Thursday, February 6, 2014

Super Immune-Boosting Chicken Soup

Your grandmother was right…chicken soup is one of the best medicines when you are sick. In fact, you might want to consider gathering ingredients for homemade chicken soup before reaching for that over-the-counter cold medicine. Soup made from whole chickens is rich in carnosine, which has been shown to reduce oxidative lung damage from viruses, including H1N1 and H9N2! Beyond this, does't it just feel good to sip on a warm, brothy soup when you are under the weather?

I've created a chicken soup recipe with even more immune-boosting ingredients, such as the herb astragalus. You can find it at your local herb store or in the bulk herb section of your local health food store. You can even order it online. I crave astragalus in the winter time. If I ever feel the inkling of a cold or flu I start taking the tincture a few times a day.

I've also added plenty of fresh ginger, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and some red chili flakes. Did you know that both the astragalus and shiitake mushrooms stimulate natural killer cells, whose job is to directly attack viruses and harmful bacteria? The ginger and chili flakes give the soup some heat to stimulate the sinuses to drain. Ginger is also a broad-spectrum antimicrobial and is an amazing anti-inflammatory herb. We use it to make healing root teas often at this time of year. You can read more about the benefits of ginger and shiitake mushrooms in this post.

Super Immune-Boosting Chicken Soup

This is one of my favorite soups to make during cold and flu season. Feel free to add any vegetables you prefer. Diced yams or winter squash are an excellent addition, so are finely chopped hot peppers. You can also replace the napa cabbage with either green or savoy cabbage. Tip: Use 16 cups of water for a 4- to 5-pound chicken or 12 cups of water for a 3- to 4-pound chicken.

1 whole organic chicken (4 to 5 pounds)
16 cups water
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 to 5 shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 whole head garlic, cut in half cross-wise
2 to 3 inches fresh ginger, cut into thin slices
2 tablespoons dried astragalus
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped (optional)

1 medium onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
2 to 3 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
4 to 5 cups sliced napa cabbage
1 cup chopped cilantro

To start making the soup, add all ingredients for the broth into an 8-quart stockpot, cover, and simmer for about 1 ½ to 2 hours on low heat.

Place a large colander over another 8-quart pot or large stainless steel bowl. Pour the broth through it to strain out the chicken and vegetables. Place the pot of broth back on the stove. Place the chicken onto a plate to cool. Bring the broth to a boil, add the all of the ingredients for the soup except the napa cabbage and cilantro. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, pull all of the meat from the chicken and cut into smaller pieces. Add the chicken to the soup. Once the vegetables are tender, turn off the heat and add the chopped cabbage and cilantro. Taste and adjust salt and seasonings if desired.

Yield: about 12 servings

That's astragalus in the jar and measuring spoon on the left.

More Soup Recipes:

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About the Author

Alissa Segersten holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is the founder of Whole Life Nutrition, the mother of five children, a whole foods cooking instructor, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author. She is passionate about helping others find a diet that will truly nourish them, and offers elimination diet recipes, healthy gluten-free recipes, paleo and vegan recipes, as well as tips for feeding your family a nourishing, whole foods diet. Alissa is the author of two very popular gluten-free, whole foods cookbooks and guidebooks: The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and Nourishing Meals. She is also the co-author of The Elimination Diet book. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!


  1. Is the chicken soup recipe in your new cook book and also are the recipes you list on your site in your new cook book that comes out in April?

  2. Hi Linda,

    No this is a new recipe not in the book. I usually only include a few of the most popular recipes from the blog in my books, otherwise the recipes in my books are ones you won't find here. Hope that clarifies it.

  3. The new look is beautiful!

  4. can you freeze this?

  5. Anon- Yes! This soup freezes very well. You can wait to add the cabbage and cilantro until you reheat the frozen portion. That way you add some freshness to the reheated soup. :)

  6. Yum!!! This looks so good! Is it okay to have this soup during pregnancy? I don't know much about astragalus. Also is the astragalus easily digested? Thanks!!!

  7. I just made this soup today! It was amazing! It really raised our body temperatures and cleared the sinus cavities, while tasting absolutely Devine. Thank you for this recipe. Karen

  8. Hi Ali!

    Two questions..

    Do you skim off the fat before throwing in fresh vegetables?

    I could not find astragalus root.. but bought some in gel caps containing only astragalus powder and I put in two tbsp of this powder stuff. Now I am thinking I put in way too much! Would this be okay??

    Thank you!


  9. Perfect timing, just got back from a cruise and one of the souvenirs was someone else’s germs. First day back I got the email for this recipe and promptly made it. Very good soup (taste) and managed to fight off the flu/cold that was looming over me. Thanks! I’ll be keeping this recipe handy. Cathy

  10. Oh wow I love this recipe I have a love affair with soup and funny enough (not haha funny) but my immune system crashes so badly at the beginning and end of every Winter, so this is going to come in so handy. And its a great excuse to make it regularly ;) Thanks.

  11. I am so excited to make this soup! It looks refreshing and healing - I love chicken soup and this has been a very long winter - so a boost to our immune system is in due order! Thanks for contributing to our health and healing! You are the best!!

  12. crazy question, is the 4-5lb chicken put into the broth raw or previously cooked? thanks

  13. This soup is AMAZING. We liked it so much last week, I made another batch tonight. I think the ginger and lemongrass in the broth really add an extra dimension to this. It is my new go-to chicken soup recipe. Thank you.

  14. plasterers bristolMay 27, 2014 at 5:51 AM

    Sounds really nice this,thanks for sharing this recipe.


  15. Hi there,

    I am a school teacher just back from an extended maternity leave with my first child - now 2.5 years old. Since I have been back to work, I have been sick twice (a very bad cold presently) and even though I eat organically and hand wash etc. I started searching for ways to improve my overall health and immune system and found your site. I am already on Amazon Canada looking for your books, so I believe I have found a great resource through your blog! I was wondering since I am not a fantastic cook and this may seem really obvious so I apologize in advance - but the whole chicken in the recipe - is that giblets and neck removed and the entire chicken goes in the stock pot? Thank you for your blog and I am looking forward to reading your books!


  16. Hi Ali, I'm so excited -- I ordered yours and Tom's book this week. I'm quite a healthy person, a healer and massage therapist for 22 years and recently trained coach, but in the last year or two I've been having more digestive issues:-( I can't wait to start the elimination diet--probably going to do your next group program in July '15. Still waiting for my Elimination Diet cookbook to arrive. So yesterday I made this marvelous soup! It's very nourishing as well as delicious! So worth the effort. I gave some to my neighbor who is recovering from a cold and she raved about it. Can't wait to try more of your recipes and do your program. xoxo

  17. Hi Ali. Thanks so much for this great recipe. I have a quick question please - what do you do with all the vegies and garlic etc from the first boil? Too much goodness to throw away. Can't you just leave it in? Thanks in advance.

  18. Great recipe! But as a Licensed Chinese medicine doctor, I have two issues with astragulus and the public: 1) if it's dried with sulfur dioxide, it's not good to use it in the soup (so beware of buying online unless from a certified organic herb shop) as quality is lower, so medicinal aspect is also lower; and 2) because it has a function of also raising the Yang (in addition to tonifying Qi and being an immunomodulator), it is contraindicated in persons with primary hypertension. Just wanted folks to know.


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Thanks and Happy Cooking! ~Ali :)