A hot toddy is an alcoholic drink that is at the center of many old wives tales, with claims that it can be used to cure colds and to help lull the drinker into a peaceful sleep. But how true are these claims, what is a hot toddy, can you make it yourself and should you even bother?
What is a Hot Toddy?
A hot toddy is a basic mix of alcohol, water, sweetness and spice. The most common versions are made with Scotch whiskey. They add a splash of whiskey and a dollop of honey to hot water that has been left to infuse with spices like clove and cinnamon, before adding a wedge of honey and/or a stick of cinnamon and then serving it hot.
The word “toddy”, is derived from an Indian drink made from species of palm trees and is not Scottish as many assume.
How to Make a Hot Toddy
You can make this drink as complicated or as basic as you wish. It can simply be a concoction of hot water, sugar and whisky, or it can be a spiced tea sweetened with honey. In most cases the drink is made with tea, to which other ingredients are added. It always contains alcohol, and while this is often in the form of whisky, you can also use rum, brandy and other strong, flavorful spirits.
A version often consumed in the Midwestern United States uses a combination of ginger ale, bourbon, lemon and honey.
Supposed Benefits of a Hot Toddy
This drink is supposed to be able to cure an array of ailments. But as you might have guessed from those rather basic ingredients, most of these are exaggerated to say the least.
It is most commonly consumed during a cold, when the drinker is congested and struggling for relief. By drinking it on a nighttime it is said to be able to relieve some of that congestion and aid with a long, restful sleep, so that you wake up feeling better, breathing better and, according to these claims, even free of the cold.
Is Hot Toddy Good for You
Believe it or not, there is some truth to the claims made about this drink, just not as much as you might have thought or hoped. There are four beneficial ingredients in the average hot toddy, all of which work in different ways, as discussed below:
- Alcohol — Can help to dilate the blood vessels, which makes life easier for your mucus membranes and helps speed up the healing process. Small amounts of alcohol also help to relax you and when you have a cold or the flu you are already in a weakened state, so this sedative effect should be enough to aid in a relaxing sleep.
- Honey — An antibacterial that also lubricates your throat and may help your body to fight off the infection.
- Tea — Loaded with antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, this simple drink can boost your body’s defenses. The caffeine may also help to perk you up a little, without being overpowering enough to offset the sedation from the alcohol.
- Lemon — When combined with honey, lemon can provide a soothing, lubricating effect, which is why these concoctions are often used in OTC remedies.
There is a little more to it than these basic ingredients. The act of drinking a hot drink is soothing and calming in itself, and as you’re steadily sipping on the drink all of the steam from the top is being inhaled through your mouth and nose. If you’ve ever taken a shower when you are really congested then you can attest for the power of steam when it comes to loosening all of that mucus, so this is just another aspect that could make a hot toddy a genuinely beneficial drink.
Is a Hot Toddy the Perfect Cure?
No, far from it. It has several problems, it won’t work for everyone and there are more effective treatments out there, from OTC decongestants to some varieties of herbal tea. But in most cases the placebo effect plays a signifiant role. It will not clear up your mucus, but it will make you think that you feel better and can breathe better, and this in itself is often enough to justify the consumption.
Just make sure you don’t drink to excess and that you don’t make this a regular ritual, because there are some issues with this drink.
When a Hot Toddy is Not Helpful
If you use too much alcohol and don’t have any kind of tolerance to the drink, then you’re just going to make matters worse. It is not a pleasant experience being drunk or even tipsy when you have a cold, and it make matters considerably worse when you wake up with a hangover.
In fact, even if you don’t drink enough get tipsy you may still face some issues. Alcohol dehydrates and it can also cause issues with sleep. It may help to send you off to sleep quickly, but if you drink too much then your sleep will be restless, which is why the majority of the population struggle to sleep long and restfully after a drink, often waking throughout the night or getting up before the alarm and feeling like they can’t go back to sleep.
All of the other ingredients will not cause you harm, but at the same time, they aren’t as beneficial when consumed on their own. It’s the alcohol that makes a hot toddy so effective. You just have to use it with caution and make sure you don’t drink too much. The line between what is helpful and what is harmful is usually a couple of shots. So make your hot toddy with no more than an ounce of strong liquor and limit yourself to one.
You should also avoid giving this drink to children. It may seem like a good idea at the time, especially as there isn’t a great deal of alcohol, but children react differently to this substance and what is a small amount for you may not be a small amount for them. Some parents still give an occasional capful to a child that struggles to sleep, but come on, we shouldn’t need to tell you not to give your children booze!