The hot toddy is a popular cold remedy, but does it work?

Is a hot toddy an effective home remedy for colds and flu?
Is a hot toddy an effective home remedy for colds and flu?

Ever heard of the hot toddy? This is a classic homemade mixture of hot water, honey, lemon and whiskey, rumoured to help relieve the symptoms of a cold.

While some of the ingredients in this homemade remedy definitely have their benefits, not much research on the general effectiveness of the hot toddy has been done.

Hot is good

While there is currently no single effective cure for the common cold, symptoms tend to be treated as they pop up, and people use over-the-counter medications and home remedies to relieve the classic symptoms: nasal congestion, a runny nose and a sore throat.

Hot, clear drinks are commonly recommended to help relieve the symptoms of a cold for a good reason: the heat helps loosen the mucus in the throat, nose and chest, while keeping you hydrated and soothing your scratchy throat. A study published in 2008 showed that hot drinks proved to be a better relief for cold symptoms than fluids at room temperature.

But does a hot toddy have any special benefits? Do the ingredients actually work? Let's break it down:

1. Lemon

Lemon is high in vitamin C, which plays an important role in regulating the immune system. This tangy citrus fruit certainly has its benefits as a home remedy. While there is conflicting evidence about the benefits of vitamin C while you have a cold, and while lemon will not entirely heal your cold, vitamin C before the onset of your illness might help reduce its severity. During the course of a cold, lemon may help loosen phlegm and comfort a sore throat, but this evidence is only anecdotal

2. Honey

Honey has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, which means that it might help soothe a sore throat. Honey has also been proven to be an effective cough treatment and can bring relief at bedtime.  

3. Ginger

While ginger has long been used in traditional medicine and has anti-inflammatory qualities, there is no evidence that it will immediately alleviate a sore throat. There is however no harm in adding it to a hot drink – and if you have an upset stomach or a bit of nausea, the ginger may help soothe this as well.

4. Whiskey

There is no solid evidence that the alcohol in whiskey is a great remedy for a cold. Anecdotal claims indicate that whiskey may ease congestion because alcohol dilates your blood vessels. It may also lull you to sleep. However, alcohol is also a diuretic that can deprive the body of moisture. If you do want to add a shot of whiskey to your hot drink, stick to one and be careful not to become dehydrated.

The verdict

Everyone has their own ideas about what works for them when they have a cold. While a hot toddy may be comforting and might help soothe a sore throat and congestion, there are other remedies that have been proven to soothe your symptoms more effectively:

  • Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Proper hydration through clear fluids such as water and caffeine-free herbal teas
  • Plenty of rest and sleep
  • Saline nasal spray or a decongestant to help release nasal stuffiness
  • Gargling with saltwater and an antibacterial throat spray or lozenges to ease a sore, burning throat.

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24