Jewish Penicillin

Jewish Penicillin

My mom makes the best chicken noodle soup in the world. Although I make a decent soup, I could never replicate it to taste exactly the same. As a kid growing up, I was never a great lover of soups, but when it came to her chicken noodle soup, I would gobble down at least two bowls at a time.  When I was sick as a kid, the soup was warm, went down smooth, and without me knowing it, the soup also contained many healing qualities (which mom, of course, knew about). As we head into the midst of this season’s fury, and winter colds try to take hold, an article about chicken soup, its healing properties, and the influence on Jews on medicine would be a warm welcome for this chilly December weather.

History of Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken soup (with or without noodles) was not invented by our mothers, grandmothers, or even your great-great-grandmothers back in the old country.  The ancient Greeks were serving chicken in broth thousands of years ago (and it was probably being made centuries before that).  Scholars are unsure of exactly when or where the first chicken noodle soup was made.  Some say it was in Ancient Greece that noodles were first comingled with chicken broth as a delicious soup, or as others claim, the dish originated in the Far East, where they first invented the “noodle.”  The cooking of soup itself is even older (soup would have consisted of any meat or vegetable boiled in water). Up until recently the scientific community believed that the ability to boil water was not discovered until about 5,000 to 9,000 years ago (when waterproof and heatproof containers were invented), however, scientists recently discovered 20,000 year old pottery that shows evidence of being used in a fire (but there is still conjecture about what this pottery was used for).

The earliest reference to the use of chicken soup is dated to the 12th century by the Jewish Renaissance man and physician, Maimonides. In his book, On the Cause of Symptoms, he prescribes chicken soup for such maladies as asthma, malnutrition, “neutralize body constitution,” and even as treatment for leprosy.

“Have Some, It’s Good For You”

Although we all know that chicken noodle soup is great to help us fight illness, it was not until 1990 that research was conducted on this dish to try and discover the medical reasons for its effectiveness – especially against the “common” cold and influenza.  The researcher, Dr. Stephen Rennard, used his grandmother’s recipe for chicken soup (without the noodles) and conducted a three year study.  His results, published in 1993, showed that the consumption of chicken soup can: (1) alleviate symptoms of the flu and the common cold; (2) actually help fight off the underlying infection. To get more technical, the study also showed that chicken soup slows down the movement of white blood cells, which inhibits mucus production and inflammation of the affected areas.  In addition, the results of a study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, found that chicken soup helps to relieve upper respiratory inflammation (stuffy head & sneezing).

Chicken soup also reportedly (no research to has yet clinically proven it) has other medical benefits, such as helping build strong bones and cartilage, improve digestion, boost liver function, and provides many nutrients (proteins, calcium, and gelatin  from the chicken – as well as other vitamins and minerals from the vegetables that are also cooked into the broth).  Although there has been research into the “why” chicken soup has healing properties, it still remains a mystery.  Not only do our mother’s know what they are talking about when it comes to chicken soup, but now they have scientific evidence to back them up.

“My Child, The Doctor”

Jewish doctors and researchers have long had an influence on medicine. Although men of healing, pharmacists, and midwives are mentioned in the Torah, the ancient Hebrews, looked to faith for their healing.   However, the priests did take a role in enforcing the public hygiene in accordance with their religious duties, but not directly in the capacity of an actual healer. The Torah does not directly provide any specific medical information. Many of its commandments have the practical effect of keeping a large number of people healthy so they do not spread disease (e.g., washing/keeping clean, prostitution and sex (to limit spread of disease), circumcision, disposing of the deceased, etc.), although some of the books of the prophets do mention various natural remedies for various diseases.

It was not until Talmudic times that Jews had begun to turn to physicians to cure their maladies, and it was not seen as turning against their faith in divine healing. It was during this time period that Jewish men began to learn medicine and practice it themselves. Some of these early Jewish doctors became known for their skills around the known world. In fact, medicine was even taught at Talmudic schools as early as 200 BCE, and many of their finding can be found in the Talmud.

The influence of Jewish physicians was first seen during the Middle Ages (no Hebrew medical texts have technically been found prior to that era), with such early medical practitioners as Maimonides and Hasdai ibn Shaprut leading the way.  [Fast Fact: Although many cultures have limited the occupations a Jew may hold in their societies, the occupation of a physician was usually not one that was denied to them.]  That being said, there is one Jewish medical text that may have existed long before the Middle Ages, the Book of Remedies. It is/was a book that held many cures and remedies.  Since the use of the book would have been seen as a lack of faith in G-d (and it would have been considered magic, which is forbidden under Jewish law), the book was kept secret, and hidden from most people. Legend states that the text may have been written by one of Noah’s sons, or even perhaps by the great King Solomon.  This is only one of a few forbidden books of Jewish magic, which I hope to make the topic of a future article. No one knows for sure if the Book of Remedies still exists . . . or does it?

In the past century, the contributions to medical science made by Jews have been innumerable. Since 1908, 53 Jewish men and women have won Nobel Prizes for their work in physiology or medicine, whom have made great advances to better humanity.  There are even more names to add to this list that have not won Nobel prizes, such as Jonas Salk, who discovered the first successful polio vaccine; Oskar Minkowsk, the father of diabetes research; and Henry Heimlich, the creator of the Heimlich maneuver which has saved countless lives, and in the area of mental health, Sigmund Freud, is the founder of psychoanalysis; and the list goes on.

The next time you take a sip of chicken (noodle) soup, remind yourself that you are not only having something that tastes good, it is also something that is good for you.

Keep on cookin,

Chef Lon


The Recipe

Everyone love’s their mom’s soup, and I love my own mother’s version with noodles and matzo balls. Below is the recipe directly from my mom, Chef Grandma Babs . . . . .


  • Whole chicken cut up – Kosher chicken preferred
  • Soup greens (parsley, dill (buy extra dill) (tie parsley and dill together with thread)
  • 1 parsnip, peeled
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 onion peeled
  • bunch of carrots peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Chicken bouillon cubes – about 6 large per pot
  • Dash of pepper
  • Noodles
  • Matzo balls (optional)


  1. Put cut up chicken in pot- bring to a boil and skim off all the foam (the smutz)
  2. Add bouillon
  3. Add all soup greens and carrots
  4. Cook noodles and matzo balls if desired to add to soup (I buy matzo ball mix)
  5. Cover and bring to a boil then to a simmer for about 2 hours




“Chicken Noodle Soup” (iFood.TV) @


“Chicken Soup Around the World” (Leah Koenig: My Jewish Learning) @


“Chicken Soup Really is “Jewish Penicillin” For Your Cold: Mom Was Right” (Kate Bratskeir: The Huffington Post: 2014) @


“Encyclopedia Judaica: Medicine” (Samuel Vaisrub, Michael A. Denman, Yaakov Naparstek, and Dan Gilon: Jewish Virtual Library: 2008) @


“Food History: Chicken Noodle Soup” ( 2015) @


“Jewish Contributions in Medicine for the World” (Nadine Goldfoot: Jewish Bubba: 2013) @


“Proof Chicken Soup Really Is A Home Remedy for Colds and Flu” (Jessica W.: @


“Stone Age Stew? Soup Making May Be older Than We’d Thought” (Sarah Zielinski: @


“Too Holy To Print’: The Forbidden Books Of Jewish Magic” (J.H. Chajes: 2014) @







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