Swollen tonsils, or tonsillitis, are often the result of infection caused by pathogenic microorganisms. Consuming sugary drinks or dairy products can irritate swollen tonsils and increase the symptoms. On the other hand, drinking tea may help reduce symptoms of tonsillitis and deter the proliferation of bacteria and other pathogens, although as of 2012 no studies had looked at the direct effects of tea drinking on swollen tonsils. Consult with your doctor if your sore throat lasts for more than a few days.
Tonsillitis is inflammation or swelling of the tonsils, which are the lymph nodes in the back of your throat. Your tonsils function to filter out harmful bacteria and other microorganisms before they enter your esophagus or trachea, according to PubMed Health. Sometimes your immune system is overwhelmed or the virulence of the pathogen is too great and your tonsils succumb to infection and inflammation. Bacterial infection is the most common culprit, especially the streptococcal species, but viral infection is possible as well. Symptoms of swollen tonsils include a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, a hoarse voice, ear pain, headache, fever and chills.
Green tea leaves contain a number of phytochemicals, many of which are called flavonoids, that display anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, according to “Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica.” Numerous studies have shown green tea to be helpful in combating cardiovascular disease and repairing damaged and inflamed tissue, although flavonoids are also effective at killing bacteria. According to an article published in “Molecular Nutrition and Food Research” in 2007, green tea extracts exerted the strongest antimicrobial activity of all the teas tested. This suggests that drinking green tea may help reduce the swelling of tonsils if the swelling is caused by infection, although as of 2012 no research existed to support this claim.
Black Tea and White Tea
Black tea leaves also contain beneficial flavonoids, but they are especially rich in tannins. Tannins tend to have a drying effect because they reduce mucus production, and this can be helpful in reducing the phlegm that accumulates in the back of the throat due to tonsillitis. Unlike green tea, commercially produced black tea is fermented, which significantly decreases the antimicrobial ability of the plant’s phytochemicals, according to the 2007 article in “Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.”
White tea is made from tea leaves that are picked before maturity and are unfermented, which increases the strength of the phytochemicals. However, boiling water destroys some sensitive phytochemicals, so it’s recommended that you steep all tea in warm water instead.
Herbal teas are not made from tea leaves, so a more appropriate name is hot herbal infusions. Many herbs and fruits display antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which may be helpful in combating infections. Blackberries, cranberries, strawberries and raspberries are especially rich in antioxidants and can easily be dried and made into herbal infusions. Herbs that display notable antimicrobial properties include goldenseal root, chaparral leaf, oregano and olive leaf, according to “Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine.” You should let herbs and tea leaves steep in warm water for at least 20 minutes in order to extract as many of the phytochemicals as possible. For swollen tonsils, you may want to consider cooling the tea or infusion in the fridge first and then gargling with it for a few minutes before swallowing.
- PubMed Health: Tonsillitis
- Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica; Dan Bensky et al.
- Molecular Nutrition and Food Research: Overview of Antibacterial, Antitoxin, Antiviral, and Antifungal Activities of Tea Flavonoids and Teas
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Kerry Bone and Simon Mills
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.