How to Prevent and Alleviate the Awfulness of a Head Cold – Hot Toddies, Infusions.. and Zinc

I went to the last Food Bloggers’ Connect event with a snivelling, sozzeling cold – the type which makes people stand well back and cross themselves.

I managed to get through the day with the help of Day Nurse and Joe’s Tea St Clement’s Lemon. This infusion was provided in little gossamer bags at a strategically placed stall outside the main conference marquee and I must have treated myself to one every hour, on the hour. They came in for a good testing then, and, even though my taste buds were a bit hampered, they are the best lemon and ginger bags I’ve tried so far. As an added bonus, the ginger is apparently good for the immune system.

When it got to the evening I felt I had deserved something a bit more serious. I was dining at The Ivy, Chelsea Garden and was fleetingly tempted by my companion’s  Six Bells Tea Cup but instead decided that a Blacklands Buck Copper Tin – described as “a warming, spicy blend of twelve year old Chivas Regal, honey, ginger juice, a touch of aromatic bitters and tempranillo” would be just what the doctor ordered. How wrong could I be? When it arrived it was cold and I felt wretchedly disillusioned.


Essential elements to an effective hot toddy

So hard core (ie alcoholic) cold relieving drinks must be:

• Hot – it’s comforting and it helps to clear the head
• Strong – they may not be a cure, but they help you into the past caring stage
• Not made of anything expensive – your best whisky or rum is wasted


Optional extras

If you have a sore throat or a cough you could add a teaspoon of glycerine.

Some add ginger (which warms the blood and aids digestion), cardamom and ginseng (which is supposed to energise and help you think more clearly).

Horseradish and black garlic are also said to help – I can’t answer for what would happen to the taste of the cocktails below if you tried adding those ingredients, but experimenting might be fun.


Below are two alcoholic hot toddy versions, one with rum and one with whisky.

1. Recipe for rum hot toddy aka hot buttered rum

Serves one


  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp rum
  • Couple of cloves
  • Grind of nutmeg
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • Sliver of butter
  • 120 ml/½ cup boiling water
  • slice of lemon (unwaxed)


  1. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a heat-proof mug
  2. Add everything else and stir, using the cinnamon stick

2. Recipe for a whisky hot toddy

Serves one


  • 2 tsp honey
  • 3 tbsp whisky
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 5 tbsp boiling water


  1. Mix as for the rum version


A non-alcoholic solution for painful sinuses

I swear by this, although it has to be said it does look a bit grisly! But the peppers and ginger help to clear the nasal passages, and the turmeric helps to reduce inflamation. Additionally, black pepper contains piperine which helps the absorption of the curcumin in turmeric.


Recipe for pepper-turmeric-ginger mud drink for painful sinuses

For one sufferer


  • The juice of half a lemon (1½ tbsps.)
  • 1”/3 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper


  1. Put all in a generous sized mug and fill with boiling water.
  2. Leave to cool, obviously, before drinking!
Pepper-turmeric-ginger mud drink for painful sinuses.
Pepper-turmeric-ginger mud drink for painful sinuses.

What else you can do, what not to do, and the importance of zinc

In the old days I used to add honey and whisky to the hot lemon cold and flu remedies that you can buy at the chemist, but on one occasion the pharmacist told me that many contain caffeine which keeps you awake, so, on his advice I now only take paracetamol or Night Nurse in the evening.

Additionally a second, very respected pharmacist also advises that remedies which enable you to keep going contain their own danger. “Often people taking medicine don´t realise that their body desperately needs rest to overcome the cold and, by keeping on working they risk a much more serious or longer illness” she advises.  Sounds like a good excuse for a duvet day…

She also advises that the best supplement to take to avoid colds and boost the immune system is zinc. A recent extensive study she’s read up on suggests taking 15 5mg doses (a total of 75mg of pure zinc per day) for two days (no longer or stomach problems will result) in order to allay a cold (and she comments it’s not a bad idea to take a similar dose prophylactically when flying).

She also suggests a hot bath in the first 24 – 36 hours of a cold, and then allow yourself to rest and sweat afterwards. I think I will take my hot toddy with me while I soak….


Three completely different, non-alcoholic, ideas… coffee, chicken soup…and ancient-modern medicine


  • on a recent visit to India I arrived at Parisons Plantation with the mother and father of all colds. The manager there took one look at me and made me the local concoction, which he swore by, of hot coffee, ginger, pepper and sugar. Then he bundled me into the steam room. It worked!
At the plantation in India they made me a heady mix of coffee, ginger, pepper and sugar. Then on to the steam room.
At the plantation in India they made me a heady mix of coffee, ginger, pepper and sugar. Then on to the steam room.


  • You could try chicken soup! Yes, really! Apparently (according to a University of Nebraska study) it contains a compound which prevents white cells heading for an infection – and it’s the white cells which cause the inflammation which give you the sore throat and blocked sinuses. It won’t cure the cold, but it might help you feel a bit better. Chicken soup also helps hydrate; and the onions and garlic it contains are also good for colds because they reduce the viscosity of mucus, thus helping to reduce congestion.

“I’ve since learnt that my young self’s sense of the restorative, nurturing qualities of Granny Brunicka’s soups was no coincidence. Chicken soup is affectionately known as ‘Jewish penicillin’ and has become the typical Shabbat (Saturday Sabbath) meal for many Jews, especially those of Ashkenazi background.”

-Mina Holland, The Edible Atlas: Around the World in Thirty-Nine Cuisines

NB This is a food blog – seek your doctor’s advice before taking medicines or supplements.

*I’ve now found out – it’s a type of black grape used for making a rich red wine of the same name in Spain.


This post is dedicated to Angela Bettin, with much gratitude.


It’s encouraging to know the hot toddy solution goes way back

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