There’s no academic research on the effects of a hot toddy. But research has been conducted on the effectiveness of its base ingredients, and that’s where the magic is said to be.

hot toddy in a white tea cup with a sliced lemonShare on Pinterest
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A hot toddy is a home remedy made from common household ingredients to treat the symptoms of cold and flu. The ingredients are warmed and ingested as a drink to help with sore throat pain, runny nose, and cough.

The ingredients for a hot toddy are a combination of lemon or lemon juice, honey, and hot water. These three ingredients have been separately shown to help relieve cold and flu symptoms, but there is no available research on the benefits of a hot toddy.

Additional ingredients like ginger or peppermint can appear in the recipe depending on its origin.

Some recipes add whisky, brandy, or rum to the drink, but alcohol isn’t required to experience the relief of a hot toddy. Research from 2015 suggests that adding alcohol might be counterproductive since it impairs the body’s ability to defend against infection.

There is no academic research on the effects of a hot toddy. However, there is research on the effectiveness of its base ingredients against certain cold and flu symptoms, and that’s where the magic is said to be.

The core ingredients of a hot toddy are:


Honey is a long-standing home remedy used to relieve cough. In a 2007 study, honey scored better at relieving the symptoms of cough in children between ages 2 and 18 than dextromethorphan, an over-the-counter (OTC) cough suppressant.

Honey also has antimicrobial properties that can slow or kill the spread of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms.

Hot water

Research from 2008 suggests that hot drinks are beneficial in treating most symptoms of cold and flu. Consuming a steamy drink like tea or broth can help soothe a cough and improve nasal flow.

The key is the drink being hot. The mixture of warmth, liquid, and steam can help clear nasal passages and relieve a sore throat.

Other ingredients can be added to hot water to jazz up your recipe. Apple cider, cinnamon sticks, and ginger are a few other ingredients you may see steeped in hot water to promote symptom relief.

Lemon (lemon juice)

There is little scientific evidence on the healing properties of lemon, but lemon is rich in vitamin C. You can find vitamin C in many popular cold remedies available on the market today.

Research from 2013 shows that vitamin C can reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms. The research notes that regular use of vitamin C can also reduce the likelihood of developing a cold.

The components of a hot toddy can help relieve other symptoms associated with cold and flu.

In a 2008 study, participants reported that consuming a hot beverage provided immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness, and tiredness.

But consuming the same drink at room temperature only provided relief from cough, runny nose, and sneezing.

A hot toddy is fairly simple to make and contains only three ingredients to be effective. Some of the fancier variations may warrant a trip to the market to gather special ingredients.

The base components needed to make a hot toddy are:

Additional ingredients can include:

To make a hot toddy, begin by bringing your water to a rapid boil, then pour your honey, lemon, and other ingredients into a mug. Add the boiling water to the mug and stir well.

Add fresh lemon or a cinnamon stick to garnish. Make sure to consume while warm.

Alcohol is widely used in hot toddy remedies across the globe, but its effectiveness in relieving cold symptoms needs more research.

Although alcohol is added to cough suppressants, it isn’t because it relieves cough. Alcohol aids in the mixing of certain ingredients better than water, and it’s used in cold medicines purely as a binding agent for other ingredients.

Alcohol is also a dehydrator. Even in small amounts, alcohol removes fluid from your body through your kidneys. When sick, remaining hydrated is crucial to the function of your organs and immune system, especially while fighting an infection.

Serving any beverages containing alcohol to a minor isn’t recommended and is illegal in the United States. Anyone consuming a hot toddy containing alcohol must be of legal age.

Infants under the age of 12 months should not consume honey due to the risk of botulism. Honey can contain harmful bacteria unsuitable for young digestive tracts. It is safe for children over age 1 to consume honey, though, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are additional home remedies that may aid in relieving a persistent cough. Some can be used together to assist in symptom relief.

Try a humidifier

Dry air can irritate the sinuses, making a cough worse. A coughing spell can be especially annoying when you’re trying to sleep.

Using a humidifier at bedtime adds moisture to the air you breathe while you’re sleeping. The moist air is more soothing to the throat and sinuses, suppressing cough, and supporting a good night’s rest.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends 40% to 50% humidity in a bedroom to keep allergens like mold at bay.

Saltwater gargle

A teaspoon of salt mixed with 6 ounces of warm water may help soothe an irritated throat.

There’s some evidence that a saltwater gargle flushes out unwanted pathogens from the throat, although more research is necessary to prove definitive healing.

Herbs and essential oils

Specific herbs like thyme and primrose have antispasmodic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antioxidant properties. Adding these herbs to your hot toddy may offer additional benefits.

Incorporating essential oils into your treatment plan can help clear respiratory infections. According to research from 2015, eucalyptus and peppermint show promise in treating cough and other symptoms when wafted into the air under the nose.

Cough suppressant and other OTC options

Many medications can be purchased over the counter to help relieve cough symptoms. Expectorants break up mucus, making it easier to expel, and cough suppressants can block the cough reflex.

Check labels of OTC medications, and be sure to talk with a doctor about possible interactions. Some medications may interact with alcohol, and certain medications may also contain codeine, which isn’t suitable for minors.

A corticosteroid nasal spray can also reduce inflammation in the sinuses and help relieve postnasal drip. Postnasal drip can irritate the throat, instigating a cough.

The ingredients in a hot toddy have been shown to have cough-suppressing properties. Alcohol isn’t needed in the recipe to experience these benefits.

Consuming warm water, lemon, and honey is the key to symptom relief. Additional items can be added to taste, such as tea, clove, and ginger.

Catasha Gordon is a sexuality educator from Spencer, Oklahoma. She’s the owner and founder of Expression Over Repression, a company built around sexual expression and knowledge. You can typically find her creating sex education materials or building some kinky hardware in a fresh set of coffin nails. She enjoys catfish (tail on), gardening, eating off her husband’s plate, and Beyoncé. Follow her everywhere.