Cooking, Drinks
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For What Ails You: Lemon, Ginger & Honey Tea

Lemons & Limes @ Borough Market, London

I’ve been ill again. I don’t ever remember a time in my life where I have had such a succession of bugs and annoyances. This time, the visitor was a most unwelcome norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug. I am sure there are much better ways of describing it, it is the most vicious, invasive, overwhelming bug that I have had the misfortune to be slayed by. It brought me around to thinking about the food that we eat when we are sick, to get better.

Everyone has their particular favourites, some offer comfort from childhood, most are family remedies. Often they make no sense at all. Almost everyone seems to turn to fizzy drinks when ill. Even me. And I won’t touch them when I am not ill, unless they are partnering a spirit. The sugar is good, and some like ginger ale have ginger, but isn’t it better to go straight to source and make a fresh ginger tea?

Now, I know it sounds laborious, and when your sick, struggling to the loo is probably the most you can manage, but it’s easy, quick, delicious, and it’s of enormous benefit in times of tummy upset. Ginger relieves nausea, stimulates digestion, relieves gas and bloating and helps stop diarrhoea. Lemon juice with honey aids bowel movement. Honey is soothing for distressed throats and oesophaguses. Lemon is alkalinizing for a poor acidic stomach, this means it neutralizes the acid, or at least starts to.

This is not insipid like a herbal tea from a tea bag, it’s full of flavour and texture. I drink this regularly, as it’s really tasty and comforting,  I find it especially soothing at times like these.

Want to make it? Per mug I make mine with fresh ginger, peeled and sliced, about an inch of it, the juice of half an organic unwaxed lemon and a teaspoon of honey. I top this up with hot water, leave to infuse for a few minutes and drink slowly.

Everything that passes my mouth now has intense diplomatic negotiations to face once they hit the stomach, and the folks down there are slow and gurgly. They like this lemon, ginger and honey tea though. It seems about the only thing that has diplomatic immunity at the moment!

What do you eat and drink when ill?




  1. Oh Niamh, I completely sympathise. What a rotten winter it’s been in so many ways, but you’re right lemon, ginger and honey tea is such a potent elixir against all that ails you. Must get into the habit of drinking it every day, even when on tip-top form! Hope you’re feeling better now…

  2. Um – lemon juice is acid and not alkaline, being full of citric acid and all. Has a pH of about 2-3, in fact. So it won’t help neutralise stomach acid.

    /Science pedantry. :)

    Nonetheless, I’m a big fan of hot honey and lemon when feeling coldy. Not sure if it’s anything other than a placebo, but comforting all the same.

    Anyhoo, Hope you’re feeling better!

    • Hi Paul. It’s acid on the tongue but has an alkalinising effect on the stomach. I researched it. So does lime. I am a science pedant too, remember? :)

      Still feel dreadful, sadly. Horrible, horrible bug.

      • Bronwyn says

        Are you sure about that? It doesn’t make sense that you can decrease acidity by adding acid. From what I’ve read via Google search, it’s thought that sometimes a swig of vinegar or lemon can stop acid reflux by shocking the esophageal sphincter shut when it’s been relaxed by too little acid in the stomach.
        I can’t find anything much in the legitimate scientific literature that relates gastric pH to the ingestion of fruit juice of any sort, in any way. The only things I can find that gives any hint at all are a study where they compared coffee or orange juice or continued fasting in the gastric ph of preoperative patients, and another study doing the same with healthy volunteers. The result in both studies was that there was no difference.

      • Hi Bronwyn. Cheers for the research. In my defense I was on a break from 5 days puking when I wrote this. Will research and edit. Whatever the reason, it works :)

  3. My tips for never getting ill:
    Eat lots of garlic
    Never get on any public transport during rush hour (obviously this means you can’t have a normal job)
    Don’t smoke
    Don’t diet
    Don’t do anything ostentatiously healthy

    If you have a cold that won’t shift, steam it out:
    Get a bowl of boiling water
    You can add a few drops of Olbas oil
    Hold your head over it for as long as you can bear with a thick towel covering your head and the bowl.
    Do this daily.
    Your cold will be gone in three days max.
    This will sterilise your nasal passages, throat.

  4. Hi there – I drink boiling water with a slice of lemon and slice of raw ginger every morning, makes me feel great and even good for hangovers.

    Being a Scot, our cold cure was always honey, lemon and whisky with boiling water (“Hot Toddie”) which I think I liked a little toooo much. Oops.

    Try some Vitamin D at the moment to make you feel perkier sans sunshine.

    Sasha @ The Happiness Project London

  5. Although I only discovered it recently, Henry Dimbleby’s recipe here: is just about the most comforting, nourishing thing you could imagine eating. It’s also unbelievably easy to make and is therefore perfect for when you’re feeling too poorly to cook but want ‘proper’ food.

    I make it even less labour intensive by using chicken thigh fillets – three times the price but still cheap and no bones or skin to fiddle around with when even lifting a fork to ones mouth is a struggle.


  6. Get well soon – I drank lots of Lemsip before I discovered it was nearly two years out of date! No wonder I didn’t get better! I will have to give your tea a shot

  7. Hi Niamh,

    Have been following your blog for a few months, and really love it- am sorry I missed the Prosecco food matching.

    For chesty colds and throat ailments, I grew up drinking agua de panela con limon, which is raw sugar cane with lemon- my Colombian mother’s remedy. For a general pick me up, you can have it with milk instead.

    I’m not sure where to get it in London- I have some in the cabinet from my last trip to Colombia. It is usually sold in a block, like a big brick, which you have to chip away at with a hammer and chisel. You then just boil with water.

    I had a similar bug once when living in Moscow- the Russian remedy? Many cups of dense, black tea followed by a swig of Vodka, as prescribed by a doctor friend. I don’t really recommend this.

    Feel better soon.



  8. Hope you are on the mend now! I am a real comfort eater when I’m feeling off colour, mainly tea and buttered toast. Sometimes cinnamon toast, which I know hear is a healthy choice!

    Espresso martinis are quite good for a boost too!

  9. Poppy Gets a Life says

    I too turn to the dreaded fizzy drinks when I am ill, but, like you don’t drink them normally.

    I can recommend this combination: Apple Cider Vinegar and Honey. And some lemon too, if you feel the need.

    The vinegar cleanses your throat from that slimy, sticky feeling, and the honey soothes at the same time.

    Feel better!


  10. Hi Niamh,

    Great article you have here for all us ailing souls – I’ve got a stomach bug at the moment and I’m just trying to find something that can be eaten without making me more sick. I noticed your care in choosing the ingredients for the tea and just wanted to add it all sounds great, but just also keep in mind that in Ayurveda it is considered that honey becomes toxic if it is heated over 40C – that’s why there is no cooking with honey in Indian cuisine. You just need to let the tea get a bit colder and then add the honey – hope this helps, or at least makes a few people interested in Ayurveda (the tip about the lemon having an alkaline effect comes from there too)!


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  14. Angie Suitters says

    i have the dreaded stomach flu at the moment and in all my life have never ahd it this bad ever. Originally caught it from Heinz tinned chicken and mayo. Was violently ill for 2 days with food poisoning from it but now once the vomiting supsided I have been getting the other ends rushes…. Not nice to have to shower in the freezing weather because ones bowles let loose while sleeping. I find honey, lemon and tea is a great pick me up for this sort of bug. Although I do recomend being very close to a loo when drinking it. (from personal experience) I have a giant mug of it at least twice a day but i do drink it normally when I am not ill when I dont feel like milk in my tea i will use lemon instead. My 1 year old also has the dreaded stomach flu but so far refuses to drink the tea and she isnt vomiting or rear ending yet but she only just got it off me today so time will tell. I have a 2 litre bottle of water next to the ebd too which also I need to be very close to the toilet when drinking this aswell. I have completly lost my appetite but the home brewed tea is great because it makes me feel like i have eaten by giving me a pick me up… There I have ahd my say now I better run (to the loo)

Over to you! Your comments - I would love to hear from you :)