With cold and flu season upon us, the conventional wisdom tells us to eat chicken soup. That prescription doesn’t fly with vegetarians. So what do members of the local plant-based community eat to keep winter’s ills at bay and to recover quickly when they do get sick?

Answers to my query on Facebook revealed that Maine’s vegetarian community is well-versed in the ancient art of herbal medicine. I heard about dozens of home remedies covering much ground (and flora). Generally, the remedies fall into one of three categories:

 Garlic, ginger and honey – together, alone or in combination.

 Other healing plants – either whole or extracted.

 Vegetable soups.

(Of course, two friends cheekily recommended planted-based booze.)


This crowd-sourced advice mirrors my own use of folk remedies. At this time of year, I add a pinch of dried nettle leaf to teas, soaking beans, soups, cooking grains and even salad dressings. In a similar fashion, friends recommended astragalus (a genus of thousands of herbs and shrubs), elderberry juice, apple cider vinegar, green tea, roobios tea and smoothies, as regular health tonics.

Fire cider is another cherished folk remedy during winter, recommended by Jesse McAvoy of Westbrook, who makes his own. Either homemade or store-bought, fire cider is made by steeping strong medicinal plants, such as ginger, garlic, onions, hot peppers and horseradish, in apple cider vinegar. Often it is sweetened with honey before drinking (typically as a shot, although it can be used in salad dressings and sauces).

Years ago I learned an effective garlic-based remedy from Sarah Richards, the herbalist who owns Homegrown Herb & Tea on Munjoy Hill. She makes a tea called the Flu Shot, which includes chopped garlic, freshly squeezed lemon juice, a tablespoon of local honey and a couple cups of boiling water.

Many people, such as Marie Elizabeth of Portland, eat garlic and ginger in its most powerful form: raw. Thomas Winton of Portland says he waits until “we’re home for the night” before downing his fresh chopped raw garlic.

Marilyn Reynolds of Falmouth, who eats raw ginger root “at the first sign of a cold,” says it’s “rough, strong and not everyone can tolerate it.”

In the Cape Elizabeth home of chef April Elaine Powell a bottle of ginger elixir can always be found. She makes it from lemon juice, mint, cayenne pepper and bee pollen (see recipe) and says it can be consumed cold as an energy drink or hot for sore throats.


“Just don’t drink it at bedtime because it definitely gives you a boost of energy,” Powell says.

Many people incorporate garlic or ginger into foods, such as Lisa Lancaster of Boothbay Harbor, who makes a garlic-rich salsa, complete with tomatoes, onions, peppers, chilies and either lemon or lime juice. She often adds fresh fruit, too, such as blueberries, mango, peaches or pineapple.

Lisa Karlan, whom I met at a vegan dinner party in Cape Elizabeth and who lives in Thousand Oaks, Calif., said she makes a quick, healing soup by first sauteeing onions, celery and carrots, then adding chopped garlic and mushrooms. She cooks the vegetables, covered, for about three minutes until they release their liquid. She adds mushroom or vegetable stock and simmers the soup for 30 minutes with the cover ajar. At that point, she blends about one-third of the soup to give it some body.

Miso soup is the most simple curative soup to make and is the go-to remedy in Sarah Speare’s Falmouth home. First step: buy a container of fermented miso paste, which comes in varieties such as white (shiro), barley (mugi) and rice (genmai). (I’m a fan of the miso from the South River Miso Company in Conway, Massachusetts.)

Once you have miso paste, you can make a vegetable stock (with garlic and ginger, perhaps), add in the traditional tofu cubes and seaweed flakes, remove the broth from the heat and finally stir in a couple spoonfuls of miso paste dissolved in water. Or you can simply heat water, remove it from the heat and then stir in the paste dissolved in water.

When cooking with miso, don’t add the miso to boiling water, as that will kill off the beneficial microbes in the fermented paste that give miso its immune-boosting power.


Miso shows up in a veganized version of traditional chicken soup made by Kristin Dicara-McClellan of Portland (see recipe). Her Nooch & Noodles Soup includes faux chicken chunks, garlic and nutritional yeast (that last is called nooch by many vegetarians).

Betsy Harding of South Portland offered another savory remedy: spicy carrot-ginger soup. Harding says you “sauté onions, garlic, lots of ginger and carrots, add vegetable broth, cook, then blend in a blender or food processor. Add a capful of apple cider vinegar for the kicker.”

For a raw remedy, Elizabeth Fraser, owner of the Girl Gone Raw cooking school on Munjoy Hill, creates a blended soup from tomato, red bell pepper, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

TV host, cookbook author and Cumberland resident Toni Fiore recommends a three-ingredient watercress soup made with onions and potatoes (plus salt and pepper). Fiore uses waxy potatoes to create the ‘cream’ base when the soup is blended. She cooks half of the watercress and adds the other half raw to the blender. Fiore says it takes just 30 minutes to make the soup.

My own healing soup emphasizes garlic, ginger, miso and turmeric against a nutrient-dense backdrop of quinoa, buckwheat groats or millet (see recipe). This soup requires more chopping than Fiore’s, yet is still relatively quick to make.

Because when it comes to fighting colds, promptness is preferred. Be well.



Serves 6 to 8

1 teaspoon salt, or more, according to your preference

1 cup quinoa, buckwheat groats or millet, rinsed

1 cup celery, finely diced (2 to 3 stalks), with leaves

2 carrots, finely diced (about 11/2 cups)


4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons minced ginger root

2 teaspoons seaweed flakes, such as dulse

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

3 tablespoons sweet white (shiro) miso dissolved in 11/2 cups water

Cilantro leaves, optional


Put 5 cups water, salt and grain of choice in a soup pot over medium heat. Let the mixture come to a boil and then add celery, carrots, garlic and ginger. Add seaweed flakes and turmeric. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the grains and vegetables are tender.

Remove the soup from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Add the dissolved miso and mix thoroughly.

Serve immediately (for the most potent miso flavor), garnished with cilantro if you like.



Many vegetarians call nutritional yeast “nooch.” Serve the soup with crackers or fresh Italian or French bread.


Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 to 3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup chopped carrots

2 celery stalks, chopped


8 cups vegetable broth

1 (12-ounce) package Gardein Crispy (vegan) Chick’n, sliced thin and chopped

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1/4 teaspoon celery salt

1 cup ditalini pasta


2 tablespoons white (shiro) miso paste whisked in 4 tablespoons warm water

Sea salt and ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. When it shimmers, add the onion and sauté onion until tender. Add garlic and saute for a minute before adding the carrots and celery. Cook until slightly tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the vegetable broth and cook for a few minutes until the broth is starting to warm.

Add the Chick’n, the nutritional yeast and the spices.

Cover the soup and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Add the pasta. Continue to cook the soup until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the dissolved miso. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


This is a very large recipe. It can be cut in half and frozen. To make the ginger mash, Powell uses a juicer “which works great. I’ve also mashed ginger in my little $20 dollar mini-chopper. I imagine that you could grate it and mush it as well. Just get a nice ginger mash going as best you can.” You can find bee pollen online from Maine Medicinals.

2 pounds ginger root

1 gallon filtered water


1 chopped lemon, plus juice of 1 additional lemon

2 teaspoons roughly chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup amber agave (or to taste) or another natural sweetener such as honey

2 teaspoons cayenne

2 ounces bee pollen

2 ounces powdered ginseng


Peel the ginger and cut into rough chunks. Add half the chopped ginger to a pot with 1/2 gallon filtered water and the chopped lemon.

Bring the mixture to a simmer and then remove from heat. Cover. Allow to steep for about 30 minutes. You want to get as much ginger flavor into the water as humanly possible.

Meanwhile, make a ginger mash using a juicer, mini-chopper or grater.

Add the mash, mint, agave (or other sweetener), lemon juice and cayenne to a large glass mixing bowl. Mix well.

Strain the infused ginger water into the ginger mash mixture. Stir well.

Pour into pitcher and add the bee pollen, ginseng and remaining 1/2 gallon of filtered water. Taste and adjust sweetness, if necessary.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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