Gargling isn’t just for freshening bad breath — though a quick swish or two with clove tea does that quite well. (To make the tea, pour a cup of just-boiled water over 1 or 2 teaspoons of bruised cloves, steep, strain, then let cool. Or add 2 tablespoons of bruised cloves to a pint of vodka, sherry, or light wine, let sit for a week, then strain and bottle. To use as a mouthwash, add 1 to 3 teaspoons to water.) Depending on what you gargle with, gargling is also a wonderfully simple and remarkably effective way to kill germs, soothe a scratchy throat — even stop heartburn.
Like most other home healing techniques, gargling has a long tradition. If you believe the practitioners of the ancient Indian healing system known as Ayurveda, gargling with vegetable oil (or at least swishing it around the mouth) improves sleep and boosts brainpower while whitening the teeth and rejuvenating the gums. Closer to home, mainstream doctors are increasingly convinced that germ-killing gargles may help prevent cardiovascular disease. It seems the same germs that cause bad gums can enter the bloodstream and trigger blood clots that cause heart attack and stroke.
Just how do gargles work? The glug-glug-glugging action helps rinse away mucus and cellular debris that irritate the mouth and throat. And the ingredient or ingredients you add to the water act directly on raw, inflamed tissues, helping soothe areas roughed up by dry or polluted air — or by an afternoon of enthusiastic cheering at the local soccer field.
No need to get fancy with your gargles. All you really need is hot water and a few simple ingredients that you may already have on hand.
Soothe a Sore Throat
For a sore throat, it’s hard to beat a lemon-juice-in-water gargle. The astringent juice helps shrink swollen throat tissue and creates a hostile (acidic) environment for viruses and bacteria. Just mix 1 teaspoon lemon juice in 1 cup water. Of course, there’s also plain old salt water. Use 1⁄4 teaspoon salt in 1 cup warm water. Add 1 tablespoon of Listerine for germ-killing power. But plenty of other sore throat gargles abound. One popular concoction calls for 1 teaspoon sage, 1⁄2 teaspoon alum, 1⁄4 cup brown sugar, 3⁄8 cup vinegar, and 1⁄8 cup water. And this down-home remedy makes short work of a sore throat: Mix 1 teaspoon each of powdered ginger and honey, 1⁄2 cup of hot water, and the juice of 1⁄2 squeezed lemon. Pour the water over the ginger, then add the lemon juice and honey. Honey coats the throat and also has mild antibacterial properties.
Gargling with the herbal germ-killer goldenseal (11⁄2 teaspoons goldenseal tincture in 8 ounces water) kills viruses and bacteria as it soothes inflamed throat tissue.
Another good bet: Wheatgrass juice. A quick rinse and spit with this chlorophyll-rich liquid is said to ease throat pain. Held in the mouth for five minutes or so, wheatgrass juice is said to help revitalize weakened gums and stop toothache pain.