Can Starbucks' 'Medicine Ball' drink cure a cold?

Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, NBC News' health editor explains what's in the drink, if it works and how you can make it at home.
Starbucks Medicine Ball
Starbucks "Medicine Ball".Strabucks

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By Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD

When it comes to the sniffles or a scratchy throat, some coffee-house fans are turning to a consumer-created beverage at Starbucks: the Medicine Ball. Originally a “secret,” off-menu drink, it was officially added to the Starbucks menu in 2017. And its popularity continues to grow. If you order it now, you’ll need to ask for “honey citrus mint tea”, but most baristas still know it as the Medicine Ball.

I stopped by a Starbucks to try one for myself. The barista who served me was quite familiar with the drink by both names, and first asked me if I was feeling under the weather. She said most people ask for a Medicine Ball by name, and that the hot, caffeine-free drink is popular all winter long.

Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, NBC News' health editor with Starbucks' Medicine Ball drink.Courtesy of Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

So what’s in it? The barista readily shared the official Starbucks recipe, and it’s easy to replicate at home.

Here’s the basic recipe, for a 16-ounce, 130 calories drink:

1 bag Teavana Jade Citrus Mint Tea

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1 bag Peach Tranquility Tea

2 packs of honey

8 ounces hot water

8 ounces steamed lemonade

(OPTIONAL: a pump of peppermint syrup)

I skipped the optional pump of peppermint syrup on my barista’s advice. She said the syrup made the drink much sweeter with a really strong minty taste, adding “there already is a nice mint flavor from the tea.”

The taste was great! It reminded me of a hot “Arnold Palmer” (iced tea and lemonade mixed). But can it really help cure a cold?

While it’s not specifically what the doctor ordered, the Medicine Ball does provide a few of the recommendations that can help a cold, especially if you have a mild sore throat. That includes fluid, some vitamin C and a bit of honey.

So, while it won’t prevent or treat a cold, it’s a tasty hot drink (that’s not coffee based!) and provides some short-term symptom relief that you can purchase or even make at home more economically.

If you like the idea of this beverage, but don’t want the extra calories, skip the honey (or add a low calorie sweetener) and try sugar-free lemonade to drop the calories to almost nothing.

Enjoy this one with or without a cold! I did!

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is NBC News’ health editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.