Chicken soup is popular in many culinary traditions and is recognized for its healing powers. Jewish grandmothers are famous for administering this “Jewish penicillin,” but traditional cuisines from Mexico to China also include chicken soup as a classic dish. There are variations on the vegetables and on the seasonings, but chicken simmered in water seems a constant.
The medieval physician Moses Maimonides recommended chicken soup for colds. Even today, doctors don’t have medicines to prescribe for colds. They might do well to prescribe a piping-hot bowl of chicken soup. It is far less likely to cause side effects than many of the drugstore cold remedies, and it might be more effective.
A couple decades ago, physicians at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami pitted chicken soup against plain water, hot and cold. They found that chicken soup greatly improved the flow of mucus through nasal passages. And even though there are prescription drugs to treat influenza, a careful evidence-based review a few years ago concluded that chicken soup can probably help alleviate flu symptoms.1
In one study, ingesting chicken soup reduced the inflammation associated with immune system cells called neutrophils.2 This inflammation contributes to many of the unpleasant symptoms we suffer from colds and flu. Chinese grandmothers add astragalus root to their chicken soup, which may increase the soup’s ability to boost the immune system. Some people add garlic.
Pulmonologist Irwin Ziment is a chicken soup enthusiast who advocates adding hot peppers to chicken soup for symptomatic relief of both sinusitis and bronchitis.3 We also have heard from our readers—and have personally experienced—that chicken soup with thyme can help ease a cough. There is also some evidence that thyme along with other spices that are used to flavor chicken soup, such as garlic, bay leaf, rosemary, and black pepper, may have antimicrobial activity.4
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic