Hot Toddy for Cold and Flu: Fact or Fiction?

Hot toddies are a soothing combination of warm water, honey, and various spices. It is a mash-up of old and new recipes that promises to give you a warm hug in a mug. Can it, however, cure the winter blues and sniffles? Let's explore the steamy secrets behind this traditional elixir to find out.

Hot toddy: ingredients and origin

If you delve into the depths of internet recipes, you will find a plethora of hot toddy interpretations.

A hot toddy is made with hot water, lemon, honey, and possibly but not necessarily bourbon or whiskey and is flavored with spices such as clove, cinnamon, and star anise. The origins of this soothing concoction, however, can be traced back to a traditional Hindi drink known as a 'taddy.' The taddy, made from fermented palm sap, has a long history dating back to the 17th century.

A hot toddy is a versatile drink that can be personalized to suit your preferences. Its appeal lies in the fact that it can be made with various ingredients, making it adaptable to different tastes and occasions. Whether you prefer it sweet or strong, fruity or spicy, there's a hot toddy recipe to suit your needs.

Aside from the traditional trio of hot water, lemon, and honey, variations of the hot toddy include ginger, peppermint, apple cider vinegar, and even different types of liquor. Still, a question stays in the air: can hot toddies really help with the chills and sniffles of colds and flu?

Hot toddy: a remedy for cold and flu?

Under scientific scrutiny, the hot toddy remains somewhat uncharted territory. No definitive research has expressly probed the benefits of hot toddies for combating a cold or flu. However, the absence of empirical evidence does not dismiss their potential efficacy.

Delving into each component of a hot toddy reveals a concoction that extends beyond warmth. The inclusion of honey, lemon, and an array of spices suggests a potential powerhouse in the battle against the winter cold and flu. Each ingredient, with its unique properties, intertwines to create a therapeutic elixir, offering comfort and potentially aiding in alleviating cold and flu symptoms.

Hot water

A study found that hot fruit drinks can bring immediate and sustained relief from common cold and flu symptoms, including runny noses, coughs, and sore throats. While the hot drink's impact on nasal airflow is subjective, the results support the idea that a warm and tasty beverage can help ease these symptoms.


Scientists looked at 14 studies involving almost 1,800 people with upper respiratory tract infections, as the common cold. They found that using honey helped with symptoms, especially making coughs less frequent and severe, and sometimes it even made the sickness a bit shorter by a day or two. However, it's essential to know that these findings are just observations of what happened and don't prove honey is a cure for a winter cold or flu.


People commonly turn to lemon juice and lemon-flavored teas to prevent and treat colds, coughs, and the flu. Although there isn't strong scientific proof of their effectiveness, lemons are a good source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which is universally used to help ease and get over the cold and flu.


Clove, a versatile spice, is a kitchen staple and a traditional remedy for respiratory issues like coughs, colds, viral illness, and bronchitis.

Chewing cloves or clove oil expelled from steeping in hot water can ease severe coughing, relieving various respiratory disorders. Additionally, clove oil has demonstrated antiviral effects, showing potential against viruses like herpes simplex, influenza A, and Ebola in laboratory studies.

The active compound, eugenol, not only contributes to these health benefits but also exhibits promise as an inhibitor of blood clot formation, indicating potential advantages for cardiovascular health. Recently, cloves have also been explored for their potential role in preventing and treating COVID-19, aligning with their historical use in supporting respiratory health.

Besides its respiratory benefits, clove is known for its anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and blood-thinning properties, contributing to overall well-being.

Star anise

Star anise comes from a tree with star-shaped fruits. It is more than a spice; people have used it for a long time in traditional medicine, especially in China, because it's known to fight viruses.

Shikimic acid, derived from star anise, is a precursor for producing oseltamivir (Tamiflu®), an antiviral influenza A and B medication. Beyond its antiviral potential, star anise boasts various biological benefits, including antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a versatile herb with potential applications in supporting overall health.


Cinnamon, a key ingredient in hot toddies, offers more than flavor. Its active component, cinnamaldehyde, exhibits antimicrobial properties, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungi. Studies show its effectiveness against organisms like Staphylococcus aureus and Candida.

While research on its impact on viruses is limited, cinnamon is noted for inhibiting protein synthesis and enhancing survival in mice following influenza A virus infection.

Additionally, cinnamon's antioxidant prowess, attributed to eugenol, combats lipid oxidation. This antioxidant effect extends to potential applications in liver disorders, demonstrating decreased oxidative stress markers. Furthermore, cinnamon showcases anti-inflammatory effects by reducing inflammatory markers like tumor necrosis factor α and interleukin-6 levels.

The aforementioned properties contribute to cinnamon's potential role in supporting health during colds, flu, or respiratory infections.


Ginger, another ingredient often used in hot toddies, is packed with powerful compounds like gingerols that act as potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.

Studies suggest that gingerol, found in ginger, is effective against both bacterial and viral infections, making it beneficial for oral health and respiratory issues. Known for soothing digestion, easing nausea, and combating the flu and common cold, ginger adds more than just flavor to your hot toddy.

While the World Health Organization recognizes ginger for its positive impact on health, it's crucial to note that ginger isn't a proven cure for any upper respiratory tract infection.

Safety tips

Even though hot toddies can make you feel better, it is important to be aware of how they might affect your health, especially if they contain alcohol.

Hot toddies might contain alcohol, which can be bad for your health. As a diuretic, alcohol makes you pee more, which can make you dehydrated, which is important to think about when you are sick. Aside from dehydration, alcohol is also known to contribute to increased inflammation in the body, as well as other negative health effects, particularly on the liver.

Interestingly, alcohol's historical use as an anesthetic suggests its ability to mask and relieve cold symptoms, providing a more nuanced view of its impact during illness.

It is strongly advised to refrain from alcohol in hot toddies if:

  • You struggle with substance abuse issues.
  • You have liver conditions.
  • You are taking medications that affect your liver.
  • You are pregnant.
  • You are under the legal drinking age (21).
  • You need to drive or operate hazardous machinery.

Do not combine liquor with any medications that have sedative side effects, including nighttime cold medicine, anti-anxiety medicine, and opioids or narcotics. If unsure, talk with your doctor before trying a hot toddy to soothe your cold or flu symptoms.

Do I need alcohol to prepare a hot toddy?

No, a hot toddy does not need alcohol; you can make a'mock' hot toddy by excluding the liquor! This is an ideal choice for people of all ages who aim to enjoy the health benefits of a hot toddy without the adverse health effects of liquor.

A crucial reminder
While mock hot toddies may be beneficial for older children, children under the age of 1 should not consume honey due to the risk of botulism.

Hot toddy recipe

  1. Boil water
  2. Pour hot water over spices and steep for 10-15 minutes (cinnamon stick, 5-7 whole clove, 1 whole star anise)
  3. Add one tablespoon of honey
  4. Squeeze one fresh lemon wedge.

Experimenting with different spices to make a hot toddy that suits your taste buds is fun. It is okay to use dried ground herbs if you don't have the whole spices available, but you may need to experiment with amounts or research recipe variations.

The final word on hot toddy

A hot toddy, made with honey, lemon, and spices, is a comforting tradition that may provide relief from cold and flu symptoms. At the same time, scientific evidence for its efficacy is lacking, but individual ingredients such as clove, star anise, cinnamon, and ginger suggest therapeutic benefits. It is critical to exercise caution when consuming alcohol, especially in certain groups. As a healthier alternative, consider a mock toddy. In the end, the hot toddy, whether a remedy or a soothing elixir, embodies the warmth of tradition in every comforting sip.

Key takeaways:

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