When the common cold strikes, friends and family are quick to offer remedy recommendations, from R&R to NyQuil to that old standby vitamin C. And then, of course, there are hot toddies.
Dating back to at least the 17th century, traditional toddies were concocted with booze, water and either sugar or honey to act as a sweetening agent. It’s unclear where exactly toddies originated, and many cultures have variations on the traditional drink using local spirits or other ingredients.
Historically consumed as a warming mechanism on cold nights, hot toddies developed a reputation as a remedy for cold and flu. Although many people are quick to tout the beverage’s medicinal properties, its actual health benefits are slightly more abstract.
Inhaling the steam of any hot beverage can soothe nasal passages and temporarily relieve congestion, so the hot toddy proves its worth on that front. Additionally, drinking alcohol helps us relax, which in turn can distract us from obnoxious cold and flu symptoms like coughing and sneezing. Oh, and if you squeeze a lemon into a toddy, you can get a tiny bit of vitamin C into your system.
And that’s where hot toddies’ medicinal benefits end. Alcohol dehydrates the human body, resulting in dryer and more painful mucous membranes. To top it off, too much alcohol can also weaken the immune system, which can cause a cold or flu to last longer.
So if you’re sickly and yearning for the liquor cabinet, take it easy on the hot toddies. While toddies can provide some temporary relief from a cold, they cannot actually cure or prevent illness. Have a toddy or two and stop there — anything more is just likely to make you sicker.