Cold and sniffle season is upon us. According to kitchen lore, the best treatment for a cold is a steaming bowl of chicken soup. But there are plenty of plant-based home remedies that can help. Why not leave the chicken out of it, and make a soothing soup infused with immune-system-boosting foods?

When your throat is sore and your head is congested, a hot bowl of broth-based soup is the perfect balm. Slurping spoonfuls of warm, savory liquid bathes your swollen throat in comfort. The fragrant steam might even help open up that poor nose. This soup is a cross between ginger tea and hot-and-sour soup, with a little hint of heat.

Make this recipe for yourself or a sick friend (who, hopefully, will pay you back when the rhinovirus comes your way).

For your chicken-free soup for a cold, start with an easy vegetable stock, simmered over 45 minutes to get the goodness from garlic, onions, ginger and dried mushrooms. This is a powerhouse soup. Garlic and onions will stimulate your immune system, fight viruses and reduce inflammation. Fresh ginger not only adds a peppery, warming flavor, but also helps strengthen your body’s response to the invading illness. Dried mushrooms help support the immune system, and they add a meaty, satisfying quality, too.

Once you have your immune-boosting broth, you can cook whatever vegetables you have on hand, or put in the carrots and spinach reflected in the recipe. The final seasoning of honey and fresh lime juice is a classic soother for anyone with a cold, and gives the soup a sweet and sour flavor that perks up your dulled palate. It also delivers the vitamin C of citrus.

Black pepper, cayenne and turmeric combine to give the soup an antioxidant punch and stimulate your metabolism. Black pepper contains a substance that relieves pain and fights infection. Eating hot chiles like cayenne delivers some capsaicin, which acts as a mild decongestant. Turmeric fights inflammation and has a host of healing qualities.

Tofu is a soft, easily swallowed protein, and will bolster your strength to recover. If you are not a tofu fan, you can add your favorite canned bean.

Wow. All this in a bowl of good-tasting soup.

Honey-Lime Soup for Colds

Serves 4 (about 8 cups).

Note: Dried maitake mushrooms are sold in ½-ounce bags at your local co-op or grocery store, or you can substitute dried shiitake or button mushrooms. If you want an extra kick of raw garlic to fight the germs in your system, press a clove or two into the hot soup. From Robin Asbell.

• 8 c. water

• 2 in. fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

• 3 garlic cloves, sliced

• 1 large onion, sliced

 1/4 oz. dried maitake (hen-of-the-woods) or other mushroom, about 2 large

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 2 large carrots, chopped

• 1 rib celery, chopped

 10 oz. extra-firm tofu (water-packed), drained and cubed

 1/4 c. fresh lime juice, about 1/2 lime

• 2 tbsp. raw honey

 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 1/4 tsp. turmeric

• 1/4 tsp. cayenne

 1 tsp. cornstarch or arrowroot

 4 c. fresh spinach leaves, sliced

 4 medium green onions, thinly sliced

• Crushed garlic, to taste


To make the stock: Place 8 cups water into a 4-quart pot and add ginger, sliced garlic, onion, mushrooms and salt. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Don’t boil or it will be bitter. Strain the stock and discard the vegetables.

To finish the soup: Bring the stock to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Add the carrots, celery and tofu and cook for about 5 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

In a cup, stir the lime juice, honey, pepper, turmeric, cayenne and cornstarch. Stir the lime mixture into the soup, then add the spinach. Stir for just a couple of minutes to wilt the spinach.

Serve soup topped with green onions and, if desired, crushed garlic.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 160 Fat 5 g Sodium 380 mg

Carbohydrates 24 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 13 g

Protein 9 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 6 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 ½ carb, 1 medium-fat protein.


Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at