Sweet Self-Care in a Mug (Good for Scratchy Throats, Too)

February  1, 2017

When flu season coincides with this tumultuous season, which lines up with resolution season, people remember: Oh, yeah, self-care. What is it again?

For those who don’t meditate, don’t downward dog, aren’t runners or swimmers or bubble bathers, who breathe fine, already signed off Twitter, and already drink a lot of water, what do you do? And how do you make sure it actually impresses on you, and isn't just a hashtag?

As a place to start, Jenna Wortham reminds us that self-care isn’t just about treating yourself—it involves redefining personal luxury. Spend hours preparing the most beautiful squash you can find. Peel citrus slowly. Be around the people you love. Feed them.

Self-care means something different to everyone—sharing yours is a form of care, too.

Here’s one: Instead of buying sick-season tea from the market, make it. It involves busying yourself with a low-risk, highly delightful series of activities that can take a little or lot of time depending on what feels right to you.

In college I guzzled baggies of Throat Coat tea even when I didn’t have a scratchy throat and sickness congesting my brilliant research papers. It was like morning-appropriate Fernet: Its licorice flavor mellowed by a nutty sweetness and mystified with something else I didn’t recognize. As it went down, my throat would be coaxed with a velvetty syrup of a drink. If I let the tea steep, its licorice flavor would get strong enough to bite you back—a little less of a steep and the sweet, slippery elements would really shine and soothe.

Someone who worked at the herbal shop where I’d buy the tea once said to me, you know you can just make this yourself? The rushed college student didn’t think they had time for that, but herbal shops have a way of staying with you (visiting one is part of self-care, I think), and I finally made it myself this many years later—without any more free time, just with want to do so.

What You’re Coating Your Throat With

Photo by James Ransom

This mixture closely resembles the tea you'll find ground and sacheted at the store. For the homemade version, there's no need to turn the tea into powder, unless you're particularly concerned with getting an even distribution of ingredients in each cup.

  • Licorice Root: Here's where you can find licorice flavor in full force—you can actually chew right on the root like sugar cane or steep it alone in hot water. Not only is licorice root one of the most widely used herbs in Chinese medicine, but—fun facts—it was found in droves in King Tut’s tomb, it was used in the Middle Ages to alleviate troubles from spicy foods, and Alexander the Great’s pal Dioscorides told troops to carry it to help with stamina, thirst, and throat and hunger pains.
  • Marshmallow Root: This one looks like fluffy wood shavings, but doesn't feel like it going down: This is what turns your throat velvety. (And yes, the first marshmallows were made in France by boiling the white part of the root with sugar until thick and the root released its sweetness.)
  • Slippery Elm Bark: Slippery elm bark has similar properties to marshmallow root, so if you can't find it or want to skip it (the tree is at risk of disease), you can double up on marshmallow root.
  • Wild Cherry Bark: This one helps your cough go away—you'll even find it in some cough syrups.
  • Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds are used in cooking, you know, but they also soothe the tummy: You'll sometimes find Mukhwas, a combination of fennel seed and other digestives, after an Indian meal. Before adding them to the Throat Coat mixture, crush them a bit to release their flavor.
  • Cinnamon Bark: It's here for its warming, spicy flavor.

  • Bitter Orange Peel: This peel brings a citrusy, but still a little funky, flavor to the tea. If you're not particularly interested in the funky part, go for sweet orange peel.

If you'd like more information about the properties of these ingredients, I've found Mountain Rose Herbs incredibly helpful.

How to Make Your Own


You can buy the elements online at places like Mountain Rose Herbs (or Amazon), or seek out an herbal or apothecary shop, where all these ingredients are fairly common (but it wouldn’t hurt to call first to make sure they have everything). Some health foods stores and specialty foods shops will also carry the ingredients. Smile gleefully at the names of all the ingredients you pick up: slippery elm bark, marshmallow root. Finding them among the jars of curiosities is part of the fun.

Once home with your bark, roots, and peels, measure and mix them together. If your scale has trouble reading single grams, don't worry; we're not baking here. Just eyeball the ratios of elements found here, or if you do worry, double the recipe. This stuff doesn't go bad.

The concoction will resemble the debris in the sitting water of a lake. Dry, it smells like it came from the same place. Steep or simmer—20 minutes or 15 minutes, respectively—and your throat coat will be ready to be worn. Drink it, letting it glissade down your throat. Keep going. Take care.

How do you care for yourself? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Hannah
  • Karine K
    Karine K
  • Niknud
  • Maurina Rachuba
    Maurina Rachuba
Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


Hannah February 15, 2021
I buy organic ginger root in bulk whenever it’s on sale and stick it in the freezer to keep fresh. It’s excellent to stick in a soup when I’m feeling under the weather, or just to brew up as a super spicy mug of tea.
Karine K. February 3, 2017
I discovered guava leaves when I was living in Cairo. Recommended by a lofal taxi driver these dry guava leaves can to be simmered in water and drank like tea. I add some good raw honey and enjoy their fruity taste. They reduce coughing and soothe a sore throat . I highly recommend these miraculous leaves.
Niknud February 1, 2017
My amazing dame of a grandmother, Florence, would always recommend her favorite hot toddy recipe when I was sick. Hot water, lemon, honey and whiskey. "And really, dear," she would say in a low voice, "the first three ingredients are entirely optional." I think it's better to make it with lemon tea and throw some crystallized ginger in the bottom of the mug, but either way it can't be beat for when you're feeling cruddy. I still make it every time I get sick and I think of her while I sip.
Maurina R. February 1, 2017
Check for interactions with medications! Licorice root can interfere with the efficacy of blood pressure, clotting, or thinning, medications. The others will have contraindications for other meds as well.