Cooking for a Cold

Yea, yea, yea, we all know that chicken soup is the standard go-to when cold season hits. And, sure enough, chicken soup has been clinically shown to ease cold suffering; a particular amino acid in the steam helps clear out nasal passages, and the broth reduces inflammation. But I’m wondering if we can up the ante.

I’ll admit right up front, this post is partially driven by my enduring love for brothy Asian soups. But it also came about because I had some lingering memories of research showing that various spices and aromatics were good germ-fighters too. So, when my husband went down for the count with a nasty cold, I thought it a good time to dig up those findings and concoct a Super Soup. Here’s what I found:

  • Garlic — Don’t you love finding out your favorite ingredients work overtime to keep you healthy? That is certainly the case with garlic. Garlic’s high sulfur content (which makes it so lovely and stinky) is a natural purifier that ushers toxins out of the system and boosts immunity. But it’s also a powerful antibiotic. Some Petri dish studies even show it performing as well as, or in the case of antibiotic-resistant bacteria … better than, prescription antibiotics like penicillin and tetracycline.
  • Ginger — Ginger is a soothing, warming spice that stimulates blood flow (ever notice how you sweat when drinking ginger tea?) and calms the tummy. The compounds in ginger are both anti bacterial and anti inflammatory. They’re so powerful, in fact, that they’re being studied as a preventative to food poisoning.
  • Cinnamon — Cinnamon is another wonder spice. Its antimicrobial and antifungal properties are so effective that the food industry is playing with what they call “active packaging”; adding cinnamaldehyde, one of the active compounds in cinnamon, to food packaging in order to prevent contamination.
  • Cloves — Cloves are helpful with colds for a few reasons; one being the fact that they’re a natural anesthetic (if you’ve ever had a tooth ache and used clove oil, you’ll know what I’m talking about). They also have strong antimicrobial properties. Studies innoculating fresh salmon with lysteria have proven that cloves (in this case, clove oil) inhibit growth of the pathogen.
  • Star Anise — Traditionally, star anise has been used to treat stomach pain. New evidence, however, shows that it too is a strong, natural antibiotic.
  • Chiles — Chiles stimulate the body and cleanse the blood. They’re also high in vitamins C and A … two strong antioxidants essential to fighting off colds.

I don’t know about you, but this list makes me hungry. Use it as a catalyst for your winter cooking. Add a few more cloves of garlic to a stir fry, for instance, or star anise, cloves and cinnamon to a stew. For many cultures, the healing qualities and unique flavor of these spices are inseparable; people inherently reach both for what tastes best and for what makes them feel best. Now you can too.

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