Hot Toddy for a Cough? Just What the Doctor Ordered

Back in the day, whiskey was often used to help alleviate the symptoms of a cold. And while you may feel a bit skeptical about this treatment, there is some scientific basis for turning to the bottle when you come down with the sniffles.

Does Whiskey Help a Cold?

Whiskey contains ellagic acid, which is an antioxidant. Antioxidants work to improve immune function and fight infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Additionally, when mixed with warm water, whiskey can be numbing and soothing on a sore throat, so gargling with the combo can ease pain. Finally, just like the menthol in your favorite cough drops, alcohol dilates mucus membranes, meaning a moderate amount of whiskey can help you get rid of that stuffy nose.

Hot Toddy Ingredients for a Cold

When you’re sick with a cold, warm and even hot beverages like a hot toddy can be soothing. But in addition to pain relief, there are actually medical benefits you can derive from each of the ingredients in a hot toddy.

  • Whiskey. As mentioned previously, whiskey can work as a decongestant, offering you some relief from that stuffy nose.
  • Lemon. Of course, lemon contains vitamin C, which can work to reduce your cold’s severity as well as its duration.
  • Cinnamon. Cinnamon contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help your immune system fight your infection.
  • Cloves. Cloves contain eugenol (clove oil), which has been shown to improve liver function and lower blood sugar. This, in turn, supports your immune system.
  • Honey. Honey is soothing on the throat and works well as a cough suppressant, which is why it’s so often an ingredient in cough medicine.
  • Hot water. Hot water soothes a dry, scratchy throat and also aids in hydration. Of course, this helps replace fluids you might be losing as well as loosen mucus.

Hot Toddy Prescription

One of our favorite hot toddy recipes is a classic. The warmth and flavor of the whiskey combined with tart lemon and aromatic spices make this a lovely drink on a cold winter day, even if you’re not sick. Its flavors might just remind you of the ones grandma or grandad used to make.

If you’re not a whiskey drinker, you can prepare a variation on this recipe with a substitute such as brandy or dark, spiced rum.


1-1/2 ounces whiskey (We recommend Woodford Reserve Double OakMaker’s Mark Private Select, or Quarter Horse Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey.)

1 slice lemon

1 cinnamon stick

3 ground cloves

1 teaspoon honey

2 ounces boiling water


Combine whiskey, boiling water, and honey in a mug. Add cinnamon, cloves, and lemon and let stand for five minutes. 

For added flavor, consider adding hot tea or a splash of apple cider. You can also substitute the lemon for fresh peeled ginger and the cinnamon for nutmeg.

Final Thoughts

Just a few important things to remember. Drink hot toddies in moderation. Too many can actually dehydrate you and leave you feeling lousier than you do already. Also, a reminder that alcohol should never be mixed with over-the-counter or prescription medications, so make sure the cure doesn’t become worse than the disease. Other than that, drink up and enjoy. Here’s to your health!