These soothing recipes come from hearths and homes across India.
Growing up in India, the changing seasons often meant fighting a blocked nose, congestion, and a fuzzy feeling in the head.
India is a country of many seasons, and every seasonal change brings with it a wave of colds and coughs.
Luckily, India offers an abundance of home remedies, often called dadima ke nuskhe (grandmother’s recipes). I have a few tried-and-tested recipes from across India that I keep in my back pocket.
Sore throats were common for me as a child. To soothe aching tonsils, my parents would give me hot chai with a pinch of salt and pepper. This often gave me instant relief.
When a blocked nose and congestion became overwhelming, my father would cook his signature mutton curry with double the spice quotient. The hit of chilies and the comforting fatty broth was a sure-shot way to have peaceful sleep.
Indian households have a huge repertoire of such recipes. Some are backed by the knowledge of Ayurveda and some are purely anecdotal.
“Ginger helps soothe sore throat while honey and lemon can help lubricate the throat and produce saliva, reducing the dry tickle in the throat,” says nutritionist Kavita Devgan.
Some research has also suggested that honey is more effective than most over-the-counter medicines.
According to Ayurveda, seasonal changes cause kapha to increase, resulting in phlegm and cough. Kapha is the energy responsible for lubrication in the body.
“Food elements with astringent taste help in reducing kapha in the body,” says Ayurveda nutritionist and chef Amrita Kaur. “Spices help in this, and that’s why we drink hot infusions to fight cold and cough.”
Kadha, a concoction made with holy basil, peppercorn, and other spices boiled in water is the most common hot infusion.
In an attempt to find home remedies from different parts of India, I spoke to food writers, chefs, and friends to share the heirloom recipes from their kitchens.
While these recipes are anecdotal, many feel like a warm blanket on a cold night.
Delhi-based food writer Vernika Awal shares a recipe from her household that’s almost like a dessert. This gruel-like preparation uses Bengal gram flour. It’s believed to dry up phlegm and provide relief.
- 2–3 tbsp. Bengal gram flour
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tsp. ghee
- 1 tbsp. shaved almonds (optional)
- Heat a thick-bottomed pan and add ghee to it.
- Once the ghee is slightly hot, add the Bengal gram flour and roast until it lets out a nutty aroma.
- You may also add shaved almonds to this.
- Add sugar. Once the sugar melts, add the milk and stir continuously to avoid lumps.
- Cook for 1–2 minutes and consume hot.
Amrita Kaur shares a recipe that she grew up with. The base of it is ginger and garlic, both touted as helpful in fighting a cold.
According to Devgan, garlic has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties that may help to detoxify the immune system and expel mucus.
Sometimes a clove of garlic is burnt in mustard oil. The hot oil is then rubbed on the chest and back, easing congestion like a menthol rub.
- 3–4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
- 1/2 tsp. rock salt
- 1/4 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tbsp. ghee
- 1/2 tsp. red chili powder (optional)
- Heat ghee in a pan. Add ginger and garlic.
- Sauté the ginger and garlic for 3 to 4 minutes, and then add rock salt, turmeric powder, and red chili powder. Mix well.
- Add milk. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 2–3 minutes.
- Serve hot.
Puspanjalee Das Dutta is a food writer from Assam in the North East of India. Her preferred household remedy for cold and cough is khar, a concoction made by burning the peel of a specific variety of banana and filtering water through it.
Das Dutta enjoys a recipe called kharoni bhat, rice cooked with khar that’s eaten to fight off a cold. Khar is also rubbed on the chest, back, and soles of the feet to provide comfort.
- 1 serving of cooked rice
- 2 tbsp. khar
- 2–3 garlic cloves, crushed with skin on
- 1 tsp. mustard oil
- salt to taste
- Heat oil in a wok. Add garlic once the oil is smoking.
- Then add cooked rice and khar. Mix well and fry on medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes.
- Taste and add salt if required. Generally, khar lends a salty taste to the dish.
- Kharoni bhat is ready to be eaten.
This purply-red dish is visually stunning and believed to be a tonic for the digestive system.
“My grandmother was adept at Ayurveda, making oils, kanji (a gruel made with jaggery, coconut milk, and red rice), and simple spices to bring order to the digestive system,” says chef Marina Balakrishnan. “I particularly remember mornings where she brewed chukka kaapi.”
Chukku is the local name for dry ginger powder that’s brewed with coffee. The concoction provides comfort from cough and cold, and may boost the immune system.
- 1 tsp. chukka (dry ginger powder)
- 1 tsp. coffee powder
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp. crushed peppercorn
- 1 tsp. jaggery, coarsely ground
- 5–6 holy basil leaves
- 16-oz. water (two 8-oz. glasses)
- Heat water on medium heat.
- Add chukka, cumin seeds, crushed peppercorn, jaggery, and holy basil leaves and bring to a boil. Cook on medium heat for 10–15 minutes.
- Add coffee powder.
- Strain and drink hot.
Hot, peppery rasam is to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu what chicken soup is to the rest of the world.
The savory, tangy broth uses a special powder made with a mix of spices and herbs. These usually include coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and curry leaves, though it may vary from region to region.
Premade rasam powder can be picked up from a traditional Indian grocery.
Meera Ganapathi, writer and founder of online magazine The Soup, shares her go-to recipe for this comforting broth.
- 1/2 cup mung dal, cooked and mashed
- 2 tomatoes, quartered
- 1 tsp. rasam powder
- 1 green chili, slit lengthwise
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 2–3 garlic cloves
- 6–7 curry leaves
- 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 pinch asafetida
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
- 1 lime-sized ball of tamarind, soaked in 1 cup warm water to extract its juices
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tbsp. ghee
- salt to taste
- Heat ghee in a saucepan and add mustard seeds, curry leaves, cumin seeds, green chili, and asafetida. Stir briefly until an aroma is achieved, but don’t burn it!
- Add crushed garlic cloves and crushed black pepper. Sauté.
- Now add tomatoes and cook them until they’re softened and start releasing juice.
- Add turmeric and red chili powder and sauté for another 5 minutes.
- Now add tamarind-infused water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the rasam powder and the 1/2 cup of water.
- Add boiled and mashed dal. Add salt. Let it cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Drink hot.
While these recipes may not be medically proven, they’re traditional remedies that have been used in India for centuries.
Whether steeped in the tradition of Ayurveda or simply passed down anecdotally from kitchen to kitchen, they may soothe, fortify, and heal during the cold and flu season.
Shirin Mehrotra is an independent journalist who writes about the intersection of food, travel, and culture. She’s currently pursuing an MA in the Anthropology of Food.