Falling ill undoubtedly ranks very high on the list of things that all travelers dread. Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, illness is sometimes impossible to avoid and even simple things such as a change in everyday routine can disrupt normal health. Most of these problems are not serious if treated promptly, but can nevertheless disrupt travel plans and cut into the pleasure of traveling. Many conventional pharmaceutical medicines are available, and are often preferable for more serious afflictions, but most simple conditions can be quickly treated with natural, herbal remedies. In fact, in many developing countries where the cost of pharmaceuticals is astronomical and traditional medicine is revered, most locals treat themselves regularly with herb and root teas and plant poultices. In the first installment of this series, we will touch upon three common ailments that you are likely to suffer while traveling. Keep in mind that these remedies are for first aid only; if symptoms persist or become worse, seek medical attention immediately.
Insomnia/Jet-lag: Schedule disruptions, time changes, unfamiliar beds and overnight travel can all lead to sleep disorders. There are several herbs, leaves and roots that are useful in helping induce sleep. Valerian root, lavender, and chamomile are all highly effective. In Argentina, linden (known locally as tilo), an herb that grows wild throughout the world, is used to make a tea that is an antispasmodic, diaphoretic and sedative, as the leaves contain a compound known as a benzodiazepine receptor. Almost every country in the world has a local herb that is used to relieve insomnia: passionflower, kava kava, hops, hawthorn, California poppy, wild lettuce, and even catnip are used. Herbs and roots can be infused in tea or taken in dried form in capsules. Ask local guides, shopkeepers and pharmacists which herbal remedies they can recommend.
Stomach Ailments/Diarrhea: One of the greatest experiences you can have while traveling is trying foods with new and exotic flavors. Unfortunately, if your stomach is not accustomed to very spicy or rich foods, you can run into trouble. Other dangers include tainted or unrefrigerated food, unclean water (also used to make soups, ice, drinks, etc) or unclean dishes and utensils. When disaster strikes in the form of stomach cramps or diarrhea, ginger can be a lifesaver: tea, capsules of dried ginger or just chewing on a piece of raw ginger can work wonders. Other natural remedies include charcoal tablets, blackberry tea, oregano (especially helpful for internal parasites) and carrot juice. To make a homemade, natural “alka-seltzer”, mix together the juice from two lemons with a 1/2 tsp. of baking soda. Keep yourself as hydrated as possible to replace fluids lost in vomiting and diarrhea, by drinking either commercially prepared or homemade rehydration beverages. To make your own “sports drink”, simply mix together 2 quarts bottled water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 cup fruit juice.
Motion Sickness: Another annoying, yet mostly harmless ailment is motion sickness. This disorientation happens to almost everyone at one time or another, and usually occurs when there is no means of moving to a stable area to escape the torment (e. g. a bumpy plane or boat ride). Ginger is one of the best remedies for nausea and for the accompanying stomach aches. Chamomile and lavender are very calming for both the nerves and the stomach and can alleviate much of the discomfort. More conveniently, aromatic oils sprinkled on a handkerchief are also very effective at both calming and relieving nausea: a few drops of lavender, peppermint, licorice oils or ginger juice can steady the nerves and stomach.
Stay tuned for part two of this series, where we discuss common ailments you may encounter during adventure travel and more natural remedies that really work!