Chicken Soup For Your…Health (Of Course)

An Ode to Jewish Penicillin

We’ve all heard the “old tale” about Jewish Penicillin, more commonly known as Chicken Soup. It is touted as one of the best to both prevent and treat winter ailments, namely cold and flu. Not only has it been reputed to work against winter’s nasties, it also tastes really delicious!

So, does it work and, if so, how? Some claim that its healing power is just an old wives’ tale and that the soup is really just comfort food. Often authors will use anecdotal evidence to prove (or in some cases disprove) their point. As much as I love amazing health stories involving someone’s dog walker, I’ll stick to scientifically validated information. Believe it or not, there have been clinical trials and scientific papers written on the topic of chicken soup and its health benefits.

Humans have been pining and obsessing over chicken soup since the domestication of fowl (chicken) around 10,000 years ago in Southeast Asia. We can thank the ancient Greeks for the combination of chicken and broth. Chicken soup’s reputation for curing the common cold goes back thousands of years, (for nearly for as long as we have had chicken soup itself!). This nourishing food is present in one form or another in just about every part of the world, with references in traditional texts from Jewish to Chinese and hundreds in-between. The earliest reference to chicken soup’s healing properties was found in a 12th century book On the Cause of Symptoms by Egyptian Jewish physician philosopher Maimonides. He described chicken broth as a treatment for malnutrition, asthma, and even leprosy. Ancient physicians and philosophers believed that chicken soup cured everything from bed wetting to leprosy. Today, the dish is a staple meal (and appetizer) in multiple cultures (not just Jewish cuisine) from all around the world.

Colds (also known as common colds) are viral infections. Everyone gets a cold eventually. Children (often called germ factories) get more colds than adults. There are over 100 different viruses that cause the common cold, with new ones popping up each year. Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks. You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they are more common in late winter and early spring. Colds usually come on slowly over the course of a couple of days. As your cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker mucus. No matter what anecdotal evidence or story you hear, there is no cure for a cold. 

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by Influenza A or B viruses. The flu appears most frequently in winter and early spring. It comes on rapidly, attacking the body by spreading through the upper and/or lower respiratory tract. The common cold and flu are both contagious viral infections of the respiratory tract. Although the symptoms can be similar, and they occur during the same seasons, the flu is much worse. A cold may make you feel tired and drag you down a bit, but the flu can make you shudder at the very thought of getting out of bed. Both cold and flu can cause coughing, headaches and congestion. The flu usually causes body aches, high fever, fatigue and weakness and, in the very young, the elderly and in people with compromised immune systems, the flu can be fatal.

Antibiotics? Antibiotics are 100% useless for colds and flu because antibiotics work on bacterial infections, not viral infections that cause colds & flu. Antibiotics can cause harm as they help in the development of superbugs. 

In 1993, a researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Dr. Stephen Rennard published a study on the effects of chicken soup. This study has been cited in over 1,200 publications. Dr. Rennard found that chicken soup is a powerhouse of beneficial compounds because of its ingredients. These ingredients can help to alleviate common cold and flu symptoms, and even help the body fight off the infection itself. The study began with a focus on possible anti-inflammatory properties present in chicken soup. His studies of white blood cell movement showed that chicken soup had the ability to inhibit that movement, which in turn would lead to decreased mucus production and reduced inflammation.


Additionally, chicken soup is chock full of easily digestible beneficial nutrients, including protein, calcium, and gelatin from boiled bones and vitamins and minerals and antioxidants from carrots, celery and other vegetables. The spices used (including garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, oregano, thyme, parsley) contain hundreds of antioxidants, which are immune and digestive-improving compounds. Chicken soup also provides electrolytes, which are especially valuable when the body is dehydrated from vomiting.


Based on Dr. Rennard’s research and some follow up work, I would suggest chicken soup be added to every non-vegetarian’s regular meal rotation through the fall, winter and early spring. If you manage to be part of the unlucky group that get a cold or the flu, I would definitely include LOTS of chicken soup while you are sick. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, use the next best thing, a robust vegetable soup. If you suspect that you have caught the flu, remember that it can be very serious and please be sure to call your doctor.


There are a few Natural Health supplements I would add to any winter health regime. My golden 4 are homemade organic ginger tea, Chaga capsules, Elderberry capsules and Super Strength Oil of Oregano Capsules. In the case of Chaga and Elderberry, you should  make sure that the capsules are clean, which you can do by looking for the USDA organic logo on the labels.


To enjoy (rather than dread) the colder seasons, arm yourself with the best defenses that you can. Having a well-rounded healthy diet packed with nutrient-rich fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, along with hearty homemade chicken soup, is a great start. Keeping well hydrated with clean pure water is required. Add ginger tea, as well as clean immune boosting supplements (Chaga, Elderberry and Oregano), to give your immune system the best chance at success.


Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience.

Categories: Natural Remedies