From chicken noodle soup to alcohol-spiked drinks, everyone has a preferred remedy for cold symptoms. Since she was feeling a little under the weather, Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered, asked some foodies for their tried and true remedies from around the globe. Their suggestions range from the gentle to the pungent, but each bears a timeworn seal of approval.
Chinese Rice Porridge And Mustard Greens
Grace Young, author of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing, says her mother was a firm believer in eating jook, a rice porridge, to abate a cold. Young says it just takes a few tablespoons of rice cooked with water until the grains disintegrate.
"It's said to be the easiest food to digest, it cleanses the body of toxins, it rehydrates you, and it's a very, very gentle on the system," she says.
To prevent a cold, her mother turned to mustard green soup.
"All it is is maybe a pound of broad leaf mustard greens, cooked with a large sweet potato, maybe five or six cups of water, and it's simmered for three hours," she says.
Young admits she hated it as a child, but the soup is meant to cleanse the body.
"The Chinese feel that your organs get very dried and parched, so a soup like this restores the balance," she says.
Unconventional Italian Teas
Italian-American chef Lidia Bastianich, host of the television show Lidia's Italy, says she learned her cold-fighting secrets from a great-aunt who was a herbalist and the so-called potion maker of the family. When someone had a cold, Bastianich's great-aunt would reach for the sage and bay leaves.
"She would dry her sage and bay leaf and she would make a tea and then put some lemon juice and honey [in it]," she says.
If that sounds a little bracing for your tastes, you may want to avoid her other folk cure: horseradish tea. Bastianich says you grate horseradish into boiling water before adding lemon juice and honey. After it steeps, you can drink it as is or strain it.
"It just sort of opens you all up when your nose is stuffy and all of that," she says. "It's strong, delicious [and] permeates all the way up."
Carom Seeds And Chicken Soup
Vikram Sunderam, executive chef at the restaurant Rasika in Washington, D.C., relies on old "grandmother's recipes." His favorite go-to cold cure is a simple spoonful of ginger juice and honey. For kids, he recommends roasting ajwaim, or carom seeds.
"You inhale the aroma," he says. "It's similar to thyme."
For food chemist Shirley Corriher, author of the cookbooks Bakewise and Cookwise, nothing beats the old standard: chicken soup. She says its curative powers come from somewhere beyond science.
"It's the blessing of our grandmothers," she says. "I just think that good hot chicken stock — with the fumes coming off — you know it's going to be so good."
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Have you noticed, Robert, that I sound pretty lousy this week?
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Well, lousy is a loaded term.
SIEGEL: You - I - what you sound like is you are living through the radio person's nightmare.
BLOCK: The winter cold, exactly. And on behalf of the many, many people who are listening right now who probably sound and feel just about as lousy as I do, we decided to solicit some tried and true cold remedies from around the world, starting with China and with cookbook author Grace Young, whose books include "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing." Grace, healing sounds really good to me. Why don't you heal me? What have you got?
GRACE YOUNG: Whenever I have a cold, my mom always makes juk or Chinese rice porridge for me. It's just a few tablespoons of rice cooked with lots of water until the rice completely flowers and you can't see the individual grains. And it's such a - the easiest food to digest. It cleanses the body of toxins, and it rehydrates you. And it's very, very gentle on the system.
BLOCK: OK. That sounds good.
YOUNG: And another soup that my mom would always make for us when we have a cold but also preventative would be mustard green soup. And as a child, I absolutely hated this.
BLOCK: It doesn't sound great.
YOUNG: No. It doesn't have a lot of appeal. All it is is maybe a pound of broad-leaf mustard greens cooked with a large sweet potato, maybe five or six cups of water, and it's simmered for three hours. And that is said to fortify the system. It's also very cleansing. And the Chinese feel that your organs get very dry and parched. And so a soup like this restores the balance.
BLOCK: So two things: Could I try - I could try either one or maybe both.
YOUNG: Yes. Exactly.
BLOCK: Well, Grace Young, thanks for your suggestions. Appreciate it.
YOUNG: You're welcome.
BLOCK: Our next cold remedy comes from the Italian-American chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich. Her public television show is "Lidia's Italy in America." And, Lidia, what about some Italian help for my cold? What do you think?
LIDIA BASTIANICH: I had a great aunt who was an herbalist, and she was kind of the potion maker. One of them was a sage tea and bay leaf. So she would dry her sage and bay leaf, and she would make a tea, and then put some lemon juice and honey.
BLOCK: That sounds bracing.
BASTIANICH: Yeah. It was good. Another interesting one, which I still love and make, is you boil water like you would for tea, and then you grate in there horseradish, lemon juice and honey.
BASTIANICH: And you let it steep, and then you could drink it as is or you can strain it. And it just sort of opens you all up when your nose is stuffy and all of that. It is strong. It is delicious. It opens, I mean, your - if you have sinuses or clogged head...
BLOCK: Yeah. I sure do.
BASTIANICH: ...boy, that permeates all the way up.
BLOCK: Lidia Bastianich, thanks so much for the suggestions. Appreciate it.
BASTIANICH: Now, feel better.
BLOCK: Well, from Lidia's Italian remedies now to India and Vikram Sunderam. He's executive chef at the restaurant Rasika, which is just down the street here in Washington. Vikram, what's your favorite Indian remedy for a cold?
VIKRAM SUNDERAM: One of the good remedies, a simple one, is having ginger with honey.
BLOCK: Ginger and honey.
SUNDERAM: Ginger juice, you squeeze some ginger juice and mix it with some honey, a spoonful of that.
BLOCK: And it works?
SUNDERAM: It does.
BLOCK: When you were a kid, Vikram, what would your parents give you when you had a cold?
SUNDERAM: For kids, you know, the carom seeds is very, very good, roasted carom seeds. You inhale the aroma of the roasted carom seeds.
BLOCK: What kind of seeds?
SUNDERAM: Carom seeds. The Indian name is ajwain. It's similar to thyme. It's got that sort of flavor. These are all, how do you say, grandmother's recipes.
BLOCK: Yeah. Well, they know.
SUNDERAM: That is true. Exactly.
BLOCK: Well, Vikram Sunderam, thanks so much.
SUNDERAM: Take care. Bye-bye.
BLOCK: And finally, today, I'm joined by the food chemist Shirley Corriher, author of the cookbooks "Bakewise" and "Cookwise." And, Shirley, I think today, we need to add coldwise.
BLOCK: What's your suggestion?
SHIRLEY CORRIHER: Oh, my, oh, my. There's nothing like chicken soup.
BLOCK: Oh, chicken soup. Jewish penicillin.
CORRIHER: Cure for the cold.
BLOCK: Mm. Well, what do you think - as a food chemist, Shirley, what do you think it is about chicken soup that has these curative powers?
CORRIHER: It's the blessings of our grandmothers.
BLOCK: Ah. No chemistry can explain that.
CORRIHER: No, no. I just think that good, hot chicken stock, the fumes coming off, you know it is going to be so good.
BLOCK: Well, Shirley, thanks so much for talking to me today. Appreciate it.
CORRIHER: Feel better.
BLOCK: Thank you, Shirley.
BLOCK: And we imagine many of you have your own time-tested folk remedies for helping get over a cold. We'd love to hear them. We'll share some of them on the air. You can give us your secrets by going to npr.org. Click on "Contact us" and please put "Sniffles" in the subject line.
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SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.