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Does Chicken Soup Have Healing Powers?

You've likely heard it proclaimed throughout your entire life: chicken soup is good medicine.

Whether it was your mother, grandmother, or a Campbell's soup commercial handing out the advice, a steaming bowl of chicken soup has been touted as the cure for just about every ailment, from the common cold to a nasty scrape on the knee.

But is chicken soup, in and of itself, really a "medicine" of sorts? Does it actually possess healing capabilities, or is its magic all in our heads?

Before there was soup, there was broth, which people used to pour over a piece of bread in a bowl. That bread was known as "sop." From sop came the word used for today's winter favorite, soup.

Back in the Day

Around the 12th century trusted healers started to prescribe "the broth of fowl" for their ill patients. It was during that time that Egyptian Jewish physician and philosopher, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimonides, started to write extensively about the benefits of chicken soup.

The ancient healer wrote, "The meat taken should be that of hens or roosters and their broth should also be taken because this sort of fowl has virtue in rectifying corrupted humours."

Maimonides used his 'fowl brew' to treat such things like hemorrhoids, constipation, and even leprosy. He strongly believed and especially praised the brew's healing power for respiratory illnesses like the common cold.

Since then, many researchers and scientists have pondered the question of whether or not chicken soup has any real health benefits to patients suffering from a cold. Some have even done experiments to see if there is such proof.

Is the Proof in the Soup?

Dr. Stephen Rennard, MD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, thought his family's chicken soup really did work, but as a scientist, he wanted proof.

"One day we were discussing chicken soup," Rennard explains. "My wife says that grandma says this is good for colds, and I said maybe it has some anti-inflammatory action."

Rennard tested his theory and added his wife's home made chicken soup to white blood cells, called neutrophils. To his surprise, the soup did slow the neutrophils. In fact, he claims that chemicals in the broth-based elixir clears a stuffy nose by inhibiting inflammation of the cells in the nasal passages.

Dr. Rennard did admit that there needed to be more studies conducted, but believes his findings are one more piece to complete the puzzle.

Since Dr. Rennard's findings in the early 1990's, several studies have since agreed with his results, and show chicken soup as a "relief" for the common cold, not a "cure." All research agrees that the soup helps break up congestion and eases the flow of nasal secretions. In addition, many say it also inhibits the white blood cells that trigger the inflammatory response (causing sore throats and the production of phlegm.)

Chicken soup is a soup made by boiling chicken parts or bones in water, with various vegetables and flavorings. The classic chicken soup consists of a clear broth, often served with small pieces of chicken or vegetables, or with noodles or dumplings, or grains such as rice and barley. In the United States chicken soup is considered a classic comfort food.

The "Guts" of Chicken Soup

When you are feeling under the weather, it seems that everything hot helps to make you feel better. However, the good thing about chicken soup is that - properly prepared such as the recipes below - it is loaded with valuable nutrients. This includes:

Chicken: Chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine, a substance released when you make the soup. This amino acid is similar to the drug acetylcysteine, which is prescribed by doctors to patients with bronchitis. It thins the mucus in the lungs, making it easier to cough out. And hot chicken vapors have been proven more effective than hot water vapors in clearing out the cold in your nose.

Carrots: Carrots, one of the routine vegetable ingredients found in chicken soup, are the best natural source of beta-carotene. The body takes that beta-carotene and converts it to vitamin A. Vitamin A helps prevent and fight off infections by enhancing the actions of white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses.

Onions: Onions, another chicken soup regular, contains quercetin, a powerful anti-oxidant that is also a natural anti-histamine, and anti-inflammatory.

Final Note

While chicken soup isn't a cure for a cold, it does help alleviate some of the annoying symptoms that come with it. And, if nothing else, it definitely is a delicious, comforting meal that helps keep your body hydrated.

To get the full benefits, of course, we recommend homemade chicken soup using only natural ingredients.

The next time the cold bug has you down, stay warm, get a lot of rest, and try slurping away on one of these three chicken soup recipes (maybe you can coax someone else into making one of them for you!)

   Dr. Rennard's Chicken Soup

1 large roasting chicken or baking hen (6 to 7 pounds)
1 package chicken wings or drumsticks (10 to 12 pieces)
10 medium carrots, peeled
3 large onions, peeled and quartered
3 parsnips, peeled
1 large sweet potato, peeled
2 turnips, peeled
6 stalks celery
1 bunch parsley
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Wash the whole chicken and chicken parts. Place in 8-quart soup pot, fill three-quarters full with water and bring to a boil. Add carrots, onion, parsnips, sweet potato and turnips.

  2. Simmer covered for 1-1/2 hours. Add celery and parsley and cook for another 45 minutes. Spoon out the chicken and bones.

  3. Remove the vegetables along with a small amount of the broth; puree, then stir back into the soup. Salt and pepper to taste.

Stephen Rennard, M.D., is chief of pulmonary medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The recipe actually is a time-tested family recipe, handed down by his wife's grandmother.

   Thai Chicken Soup

This is a mild but spicy chicken soup, flavored with the very unique flavor of galangal ("kha" in Thai) which creates a heavenly taste when combined with hot chile peppers, coconut milk, lime leaves and lemongrass.


16 fluid ounces organic chicken soup broth
4-5 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
4 or 5 2 inch pieces fresh lemongrass, bruised to release flavor
1 inch cube (or a bit more) galangal sliced thinly
4 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 oz organic chicken breast cut into smallish bite sized pieces
5 fluid ounces coconut milk
small red Thai chili peppers, slightly crushed (to taste)
coriander (cilantro) leaves to garnish.

Note the number of red peppers is a personal choice. It can be as few as half a chili per diner, to
as many as 8-10 per diner, but the dish should retain a balance of flavors and not be overwhelmend by the chili peppers. We suggest about 8-12 chili peppers for this recipe.


Heat the stock, add the lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, fish sauce, and lime juice. Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil. Add the chicken and coconut milk, then the chili peppers. Bring back to the boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes (until the chicken is cooked through).

   Amish Chicken Noodle Soup

3 lb. grass-fed chicken
2 qts. water
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. organic chicken stock
2 c. celery, chopped
2 c. carrots, chopped
1 tart apple, chopped
1 c. onions, chopped
Dash pepper
4 c. egg noodles

Place chicken in kettle with 2 quarts water. Cover until tender (about 2 1/2 hours). Remove chicken from kettle and strain broth. De-bone chicken and return to kettle with strained broth.
Add chicken stock, celery, carrots, apple, onions, and pepper and cook until vegetables are tender.

Add noodles and cook 8-10 minutes

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