Healing Instant Pot Herbal Chicken Soup For When You’re Sick

A spoon with a white handle sits in a white bowl full of Instant Pot herbal chicken soup.
Recipe At-A-Glance
Instant Pot3 hours, 40 minutes
This delicious, healing Herbal Chicken Soup walks the line between food and medicine, and is made right in your Instant Pot! Featuring traditional Chinese herbs, this soup is perfect for when you're feeling under-the-weather.

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I’ve been blessed with an incredible Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, Sarah Beth, who has guided me along my healing journey from Lyme Disease and become one of my dearest friends!

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!

A spoon holds a scoop of soup over an open Instant Pot.

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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?
  3. 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!

Ingredients are laid out on a white plate, including Chinese herbs and bay leaves.

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.

A spoon with a white handle sits in a white bowl full of herbal chicken soup.

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.

A spoon dips into a bowl full of soup broth, chicken, vegetables, and Chinese herbs.

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.

A spoon with a white handle sits in a white bowl full of Instant Pot herbal chicken soup.

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.

 
A spoon with a white handle sits in a white bowl full of herbal chicken soup. A knob of ginger is behind the bowl.

Healing Instant Pot Herbal Chicken Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Additional Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 40 minutes

Healing Instant Pot Herbal Chicken Soup is both food and medicine! Featuring traditional Chinese herbs, this healing soup is perfect for when you're feeling sick.

Ingredients

  • 1 large chicken, cut up (see notes)
  • 2” piece of fresh ginger, cut into slices
  • 1/2 cup dried goji berries, divided
  • 6 slices astragalus root
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 12 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons avocado oil, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons worth)
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into coins (about 2 cups worth)
  • 8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced (about 2 cups worth)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Instructions

  1. Remove the chicken breasts from the cut up chicken, place in a food storage container, and set aside in the fridge. Add the remaining pieces (thighs, legs, wings, and back) to the basin of a six quart or larger Instant Pot.
  2. Add in the ginger slices, 1/4 cup of the goji berries, astragalus root, bay leaves, apple cider vinegar, black peppercorns, and 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Cover with water.
  3. Cover and seal the Instant Pot. Turn on the “Soup” setting on low pressure for 120 minutes. When the cooking time is up, let the Instant Pot release pressure naturally, about 40 minutes. Do not manually release the pressure—the pot will be too full of liquid and it will geyser out of the steam release. If you need to speed up the process, wrap a damp, cold tea towel around the lid of the Instant Pot. This will help the seal cool off more quickly.
  4. When the pressure has released, remove the lid. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken pieces. Remove meat and discard bones. Strain the remaining broth through a fine mesh sieve into another bowl or pot. Discard the spent herbs. Using a spoon, skim off the majority of the fat on top of the broth and discard. Set the broth aside.
  5. Turn the Instant Pot to the “Sauté” function on high for 30 minutes. Add in two tablespoons of avocado oil, and then add in the reserved chicken breasts and cook for 7-8 minutes on each side (depending on thickness), or until an instant read thermometer reads 165°F and the juices run clear. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate to rest for five minutes, then chop into bite-sized pieces.
  6. Add in the remaining avocado oil and garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant, and then add in the carrots. Cook until bright orange and just slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Add in the mushrooms and sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes—if the mixture seems dry while sautéing, spoon a little of the broth back into the pot to loosen it up.
  7. Add in potatoes, strained broth, and remaining goji berries. The mixture should come to a boil within about 10 minutes, and then boil for an additional 7-10 minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are both fork tender. You may need to turn on the “Sauté” function again at some point during this boil time.
  8. Once the potatoes and carrots are tender, turn off the Instant Pot. Stir in the chopped chicken (both the white meat and dark meat), green onions, and black pepper. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and black pepper if desired. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • You’ll probably see “whole cut up” chicken at the store in a tray in the meat section, but that’s missing a key component to this soup—the chicken back. The back is full of healthy collagen and flavor. To get that, instead purchase a whole chicken, and cut the pieces yourself. It’s simple to do and is a skill all cooks should have! It’s also a ton cheaper. 
  • If your chicken comes with organ pieces, reserve those for another use (I like to grind them and then freeze them in cubes, and then add a cube or two each time I brown ground beef—it adds a nice nutritional punch without changing the flavor).
  • If you happen to have the hookup at a local farm, you might be able to get your hands on what are called “stewing hens”—old laying hens that have been culled. Their meat is tough and mostly inedible, but they make incredible broth and often are half or even a quarter the price of a meat hen. To make this recipe with a stewing hen, place an entire stewing hen in the pot to make the broth, and then just cook two large separate chicken breasts to add meat to the soup. 
  • To cook soup from a frozen whole chicken: Add entire frozen chicken (with packaging removed) to the Instant Pot in step #2 and increase cooking time to 160 minutes. Skip step #5. 
  • For a more traditional Chinese Herbal Soup, add in Chinese dried yam, red dates, and codonopsis. Here is a recipe for a more traditional version of this Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup
  • You can also purchase small 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!

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 207Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 10mgSodium: 328mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 4gSugar: 5gProtein: 7g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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