Travel First Aid: Make a Herbal Remedy Kit

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Travelers are exposed to wonderful opportunities and adventures. Unfortunately, they also are exposed to viruses, bacteria, fungi, amoebas, and biting insects. Add those to changes in sleep patterns, new foods, climate variations, and footwear woes, and travel can become a recipe for colds, indigestion, insomnia, skin infections, and blisters, to name only a few complaints.

Fortunately, herbal remedies lend themselves well to minor travel problems. They can resolve a number of topical and intestinal infections, reduce headaches and other aches and pains, and relieve colds and infections. Pharmacies and large health-food stores that stock herbal remedies can be found in many major cities, but these aren’t always conveniently located and might not be open when you need them. For camping trips and journeys to remote areas, such luxuries might not be accessible at all. Therefore, bringing along your own traveling herbal pharmacy makes good sense.

Organizing your kit

There are several things to keep in mind when building an herbal travel kit. First, your destination will help you to determine what kinds of problems you might encounter and what herbs might be appropriate to take along. Visiting the in-laws at Thanksgiving will require slightly different gear than a foray into the Amazon jungle. Second, your destination will also determine how you’ll carry your kit. For example, if you’ll have access to your car or will be staying at a hotel or someone’s home, a heavy carrying case won’t be an issue. A hiking trip, on the other hand, requires easy portability. Finally, the specific needs and tendencies of the other people with whom you’re traveling will determine which herbs you choose to bring. For example, if you’re traveling with someone who has a tendency to develop insomnia, you’ll want extra herbs to help that person sleep.

Container options

A small tool or tackle box, available at any hardware store, makes an excellent traveling first-aid case. They’re sturdy and resistant to small critters, and they prevent bottles from breaking if jostled or if the container is dropped. Most have drawers, or at least trays, for storing items in separate compartments, which makes it easy to organize your kit and find what you need when you need it. Metal tool and tackle boxes last for years but are heavier and more expensive than plastic versions, so you might opt for a plastic carrying case if portability is a concern. Metal ones occasionally rust over time; plastic ones sometimes crack. Make certain before you buy a case that the handles and latches are durable. The size of your travel kit will be determined by how much you’ll need to carry along, plus a little extra room to add a few items over time.

Camping-gear stores generally sell high-quality packs made of durable cloth or nylon that can be turned into cases for your herbal travel kit. To shop for one, bring a 1-oz. tincture bottle and a few salve jars to the store with you; look for a case with several compartments where such items will fit. Cases with plastic “windows” on the inside make it easy to see what you’ve stored in the various compartments, enabling you to reach for something quickly in minor emergencies. You might choose nylon over cloth, because it’s generally water resistant and cleans up easily.

Homemade travel cases can also be created out of a variety of materials, such as cookie tins, sturdy plastic food containers, cosmetics or toiletries bags, doctor’s bags, cigar boxes, and sewing boxes. Some herbalists fashion their own travel kits by strategically sewing a strip of 3/8-inch elastic into a homemade or purchased satchel. The elastic holds tincture bottles and other jars in place so that when the bag is opened, the items are easy to view and access.

How much to carry?

How many items, and how much of each you put in your travel kit, will depend upon the length of your journey, weight-limit considerations, and how many people you will care for out of your kit. Fortunately, many herbs treat more than one condition, and many conditions are treatable with more than one herb.

Therefore, when selecting the herbs that will go into your kit, choose those that have the broadest possible ranges of application. The sample kit ingredients discussed below meet that criteria. Generally, for a ten-day trip, 1- to 2-oz. tincture bottles, 1-oz. salve jars, and small jars or plastic bags of selected powdered herbs will be adequate for an individual or small family. For longer journeys, more might be required.

A complete herbal travel kit should contain the basic first-aid items that one would find in a conventional first-aid kit. These items, all of which can be obtained at a pharmacy, include isopropyl alcohol pads or antiseptic wipes, bandages, sterile 4-by-4-inch gauze pads, adhesive tape, butterfly bandage strips, hydrogen peroxide, matches, tweezers, small scissors, penlight or small flashlight (and extra batteries), eye cup, ace bandage, disposable sterile gloves (two pairs), and, if you’re traveling with someone with a known allergy to bee stings, an epinephrine kit. A first-aid book can also be invaluable.

Optional first-aid items

Optional items include lip balm, vitamin C, vitamin E, topical antiseptic cream, activated charcoal capsules (for use in cases of some accidental poisonings and topically for venomous bites), acidophilus, soap, insect repellent, sunscreen, feminine sanitary products (pads, tampons), and instant hot and cold packs.

Herbal items

The herbal travel kit should also contain products that address the following travel complaints common to city travelers and wilderness hikers: headaches, diarrhea, constipation, insomnia, indigestion, insect bites, animal bites, scratches, cuts, scrapes, minor wounds, burns, sunburn, pain, toothaches, skin irritations and infections, poison ivy, motion sickness, emotional distress, menstrual complaints, cold symptoms, sprains, and bruises.

If you are new to using herbs, be sure to carry a guide to using the remedies. The chart in the image gallery refers to herbs and formulas that address a wide variety of common complaints.

Before departure, mix your herbs as directed, and label your jars carefully with the name of the formula, the ingredients, and the date. These labels will help you decide which products you can use on your next trip. You might want to put the chart into a small plastic sleeve to keep it dry and store it with your kit.

The following blended tinctures and powders are easy to make, and many of them can be used for multiple conditions. The ingredients are available at most health-food stores.


Pain ease tincture

Passionflower tincture
Skullcap tincture
Hops tincture
Motherwort tincture
Cramp bark tincture

Combine equal parts of the tinctures. Decant into a dark glass eyedropper bottle and label, listing the ingredients and the date made.

Antidiarrhea tincture

Goldenseal tincture
Echinacea tincture
Licorice root tincture
Ginger tincture

Combine equal parts of the tinctures. Decant into a dark glass eyedropper bottle and label, listing the ingredients and the date made.

Constipation relief powder

1/4 teaspoon slippery elm powder
1/4 teaspoon dried powdered licorice root
1/4 cup fennel seed (whole is fine)
1 cup hot water or warm apple juice

Mix the herbs in equal quantities; store in a sturdy, small plastic container labeled with the ingredients and date. To use, add the mix to the hot water or warm apple juice. Stir well and drink immediately.

Antiseptic tincture

Calendula tincture
Echinacea tincture
Goldenseal tincture
Thyme tincture
Myrrh tincture

Blend equal amounts of the tinctures. Decant into a dark glass eyedropper bottle. Label, listing the ingredients and the date.

Astringent wash

Calendula tincture
Witch hazel tincture
White oak bark tincture

Blend equal parts of these tinctures. Decant into a dark glass bottle. Label, listing the ingredients and the date.

Herbal salve

Plantain is a common lawn weed; if you have some nearby, try making this herbal salve before your trip. If not, look for a commercial salve with the same ingredients.1 cup olive oil
1/2 oz. fresh, chopped plantain
1/2 oz. dried calendula flowers
1/2 oz. dried comfrey leaf
4 oz. beeswax
1 teaspoon vitamin E oil

In a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan, warm the olive oil over very low heat. Add the herbs and stir; do not allow the herbs to sizzle. Heat for at least 30 minutes, continuing to stir. Strain out the herbs; return the mixture to the saucepan.

Grate the beeswax; add to the oil. Warm the mixture, again over very low heat, stirring constantly. When the beeswax is melted, add the vitamin E, stir, and pour the salve into clean jars. Allow to cool completely, then seal the jars. Label with the ingredients and the date.

Anti-inflammatory tincture

Burdock root tincture
Plantain tincture
Echinacea tincture
Chickweed tincture

Blend equal amounts of these tinctures. Decant into a dark glass bottle. Label, listing the ingredients and the date. 

Aviva Romm is executive director of the American Herbalists Guild and a certified professional midwife. She’s the author of numerous books on herbal family health, including Naturally Healthy Babies and Children (Storey, 2000) and The Natural Pregnancy Book (The Crossing, 1997). Aviva has been happily using her herbal travel/first-aid kit for nearly fifteen years.

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