The Hot Toddy, that boozy winter cure-all, has a tenuous relationship with professional medicine—not that that’s stopped us from whipping one up at the first sniffle. While your personal doctor probably won’t write you a prescription for a cocktail, there are a few real medical benefits to the Hot Toddy’s primary ingredients—liquor, lemon, tea, honey and spices. Let’s break it down.
Although too much booze can impair your immune system, a nip can help you recover. Like nightcaps of all varieties, a warm Hot Toddy at the end of a long day of sneezing will help you fall asleep, and a good night’s rest is definitely a doctor-approved cold treatment. According to Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (by way of ABC News), alcohol also dilates your blood vessels, which in turn causes you to produce more bacteria-fighting mucus.
The Tea or Hot Water
The hot water or tea you use in a Hot Toddy doesn’t just transform whiskey and honey into a deliciously warming cocktail, it also helps you breathe. A study in the Chest medical journal points out that hot water speeds up the flow of nasal mucus, helping you oust that excess snot quicker.
Your choice of tea may also contribute to your recovery. Most herbal teas come with disclaimers that any health benefits have not been approved by the FDA, but that doesn’t mean they don’t yield real results. Researcher Diane McKay of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University told the LA Times that the antioxidants in black, green and oolong teas can help fight off infections—but stay away from the caffeinated varieties if you expect to snooze.
All the Spices
Tea isn’t the only way to inject some herbal goodness into your cocktail. Cloves can help clear mucus, ginger can boost the immune system, and turmeric is packed with antioxidants. That said, it’d be tough to pack your Hot Toddy with enough of those good-for-you garnishes to actually make a difference.
Not only does honey coat your raw, cough-stricken throat with a viscous layer of protection. It also has antimicrobial properties, which help you fight that bug. Plus, the sweet honey makes a Hot Toddy mellow and soothing, the perfect drink for your tired soul.
Citrus fruits have plenty of vitamin C and antioxidants, meaning a Daiquiri and Whiskey Sour could also see you through cold season. The acidic lemon juice in a Hot Toddy also cuts through nose-clogging mucus, allowing you to finally breathe easy.
The next time you catch yourself sniffling, grab a mug and some whiskey, and drink your way to good health.