Never had I ever produced a TV show... until last December, when I filmed my first-ever episode of Never Had I Ever: A Songwriter Showcase of Epic (and Everyday) Firsts.
Since then, I've continued to perform at open mics and songwriter showcases regularly.
And one regular part of my routine -- even when I'm not performing -- is licorice root tea.
As is my tendency, I was skeptical when I first read about licorice root tea as a singer's tonic. I hate the anti-science movement (see also: Saying 'Ban GMOs' is Like Saying 'Kill the Diabetics) and detest snake oil salesmen.
But after seeing a voice therapist for a minor injury, I learned that there is actually merit to the claim that certain teas (but not others) will help lubricate and soothe your throat and help you sing better and more comfortably.
In this post, I will list four that I've tried -- but let me start by saying what pretty much any voice therapist, laryngologist, or music teacher will tell you is the number one most important thing:
Being hydrated makes a huge difference. One doctor told me water is the number one thing he "prescribes" to singers.
It makes such a difference.
Last night, I went to a pretty grueling hot fusion class with the most amazing woman (she moves to a new city every six months, because she wants to experience the world -- how cool is that?!). By the end, my face was red and my shins and forearms were slick with sweat...
After class, I had a jam session with a buddy...
And I could tell the difference. I'm sure to an outsider, I would have sounded "good" or "fine." But I could absolutely hear and feel that I wasn't hydrated enough.
So regardless of the suggestions on this list, you should definitely focus on hydration.
(Side note: none of the teas on this list contains caffeine. Based on a 1928 study that suggested caffeine is a mild diuretic, caffeine is commonly believed to cause dehydration. Newer research found the stimulant doesn't "dehydrate" you to the extent we previously believed. Either way, it can still dry out your throat and mouth, which is not ideal for singing.)
But here are four teas I've found helpful for my singing.
(Another side note: if you sweeten your tea, consider honey instead of sugar. Honey is also said to have throat-soothing effects.)
1. Licorice root tea.
A thick tea with a natural sweetness of its own -- which is great, because sugar is the new smoking. However, it definitely doesn't taste like licorice candy. If it did, I would be incapable of drinking it.
It's kind of a sweet, earthy flavor and has an instant soothing and coating effect on my throat.
You can find it on Amazon, grocery stores -- and, as I discovered this summer when my aunt surprised me with a really thoughtful gift bag -- the farmer's market.
2. Throat Coat (slippery elm) tea.
Slippery elm is also known for its throat soothing abilities -- which is why it's often used in cough drops. (Not to be mistaken for menthol, which is what produces that strong smell we all associate with lozenges.)
Personally, I find licorice root thicker and more soothing, but I enjoy mixing it up sometimes. This option has more of the herbal flavor I typically enjoy in my tea.
3. Numi Organic Tea Three Roots
I'd read that ginger tea was helpful for singers, but hadn't tried it out, since licorice was working really well and I kind of associate ginger tea with seasickness. (Though obviously, the best cure for seasickness is to close your eyes and imagine you're jumping on a trampoline.)
But. In the interest of keeping things interesting, I tried this tea, which combines ginger, licorice and rose roots with turmeric (which may help reduce inflammation).
Tasty and effective.
I'm just going to reiterate, real quick, that I love science and hate pseudoscience. I hate that everything I've recommended so far is either organic or GMO-free. If there were a similarly-priced alternative, I would definitely have chosen that over the anti-science brand.
4. Triple Leaf Super Slimming Tea (read full description before buying)
As I said earlier, I am always skeptical of any "natural medicine" or "holistic medicine" or
"herbal treatment," because most of them are hoaxes that don't work (or, since the industry is completely unregulated, may not even contain a single molecule of the "active ingredient).
That's why I bought this tea, despite the fact that I'm not trying to lose weight. I don't think I could lose weight and still be healthy. But, obviously, drinking tea won't make you lose weight -- if losing weight were that easy, there wouldn't be an obesity epidemic, would there?
I picked this tea because it contains licorice root (apparently, it may also help with digestion), but also persimmon and papaya leaf. I was expecting it to taste a little fruity and still coat my throat for everyday talking and singing.
But, so here's the thing with this tea.
I assumed it wouldn't promote weight loss -- obviously, that was a marketing gimmick. I read the ingredients, but not the rest of the box -- to be fair, usually tea boxes don't say much, other than to experience gratitude and find your bliss.
Had I read the box, I might have noticed that senna, another of the main ingredients, is an herbal stimulant laxative; that they warn you in bold print not to brew it strong or have more than one cup per day; and that you shouldn't drink it more than seven days in a row unless directed by a doctor.
Which means I would have been less surprised when I started feeling like someone stabbed me in the stomach with a knife.
All this is to say...
Even if you think it's "just" tea or "just" a marketing gimmick... be careful with weight loss products.
See also: Requiem for a Dream.
Other useful products:
At the recommendation of my doctor, I bought a humidifier for my home. I picked the CVS brand, and have mixed feelings about it. So I did a little research.
For a small room (and a good price), TechGearLab recommends the Honeywell HUL5.
For a larger room or whole home, they suggest the LEVOIT 6L Warm and Cool Mist Ultrasonic Air Humidifier.
Singer's Saving Grace.
This fast-acting spray soothes and moistens the throat tissues, and I've started carrying it around with me in my bag. (All else equal, I'll drink tea, which contains many of the same ingredients -- specifically licorice root and ginger -- but sometimes I run out of tea and am not in a spot where I can make another cup, so I reach for my Saving Grace.)
If you've got a sensitive palate, this might not be for you, as the taste/smell is quite potent. If your throat is especially irritated (as mine was last night after singing while dehydrated), you'll notice an extra burning sensation.
Nevertheless, I find the product to be aptly named, and one bottle will last a long time.
What teas or products or tricks have you used to soothe your throat? Share in the comments!
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