Posted by: Elena's Israel Blog | 12/14/2010

The ‘Jewish Penicillin’ with recipe

When God spoke the words recorded in Genesis 12:3 “… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” He wasn’t just speaking of the Messiah as many Christians think. The modern state of Israel has been at the forefront of innovation in countless areas of human endeavor, benefiting the world with advances in medicine, science, technology, the environment, security, and more. However, one Jewish contribution that has impacted humanity for centuries is often left off the list: chicken soup!

Granted, soup of any kind was considered restorative in many parts of the ancient world, believed to aid digestion and benefit the ill. The chicken just happened to be ideal for this style of preparation, with the boiling permitting fuller use of less appetizing parts, such as the bones, giblets, feet and neck. The liquid made the dish go further, added variety to the diet and provided nutritional components that otherwise would have been lost. It also enabled the eating of older, tougher birds as was the custom in many parts of ancient Asia and Africa. The healthy broth became a staple in Europe and the Mediterranean and eventually spread to other parts of the world through European exploration. The first recipes for chicken soup in America appeared in the early 1800’s.

But there is no denying that chicken soup has become a traditional dish of the Jewish kitchen. It was the Jewish mother that elevated the preparation of chicken soup to an art form. And it was Jewish doctors who discovered the very real healing properties of chicken soup, prescribing it for a variety of illnesses with such effectiveness that it became known as ‘the Jewish penicillin’. The 12th century rabbi and physician Maimonides is one of the most influential figures in Jewish history. As physician to the great muslim leader Saladin, his fame as a wise and capable doctor spread throughout Spain and the Mediterranean region. But it is his treatises on various illnesses and their treatments that have helped to make his mark in history. In them, he covered 25 areas of medicine and such diseases as asthma, pneumonia, and stroke. And for all of them, he prescribed chicken soup. Maimonides even wrote on depression, its effects on physical health, and the benefits of treating it with the chicken soup as well. Perhaps, from this came the Jewish proverb “Worries go down better with soup than without.” Current scientific research has proven the curative powers of chicken soup, validating Maimonides. . . and mothers throughout history who have served it to their sick loved ones.

by Cheryl Hauer, Dispatch From Jerusalem

Cheryl’s Chicken Soup

– Thoroughly wash a whole chicken, giblets removed.
– Put in pot with 2 large onions, coarsely chopped, and cover generously with water.
– Add salt to taste and season with herbs such as dill and parsley as desired (best to use fresh   herbs, a small bunch of each tied in cheesecloth).
– Boil 45 minutes, remove chicken and skim off any foam.
– Peel and cube 4 large carrots, 2 medium potatoes, 2-3 medium leeks, 3 stalks of celery with leaves, and 1 large kohlrabi or turnip.
– Bring broth to a boil and add vegetables; lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender but not mushy (for the taste of traditional Jewish chicken soup, particularly if matzo balls are to be added, include 3-4 parsnips, peeled and diced.)
– As vegetables are cooking, remove chicken from the bone and cut into generous sized cubes.
– When vegetables are done, stir in chicken and season with additional salt, fresh cracked pepper and, if desired, 2-3 tablespoons of chicken soup flavoring or bullion.
– Serve piping hot with fresh bread or biscuits, and remember, it’s even better the next day.



  1. Oh my! I just made this recipe and it’s the most delicious chicken soup I’ve ever made! so many different seasonings/herbs and vegetables from the plain old onion/celery/carrot, s&p! It’s full bodied and very comforting!! No need for pasta – guess what we’re having for dinner tonight!!

    • Dear Elena,

      Sounds good to me! I once had chicken soup made with dill at a deli in New York City. It was delicious. You’re tempting me to make some, especially since I have a cold right now!

      Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  2. From Marie Thomas, who specializes in health foods and products: “It might be prudent regarding this, to recognize that with the advent of America’s ‘modern food systems’, this article might only be true today if the chickens used were raised range-free and organically or to kosher standards and the salt and other ingredients (onions, etc) should also be kosher or organic. It’s certainly a big question if the way chickens are raised, treated, and genetically altered in factory farms today (not to mentioning slaughtering methods) could still provide a chicken ‘soup basis’ that might have any normal nutrition, let alone the intended qualities of health that God originally placed there. Anotherreason to ‘say grace’ over our food. ;-)”

  3. I never thought of adding parsnips or turnips. Have always used leeks but never thought about dill. Fresh chicken from Whole Foods Market is the key! Thanks again, Elena!

    • Thanks Jenny. I think the dill is the major key to its delicious taste. Give it a try – use a good sized bunch!

      • Hi Elena,
        Finally making the chicken soup…smells delicious!!!!! Thank you for a wonderful recipe. Blessings, jmk:)

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