Is a Hot Toddy Actually Good for Your Cold?

Turns out the perfect hot toddy recipe for a cold might come from...your doctor!

Hot toddies were invented to help fend off the cold weather, but they became a popular remedy to fend off symptoms of winter colds and flu. (Just like these comfort foods!) Is your favorite hot toddy recipe for a cold actually doctor-approved? The answer appears to be yes.

What’s in a hot toddy?

The classic hot toddy is a drink made with:

  • 1-2 ounces whiskey or brandy
  • A sprinkling of spices—cinnamon or ginger works great!
  • Tablespoon of honey
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Boiling water (enough to top off your mug)

Some say it was named in the 1700s for the well in Edinburgh, Scotland where many pubs drew their water—Tod’s Well. Others say it was named in the 1800s for an Irish doctor, Bently Todd, who was known to prescribe hot brandy spiced with cinnamon for his cold and flu patients. It might’ve worked, too. One thing virtually all doctors will agree on is that hot beverages help a sore throat and stuffy nose.

How hot beverages ease cold and flu symptoms

While there’s no cure for the common cold, doctors often recommend heated beverages to provide relief from its symptoms. It’s no surprise that cold and flu comfort foods include many wonderful soups. (Hello, chicken noodle!) A 2008 study demonstrated that hot drinks provide relief from a runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat and tiredness.

So, the question becomes whether alcohol should be included in a hot toddy recipe for a cold.

You can go either way on the booze

Brandy and other forms of alcohol were used medicinally during the 1800s and early 1900s. Even to this day, Nyquil contains 10% alcohol. It’s because alcohol has a sedative effect and can help you feel relaxed enough to sleep. Plus, if a hot toddy with whiskey or brandy can help relieve stress and anxiety—that’s going to help you get well, too

That said, the Mayo Clinic points out that alcohol has a dehydrating effect. It’s best to drink in moderation, especially while nursing a cold or flu. Here are the best and worst drinks for hydration.

Add spices for even more health benefits

Your hot toddy recipe for a cold should definitely include a dash of cinnamon because, among other things, spices stimulate saliva, helping a sore throat to feel better. In addition to cinnamon, you can try ginger, nutmeg, cloves or cardamom. Feel free to improvise, too, based on the health benefits you’re seeking.

Sweeten with honey, maple syrup or agave

When you’re nursing a cold or flu, sweet flavors can be comforting. To sweeten your hot toddy, add a natural liquid sweetener, which blends more easily than granulated sugar. We like honey the best because it helps to coat your throat a bit, which can be soothing for a nasty cough. It also has a few health benefits!

Whether you add a bit of brandy or not, a hot toddy is a soothing way to nurse a cold and tasty to enough to sip long after you’ve recovered.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.