Proof that Chicken Soup is Medicine


Snuffle snuffle.  When colds and flues set in and we employ our favorite home remedies.  Everyone knows the wisdom of drinking lots of fluids when ill.  Eating fluids proves to be a smart therapy too.

When ill we want the body to devote its energy to healing.  Avoid heavy fat and protein foods like dairy and meat and stick with broths, soups, juices and teas.  Some people find the time of illness shortened if they partially fast for a day or two, taking in only liquids.

My mom kind of got the idea and bundled me in on the living room couch with a TV tray sporting a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup and a tumbler of 7-up.  Like I said – she kind of got the idea.   Nowadays I’m more likely to sip on Miso Happy Broth. But my daughter, when ill,  always begged for Homemade Chicken Soup.

I always figured soup’s healing properties came from draining all of the nutrients out of bones and vegetables and whatever into the liquid surrounding it.  So that when you ingest soup, you’re getting a motherload of nutrients with each swallow.  I mean there’s a reason it’s called stock, right?  I’m pretty sure the easily-digested, wildly bio-available theory about eating soup holds water but it seems there’s more to homemade chicken soup than just mmm-good.

Irwin Ziment, MD, pulmonary specialist and professor at UCLA School of Medicine, says chicken soup contains drug-like agents similar to those in modern cold medicine. For example, an amino acid released from chicken during cooking chemically resembles the drug acetylcystein, prescribed for bronchitis and other respiratory problems.

To further substantiate I found this gem while perusing around the Tufts Health & Nutrition Newsletter :
Stephen Rennard, MD, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center published research on this topic in “Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro,” (Chest,  2000, volume 118, pages 1150-1157) Yes, chicken soup contains a number of substances—including an anti-inflammatory mechanism—that could ease the symptoms of upper-respiratory-tract infections such as the common cold. Specifically, Dr. Rennard demonstrated that chicken soup reduces the movement of neutrophils, the most common white cells in the blood that defend against infection. This in turn decreases activity in the upper respiratory tract that can cause symptoms associated with suffering from a cold. The study was unable to identify the exact ingredients in chicken soup that relieve cold symptoms, but plain chicken broth did not affect neutrophil activity. Dr. Rennard’s grandmother-in-law’s recipe proved effective, as did several commercial chicken soups.  Rennard’s study also noted that that aromatic seasonings enhanced opening and removal of purulent mucous. The active ingredients in traditional recipes include celery, onions, carrots, parsley,
mushrooms and parsnips.

I say make your own and put the love in it. Here’s a recipe from my out-of-print but soon to be back in print (! More on that later) Feeding the Young Athlete.

Simple Herbed Chicken Stock
This nutritious stock can be used to cook rice, simmer vegetables, thin sauces and make super soups.  I have used chicken breasts to make the stock because I like to remove the flavorful meat off the bone and use it to add to 110% Chicken Noodle Soup (see below).

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 carrots, chopped in large chunks
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 turnip, chopped
2 teaspoons salt

3 quarts water
2 bay leaves
4  4-inch sprigs rosemary
4 4-inch sprigs marjoram
4 4-inch sprigs thyme
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 lb. chicken breasts (or other parts)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

  1. Heat oil and butter in a large soup pot.
  2. Add carrots, celery, leek, onion. turnip and salt and sauté until all vegetables are soft and juicy.
  3. Add water, all herbs, chicken and vinegar and bring to a low boil.
  4. Lower heat  and simmer for 30 minutes until meat is tender but not overcooked.
  5. Remove the breast.  As soon as meat is cool enough to handle using a knife and fork, remove the meat and toss the bones back into the pot.
  6. Let bone and broth with vegetables simmer another 30 minutes.
  7. Allow stock to cool then strain into glass jars, and store in the refrigerator until needed.
  8. Meat from chicken can be removed, sliced and used in soups (below), pasta or rice dishes.
  9. Stock will keep at least a week or slip ½ in in a ziplock freezer bag (after it cools of course) and freeze for later.

Preparation time:  1 1/4  hour
Makes 3 quarts stock

110% Chicken Noodle Soup
I use the chicken breast from making the stock in the recipe above because I’m ridiculously frugal.  Any type of noodle works – whole grain, gluten-free or traditional white flour.

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, diced
5 leaves bok choy, cut into ribbons
1 ½ quarts chicken stock
1 ½ cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
2 cups cooked noodles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1.    Heat butter in a soup pot.
2.    Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft.
3.    Add carrot and celery and continue sautéing.
4.    Cut white part of bok choy leaves into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll dark green part of leaves and slice into thin strips and set aside.  Add white part of bok choy to onion-carrot-celery mixture.
5.    Add stock, chicken, and noodles and raise the heat until soup comes to a boil.
6.    Turn the heat off, add fresh herbs and strips of bok choy, cover, and let sit 15 minutes.
7.    Taste soup and add salt and freshly ground pepper to bring up the flavor.

Preparation time:  30 minutes
Makes 6 big bowls of soup

2 thoughts on “Proof that Chicken Soup is Medicine

  1. The best chicken soup ever is the way it is prepared in Mexico, Peru and other Latin countries: they use the chicken feet and heads for the stock and they are removed prior eating the soup.

    I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru and for Christmas eve dinner chicken soup was traditional early in the evening and a bigger meal much later at night. Conchita lived in a portion of a 400 year old sort of rundown building where she laundered and cooked for the voluntarios aking sure the food was safe and clean and plenty. She never made much but earned the love and appreciation of many working in her country. On Christmas Eve I went into her most humble kitchen where she was making soup on the primus burners for her americanos. As she was stirring adding things I asked permission to marry her daughter. She was flabbergasted and did not know how to respond and express her happiness so she did what the very best her humble kitchen could provide: she served me a bowl of chicken soup with the breast and the unlaid eggs but no feet or heads!!! That was 40 years ago and we are still married…

  2. Ok, ok, I’m getting the message to make chicken soup. Everybody in this household has a cold, including me. I don’t feel like cooking but know that power of good medicine. I just took the chicken out to defrost! Thanks for the reminder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *