When you were a kid, there’s a reason your mom served you chicken soup when you came down with the sniffles: Slurping the fragrant, steaming broth really did relieve your symptoms and helped you feel better faster — remember?

Cold and flu season is a great time to look at what research shows about the benefits of chicken soup.

It reduces inflammation. The chicken soup study most often cited was published in 2000 by Stephen Rennard, MD, a specialist in inflammation research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He found chicken soup inhibited the movement of infection-fighting white blood cells to your nose and throat, which causes inflammation — and cold symptoms.

It relieves congestion. The steam you inhale as you eat hot chicken soup helps thin nasal mucus, making it easier to breathe. Researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami found that sipping chicken soup did a better job of relieving stuffiness than drinking hot water.

It soothes irritation in the nose and throat. That’s thanks to the salt in chicken soup, which, according to an article published in the journal Chest, "draws water out across the cell membranes through osmosis, causing the cells to shrink." Less swelling means less scratchiness and discomfort.

It provides much needed liquid. According to the Mayo Clinic, soup and other liquids help loosen congestion and prevent dehydration.

It helps protect the body from infection. An article in Coping with Asthma and Allergies explained that chicken soup (and also hot tea) improve the function of cilia, the tiny hairlike structures in the nose that prevent contagions from getting into the body.

Related: 6 Ways to Make Your Flu Vaccine More Effective

A recipe for relief

Chicken soup recipes abound in cookbooks, on the Internet and the secret files of practically every grandma on the planet. In fact, the recipe that follows, the one Rennard used in his chicken soup study, is Rennard's grandmother's. Based on his findings, it's worth the effort to whip up a batch of his version.

Ingredients:

  • 1 5- to 6-pound stewing hen or baking chicken
  • 1 package of chicken wings
  • 3 large onions
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 3 parsnips
  • 2 turnips
  • 11 to 12 large carrots
  • 5 to 6 celery stems
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Clean the chicken, put it in a large pot and cover it with cold water. Bring the water to boil.
  2. Add the chicken wings, onions, sweet potato, parsnips, turnips and carrots. Boil about 1 and a half hours. Remove fat from the surface as it accumulates.
  3. Add the parsley and celery. Cook the mixture about 45 min. longer.
  4. Remove the chicken. The chicken is not used further for the soup. (The meat makes excellent chicken parmesan.)
  5. Put the vegetables in a food processor until they are chopped fine or pass through a strainer. Both were performed in the present study.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Make extra, since this soup freezes well.

Print out a PDF version of this recipe.

If cooking's not your thing, go ahead and open a can of store-bought chicken soup. Rennard compared several brands to his grandmother's soup and found that some were just as effective as his homemade version.

Related: 7 Ways to Ease Your Child's Cough Without Medication