What’s in Starbucks’ Medicine Ball Drink?

October 11, 2020

When a secret off-menu Starbucks item transitions to the regular menu, you know it’s going to be popular. That’s exactly the case with the so-called “medicine ball” against colds, which Starbucks calls Honey Citrus Mint Tea. Fans of the chain swear by it as a remedy for relieving cold symptoms and even warding off colds altogether. The question is, does it really live up to the hype? This is my opinion as a nutritionist.

I have not personally heard of medicine balls, but based on their nickname, I think they would be similar in ingredients to the so-called immune shot popularized by juice stores, Whole Foods and other health food stores. These mini-bottles, usually two-ounce in size, are loaded with ingredients known to support immunity and reduce inflammation, such as ginger, turmeric, pepper, and even garlic.

Starbucks’ version is actually a 16-ounce hot tea – Emerald Citrus Mint and Peach Serenity Herb Tea, to be exact – a blend of steamed lemonade (which is the first ingredient, according to the company’s website) and two packets of honey. The tea is a blend of organic green tea, organic spearmint, organic lemon verbena and lemongrass, along with apple and peach slices, candied pineapple, chamomile and rosehip.

It sounds delicious. But in my opinion, there are pros and cons to relying on it as a cold and flu elixir. Studies have shown that the natural compounds found in green tea can reduce inflammation, support immunity, and provide antiviral and antibacterial properties. Drinking the hot liquid can also soothe a sore throat. And the steam can help open up blocked nasal passages and support drainage, which may provide some sinus relief.

Chamomile tea has also been linked to increased antibacterial activity in the body, and it supports sleep as well as immune protection. Honey can also tout some cold prevention benefits. It has anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to relieve sore throats and reduce coughs (when consumed in place of cough syrup), and it may help fight bacteria and viruses. All in all, some of the goodies in this drink may relieve unpleasant symptoms and boost the immune system.

Now for the not-so-good news. The medicine ball contains sugar. Lemonade contains it because of the honey, which adds up to 30 grams total, or 7.5 teaspoons. That’s a half teaspoon over the recommended maximum of six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women – and that’s just in this one drink.

I also don’t like that it contains artificial flavors, and the honey is not the raw organic variety. The exact type or processing of the honey, which does affect quality and health, is not stated. The honey package also contains potassium sorbate, which is an artificial preservative. To range these things, be sure to read the ingredient list. I hope that in the near future, Starbucks will make a commitment to eliminate all artificial additives.

In the meantime, here’s the bottom line. A daily cup of honey citrus peppermint tea probably won’t get you germs at the office or while traveling, and it’s seriously loaded with sugar. But if you’re feeling miserable and still trying to power through a job or errand, popping into Starbucks to grab this drink may help. (Hint: Choose one honey packet instead of two).

Can’t make it to Starbucks? DIY it and make your own homemade soda at home. Steep organic green tea, chamomile tea, peppermint tea, and turmeric tea, add some freshly grated ginger, freshly squeezed lemon juice, a teaspoon of raw organic honey or pure maple syrup, and a pinch of black pepper (the latter is needed to absorb the beneficial curcumin from turmeric).

Most importantly, eat your veggies, prioritize rest and sleep, and practice proper hand washing (number one most effective way to prevent a cold or flu).