Curing the Sniffles with “Jewish Penicillin”

So the first question that may pop into your mind is: what in the world is Jewish penicillin? Don’t worry, you don’t have to travel to Tel-Aviv to get some. Jewish penicillin is simply another name for chicken soup. As a matter of fact, no matter what kind of chicken soup it is, or where in the world it is made, according to laboratory studies all chicken soups equally serve to relieve upper respiratory problems.

Chicken soup is an all time remedy that continues to parade amongst one of the most effective ways to combat  colds even by today’s health standards. It seems that the healing key ingredients are in the chicken itself. Dr. Irwin Ziment, lung specialist at the University of California at Los Angeles, author of the book Food—Your Miracle Medicine, explains: “Chicken, like most protein foods, contains a natural amino acid called cysteine, which is released when you make the soup.

Cysteine bears a remarkable chemical similarity to a drug called acetylcysteine, which doctors prescribe for their patients with bronchitis and respiratory infections.” Another lung specialist, Dr.Stephen Rennard, also found that chicken soup lived up to its reputation as a cold remedy.  A report by ABC News on Dr. Rennard findings, explains that through in-depth laboratory studies he found that chicken soup contained anti-inflammatory properties that prevented the excessive accumulation of mucous forming cells in the lungs and upper respiratory chambers.

Because colds are usually caused by viruses, white blood cells cannot kill them off, instead the body responds by building excessive mucous in an attempt to rid itself of the invaders,  by virtue creating the superbly annoying symptoms of a cold: stuffy nose, head congestion, sneezing and cough. However, in the presence of chicken soup, the body seems to create less mucous build up.  It seems that a mysterious ingredient prevents the conglomeration of cells in the lung area, thus relieving the symptoms of congestion. How exactly, no one really knows, “the biologically active material is unknown” declares Dr. Rennard.

Nevertheless, the following known  facts about chicken can give us certain clues as to why chicken soup may be of real value when treating colds. For one, a typical, healthy chicken is often enriched with zinc. According to The World Health organization, zinc deficiency is the main factor contributing to disease in underdeveloped countries.  Another truth about zinc is that it not only helps prevent common cold viruses from multiplying themselves but also blocks them from inhabiting our respiratory tract. Therefore, anything that is rich in zinc is bound to boost our body’s ability to fight the common cold viruses.

Now if we want to add to all those tidy little facts, the healing properties of herbs, garlic, peppers and onions, and we are definitely on to something. We may even safely say that the steam evaporating from a bowl of soup can help stuffy noses, by opening  sinus pathways, while also providing  aromatherapy benefits. It is widely known, for instance, that the natural antibacterial effects of herbs like rosemary and oregano help relieve inflammation in these cavities and thus aroma therapists recommend  steaming these herbs to alleviate sinus congestion.  In our daycare when the sniffles go around, we make a big pot of chicken soup my great-auntie way. In fact, the recipe was passed down to my mom, by way of my mountain-dwelling  great-grandmother in Puerto Rico, thus you can kindly call it “Puertorrican Penicillin.” Not only do the children at our daycare love the soup, it really makes them feel better. So here is the recipe.

Ingredients:  Fresh chicken, cilantro, culantro, thyme, fresh oregano, potato, egg noodles, sliced carrot, green onions, parsley, green pepper, garlic and tomato sauce.

1/2 fresh chicken cut into piece, 1 small onion, 1/2 garlic head, 1 cup of chopped cilantro, 1 /2 cup chopped cilantro, 1 chopped small green pepper, 1 ounce rosemary, fresh oregano, thyme, 1 large potato cubed, 2 sliced carrots, 1/2 cup corn.

See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Cut the chicken into pieces and place in one gallon pot of water. You can blend cilantro, culantro, thyme, fresh oregano, onions, green pepper, and garlic together in a blender with a little olive oil, or just chop all these ingredients and stir into the water.  Let the chicken cook at medium heat for at least 30 minutes until it is tender.  Lower heat, add potatoes,  corn and carrots.  Cook for another 15 minutes or so, until potatoes and carrots soften, and then add 1 cup of egg noodles, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 cup tomato sauce. Note: To control the sodium, you do not need to add chicken bouillon nor any other seasoning to this recipe. Cook another ten minutes until noodles are soft. For an even more healing experience smash some fresh garlic, fresh oregano and a pinch of salt, and add to the soup right before consuming it. This will allow the healing properties of garlic to work in the body, since these properties may get destroyed in the cooking process. Salt to flavor, serve and enjoy! This soup is delicious, and very nutritious. Serves a family of four to six.

Monique is a childcare specialist and author of the book Making Sense of Children’s Senses now available in book stores near you.

To Contact Mrs. Rodriguez you can email:

Disclaimer: This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

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