Virtues of the hot toddy: medicinal and otherwise

“Well, gimme a bottle of Nyquil,
That restful sleep my body needs.
Analgesic, decongestant,
With an antihistamine.”
—”Nyquil Blues” performed by Alvin Crow

Sneezes, sniffles and similar symptoms combined with watching the faint traces of sleet and snow falling last week turned office breakroom conversation to remedy and relief of winter illnesses. Then someone in the group announced their intentions to go home and fix a “hot toddy.”

Chuckles and eye rolls followed as if to question whether the intentions of said toddy was therapeutic or recreational. But the banter turned serious when stories of home remedies led to recollections of family members and friends, teetotalers for the most part, who were otherwise quick to imbibe distilled spirits claiming them to be for medicinal purposes only.

Many are the time-honored hand-me-down cures taunted to make one feel better. Everything from mama’s chicken noodle soup to plenty of fruit juices, hot tea, herbs, and oils. Despite them all, the supreme healer throughout the ages seems to have remained the “hot toddy.”

Granny, my father’s mother, didn’t hesitate to medicate with her go-to recipe if she deemed it to be a necessity on Saturday night. She would assure you at Sunday morning services, however, that her prescription was strictly for healing purposes as she added her “amen” to the sermon on the evils of alcohol.

While many swear on the virtues of the hot toddy, I’ve secretly wondered if they really possess healing power, or are they just an excuse to enjoy a little nip when you aren’t feeling so well? Inquiring minds want to know, so I did some research and the data is in.

Fact is that alcohol can cause dehydration, disrupt sleep patterns, and suppress the immune system. It can actually worsen the symptoms of a cold, increase congestion, and worsen head and body aches, not to mention other problematic things such as causing behavioral issues and lapses in memory.

But there is also good news. Those drawbacks come with excessive medicating. In small amounts of an ounce or two, it seems there are some positive benefits from the much-heralded hot toddy recipe. Small “doses” of alcohol can dilate your blood vessels, easing inflammation and increasing the blood flow carrying beneficial illness-fighting cells to infected areas. It can also relieve pain and aid in sleep and help alleviate congestion. Want proof? Just take a whiff of a bottle of whiskey and see how quickly it opens up the sinuses. Combined with the steaming hot water, it becomes even more effective.

So, bottom line is that alcohol might actually help with the cold or flu—as long as you keep the dosage small. And that’s most likely why Nyquil, the popular modern-day counterpart of the toddy, is so effective. The liquid form is 10-percent alcohol although the company claims that it’s a “solvent for the other ingredients.”

So powerful is the reputation of this over-the-counter toddy that a tune penned to proclaim its virtues was a hit for Texas singer Alvin Crow in the late 70s.

While Nyquil has its own following, Granny’s age-old concoction might be considered the natural alternative. Her recipe was honey, lemon juice, and cinnamon mixed in hot water. Oh, and a healthy shot of bourbon whiskey from that bottle wrapped in a kitchen towel and hidden in the pantry. Lemon provides vitamin C, cinnamon is a known anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, and the antibacterial properties of honey were known long before Granny’s time.

Therefore, with research data firmly in hand, I am now ready for the testing part—for medicinal research only, of course. Wow, was that a sneeze? Oh man, I think I’m coming down with something.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

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