Jewish Penicillin

Back in the 12th century there lived a guy by the name of Moshe ben Maimonides.  As you can probably tell by the name, he was Jewish.  He was a philosopher and physician, and while he wrote a lot about Jewish law and ethics, he is also known for his writings recommending chicken soup for upper respiratory tract infections.  He wasn’t the first to recommend chicken soup, just the first specific person linked to the idea.  He based his recommendations on some early Greek literature that supported the same practice.  Fast forward almost a thousand years, and we are still giving chicken soup to our loved ones when they’re sick.  It’s incredible!  How many common medical practices do you know of that have remained virtually unchanged for almost a thousand years?  What’s the secret behind simple chicken soup?

Recently I came across a study performed back in 1993 by Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  Dr. Rennard is both a profesor and medical doctor in the pulmonary and critical care department at UNMC.  He has been involved in countless research projects, but he is best known for his study on chicken soup.  Dr. Rennard also had a Grandmother that promoted the chicken soup and cold symptoms connection, but he never was quite sure why.  Being the academic that he is, he decided to make up a batch of the soup and test it out in the lab.

Dr. Rennard took his wife’s family recipe and tested it to determine if it had anti-inflammatory properties.  What he found supported ben Maimonides’ claims.  (Don’t you love it when modern science comes up with “revolutionary” research that supports something mankind has instinctively known for hundreds of years?  I think its fascinating!)

Many of the symptoms of the common cold are thought to be linked to inflammation in the airways.  What the research team discovered is that the chicken soup actually reduced the movement of inflammatory white blood cells!  This effect was produced when the team used the chicken soup as a whole, not just the chicken broth.  They speculated that there was some synergistic effect of the broth and the vegetables together that caused the effects.

So, in honor of ben Maimonides and Dr. Rennard’s unconventional research, I thought I’d share my own recipe for chicken soup.  It’s not some family tradition passed down through generations.  My husband and I started out by trying to recreate a chicken soup from a restaurant, and ended up with our own recipe that I’m definitely going to pass down to my kids.  If you’re interested in Dr. Rennard’s recipe, or more information on his research you can find it all here.

Jonathan’s Chicken Soup

1 whole chicken, 3-5 lbs (pastured if possible)

5 celery ribs

4 medium carrots, peeled

1 large yellow onion

2 medium potatoes, peeled

1 large green bell pepper

1 large red bell pepper

14 oz can of diced tomatoes, or two cups chopped tomatoes

½ cup fresh parsley

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup rice

salt and pepper

creole seasoning

filtered water to cover chicken

Wash chicken and place in large stockpot (You can either remove the giblets or keep them in to help enrich the broth).  Pour in enough filtered water to cover chicken.  Bring to a low simmer, and leave for at least 2 hours.  (The longer you cook it, the more flavorful the broth will be).

Remove chicken from pot, being careful to get all the bones out.  Add in vegetables, garlic and parsley, and simmer until soft.  While the vegetables are cooking, shred the chicken meat.  (You can toss the bones or save for making a batch of bone broth.)

Once the vegetables are soft, use a potato masher to break them into even smaller pieces.  Then add the shredded chicken back in.  Add salt and pepper and creole seasoning to taste.  Add rice, and simmer for another 20-45 minutes, depending on the kind of rice you used.  Serve and enjoy!

I love this soup because you can cook it all day, adding to it when you have time.  I like to make it on a weekend and freeze the leftovers in individual portions.  Whenever my husband or I start to feel a little sick, we heat up some soup and have instant Jewish Penicillin!  (If you’re cheap frugal like me and don’t want to buy creole seasoning, here’s the recipe I use to make my own, preservative and gluten free! Creole Seasoning).

I wrote this post while participating in Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop, and Sunday Night Soup Night at Easy Natural Food.  Check them out for more great recipes and tips!

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