winter. As I understand it, ginger is a tonic for the throat and for the digestion, as well as having the ability to keep you warm at the core. Grate 6 tsp (or more) of fresh ginger. Put it in a two quart saucepan and fill the saucepan to the top with boiling water. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain out the ginger for each cup you drink, making sure you add a bit of honey to aid in digestion. I return the ginger to the original pot and let sit, making the remainder tea stronger over time. You can cut it with more water if the original preparation becomes too strong.” — Justina Golden, The Profound Sound Voice Studio (Florence, MA)

“I use the tincture of collinsonia as centerpiece for a throat formula I call Performer’s Throat. Its fairly miraculous for bringing a voice back that’s been rocked by overuse. Even as close to a performance as an hour. The only time it doesn’t seem to work is when the person actually has laryngitis. It brings circulation to that area, widening out tightened cords. Also, interestingly, it does similar things for the colon, so is also good for hemorrhoids, and for prolapse of any kind. My Performer’s Throat formula changes a bit from here to there, but always contains at least collinsonia, calamus, spilanthes, propolis. I’ll add glycerin for taste, maybe a touch of ginger, sometimes elder, sometimes yerba mansa.” — Chris Marano

For more from this series, check out these posts from A Cure for What Ails

Tony(a) LemosTony(a) Lemos

Tony(a) is the director of Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA, she also maintains an herbal medicine practice in Western Mass. She is a graduate of Natural Therapy at Raworth College in England and has apprenticed with many influential herbalist, including Susun Weed. She has taught at conferences and festivals all over New England, including Green Nations Gathering, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest and the Women’s Herbal Conference.  Tony(a) is presently working on her next community supported project, a collection of the spirit and wisdom of the valley’s women offerring alternative remedies and support for those dealing with Post Partum Depression and related condition.  A call for submissions will follow. A Cure for What Ails appears on the second Tuesday of every month.

Photo credit: (ccl) boo lee

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