Now that we’ve passed the middle of winter here in the Northern hemisphere, at least the days are gradually getting a little longer. But, certainly here in the UK, we have at least another two or three months of cold, wet, windy and generally miserable weather to look forward to. So we’re still stuck indoors with the windows closed and the heating on and are very much in the middle of cold, cough and flu season. However, drinking tea can help!
When we get the inevitable cold, sore throat or combination of the two, it’s tempting to reach for the throat sweets. Even though we know they’re just lumps of sugar with some artificial flavourings and colourings, it makes us feel as if we’re doing something to feel better.
A cold is the result of one of the thousands of cold viruses in circulation at any one time. You can never get the same cold virus twice but because this family of viruses is huge and ever-changing it feels like you get the same cold over and over, or, as in my case this year, that you’ve had the same cold for about six weeks.
Sore throats can be caused by either bacterial or viral infections, but doctors estimate that the majority are caused by viruses and therefore no antibiotic is going to make it any better at all.
I’ve chosen teabags all the way through this article because when you’re not feeling great you might not feel like preparing loose tea because you’ll need to use an infuser and that might be slightly too much effort. We’ve chosen organic and plastic-free tea bags where possible.
How to feel better
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified medical professional. Do not read anything on this page as medical advice, it is merely information.
Let’s start with my two grandmothers’ cures for all known ills:
Black tea with honey, lemon and either whisky (Scottish grandmother) or brandy (London grandmother).
Don’t shout at me about this, but when I was a little girl, giving small amounts of alcohol to children as “medicine” was quite normal in this country.
Cough syrups for children that you bought or were prescribed by your doctor were mainly a solution of sugar in alcohol. It seems like another world, but that’s how it was. Anyway, if you’re giving this to children in 2020 you will probably want to leave the whisky out.
Black tea contains tannins which may reduce inflammation and thereby soothe a sore throat. Of course, it also contains caffeine, which is a popular addition to over-the-counter or pharmacy cold remedies because it makes you feel more alert.
Green tea is also great for a sore throat and, to my tastebuds, tastes better with the addition of honey and lemon than black tea.
Natural additives to help you feel better
ime juice as well as or instead of lemon juice. We tend to lose our sense of taste when we have a cold so strong flavours are welcome.
And now some herbal teas which have been used for centuries to treat colds, coughs, sore throats and other similar ills.
A classic bedtime drink, the chamomile flower has been used for its wide range of healing properties since ancient times. A study published in Molecular Medicine in 2010 entitled “Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future” stated that the flowers contain many terpenoids and flavonoids which contribute to its medicinal properties .
We used to collect these from the hedgerows in autumn and they were usually made into jam but some were dried and then used to make a soothing winter drink. Rosehips are bursting with vitamin C plus other antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory properties, easing a sore throat.
A review published in 2015 states that many of the more than 300 flavonoids isolated from liquorice possess antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activities . It has been used in traditional European, Chinese and Ayurveda medicine since antiquity to treat a variety of ailments, including sore throats and colds.
Note: the US Department of Health states that liquorice should not be used during pregnancy.
Tulsi has long been cultivated for its use in the traditional Ayurveda and Siddha systems of healing originating in India. It is used to treat a range of upper-respiratory disorders including bronchitis, asthma, colds and sore throats. It contains a range of antioxidants and antimicrobials not found in other teas and it tastes lovely so is a great addition to the winter medicine cupboard.
Unlike most modern marshmallow sweets, which no longer contain any of the plant material, this tea is made from real marshmallow roots, seeds and leaves. The plant has a long history of usage in herbal medicine for relieving soreness of the mucous membranes, particularly for mouth, throat and gastric ulcers, but also for sore throats more generally.
Another classic from the European herbalist’s toolbox, there are at least 13 different species of mint, the most popular of which are peppermint and spearmint (sometimes called garden mint). Spearmint tends to be used in cooking, while peppermint more often is used in toothpaste, mouthwash and so on because of its stronger, less sweet flavour. The menthol in mint is in part what gives it its soothing properties, acting as a natural local anaesthetic for a sore throat. A 2013 study on Brazilian spearmint concluded that it contained 37 compounds with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties .
Native to North America, the echinacea (coneflower) plant is another commonly used remedy for colds and flu. Although there have been few good-quality clinical trials, a number of studies have given tentative weight to its use for this. However, a 2015 report by the European Medicines Agency stated that “oral consumption of expressed juice or dried expressed juice of Echinacea could prevent or reduce symptoms of a common cold at its onset” . On its own, it has a strong flavour so it is often combined with other herbs or sweeteners.
I wish you a happy and healthy winter!
 Janmejai K. Srivastava, Eswar Shankar, Sanjay Gupta (2010). “Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future (Review)“, Molecular Medicine Reports
 Liqiang Wang, Rui Yang, Bochuan Yuan, Ying Liu, Chunsheng Liu (2015). “The antiviral and antimicrobial activities of licorice, a widely-used Chinese herb (Review)“, Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B
 Hussain, Abdullah I.; Anwar, Farooq; Shahid, Muhammad; Ashraf, Muhammad (2008). “Chemical Composition, and Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activities of Essential Oil of Spearmint (Mentha spicata L.) From Pakistan“. Journal of Essential Oil Research
 “European Union herbal monograph on Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench, herba recens” (PDF). Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products, European Medicines Agency. 24 November 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2019