One time last cold and flu season, I brought Sarah Beth a jar of my Elderberry Syrup. As she was reading through the ingredients, she got super excited to see astragalus root in the mix. Astragalus is a little-known herb here in the West, but it’s one of the most powerful immune-boosters you can find. It also happens to taste great (which can’t be said for a lot of medicinal herbs). She mentioned that it’s traditional to simmer astragalus into a healing chicken soup to eat when you’re under-the-weather or whenever you need a boost to the body and soul. That was all the info I needed to get my recipe developer brain working!
What is Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup?
A traditional Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup is a long-simmered soup that is infused with healing dried Chinese herbs. Some serve the soup simply as just a broth (similar to bone broth), and some serve it as a heartier soup or stew like we’re doing here. Herbal chicken soup is a traditional food of Chinese culture—it is served whenever a body or soul needs a little nurturing.
What’s special about this version of the soup?
I put on my journalism degree researcher hat for this recipe and found the internet was a treasure trove of recipes for traditional Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup. Similar to the history of Dublin Coddle, it seems like each family has their own version of this traditional soup! Some included lots of dried herbs and vegetables. Others only included a select few. Some included mushrooms, some didn’t. Some included root veggies, some didn’t. So I gathered all the intel I could find on this healing chicken soup, and created my own version with three goals in mind:
- It had to taste great. When your medicine becomes food, it has to taste good, or no one is going to eat it! Sometimes medicinal herbs, as powerful and effective as they are, can taste terrible (Sarah Beth’s tincture for treating a cold is some of the nastiest—but most effective—stuff on the planet). But that couldn’t happen here. Soup has to taste good!
- I wanted to try to streamline the process to fit into our hectic lives. Thank you, Instant Pot! The electric pressure cooker turns this from an all-day cooking experience into one that’s done in just a couple hours. The irony of this is that it’s actually the opposite of the healing philosophy behind this traditional soup—slowing down, working less, nourishing yourself. But my hope is that if the cooking process is sped up a bit, that’ll free you up to schedule some time to rest and nourish yourself. Promise me you won’t use the free time to do laundry or answer emails, k?
- The ingredients had to be (relatively) easy and affordable for us to get here in the West. Some of the versions of this traditional soup I found included 5-10 speciality traditional Chinese herbs. While those herbs add a ton of health benefits, for us living in North America, tracking down all those herbs can be tricky. I wanted to balance affordability and availability with the health benefits. I’ve included notes and resources in the recipe for more herbal additions if you’re interested in a more traditional Chinese herbal soup. If you happen to live in a larger metropolitan area, you should be able to track down Chinese herbs in small quantities more easily. You can also purchase herbal soup mixes that contain everything for a traditional version of this soup. If you get the chance, I highly recommend making this soup with all the traditional herbs!
Does eating chicken soup really help with a cold?
Yes! We’ve already established how much bone broth can benefit your immunity—and long-cooked chicken soup like this one is just a soup version of bone broth. This particular soup is also packed with healing herbs that give you a dose of medicine in a tasty soup:
- Astragalus: Boosts the immune system and increases energy levels. Astragalus is particularly good for boosting immune systems that are “run down” from overwork or stress (ain’t that all of us?).
- Ginger: Soothes body aches and settles tummy troubles. Also works to boost the immune system.
- Goji berries: Helps relieve eye strain and related headaches—especially from staring at screens or work too long.
- Garlic: An all-natural antimicrobial, garlic is a powerful weapon to have whenever you’re fighting off a virus.
What kind of chicken do you use for chicken soup?
The most flavorful chicken soup comes from using a whole chicken, and long-simmering the bones and meat to extract as much flavor and nutrition as you can. Here, I recommend purchasing a whole chicken, then cutting it up (using this method). I also recommend reserving the breasts for adding back into the soup later—chicken breasts tend to get incredibly dry when cooked for a long period of time. The soup has a much more pleasant taste and texture if you cook it using the rest of the chicken, and then cook and chop the breasts and add that meat back in at the end of cooking.
Can you use a frozen chicken for this chicken soup?
You sure can! That’s one of the joys of the Instant Pot—being able to cook meat from frozen. The instructions do get altered slightly. But no worries, we’ve included how to cook the soup using a frozen whole chicken in the printable recipe below.
What setting do I use for soup on the Instant Pot?
Since we’re trying to mimic the day-long simmering of traditional soup on the stove, I prefer to use the “Soup” setting on my Instant Pot set to “Low Pressure.” If your electric pressure cooker doesn’t have a “Soup” setting, just do the “Manual” setting and set it to “Low Pressure,” and you’ll be in business.
Should you check in with a healthcare professional before enjoying this soup?
Since this soup contains all food-based ingredients in food dosages, it’s generally regarded as safe to enjoy. However, if you have any questions, specific health concerns, or are on any medications, it’s worth checking in with a trained TCM practitioner or herbalist in your area if you plan to consume this soup regularly in large amounts.