Herbal First Aid

Herbs for the Road

| July/August 1998

For many of us, home is more than a castle—it’s also a health-care center. The bathroom cabinet contains antiseptics, bandages, and ointments; the refrigerator holds medicinal foods and vitamin supplements; kitchen cupboards are filled with such remedies as baking soda, teas, and herbal tinctures. Some people even have medicinal herbs growing in pots on their windowsills.

These items help us treat common afflictions ranging from bee stings to cold symptoms. But when we travel, whether for an extended vacation or a brief business trip, most of us leave this nurturing environment behind. Perhaps this is why traveling is rated nearly as stressful as moving to a new house or fighting with one’s boss, according to a scale developed by sociologists. Unfamiliar foods, strange beds, new noises, foreign languages, and crazy schedules also contribute to stress and the potential for stress-related illnesses. Not to mention that, if we need treatment for an illness or injury while away from home, our health is at the mercy of any health-care practitioner we can find.

But you can take some nurturing with you on your next trip—in the form of a carefully planned herbal travel kit assembled with the help of some experts in the medicinal herb field.

Pre-travel Planning

Your trip begins before you ever leave home: buying tickets, finding a hotel, arranging for a petsitter. To help you through this time and build up your resistance, it’s a good idea to take herbs to boost your immune system for several days before your trip, according to Rob McCaleb, Herbs for Health editorial adviser and president of the Herb Research Foundation. McCaleb takes echinacea (Echinacea spp.) and astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), basing his choices on the large body of research showing these herbs’ effectiveness at fortifying the immune system.

Medical herbalist Daniel Gagnon agrees that building the immune system is important. To do this, his herb of choice is Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also known as eleuthero. He begins taking it a couple of weeks before he travels, using a capsule or dropperful twice a day.

“Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen, a substance that helps you face more stress with fewer effects on the body,” Gagnon says. Moreover, different people have ­different susceptibilities to illness, so eleuthero—which doesn’t target specific organs but bolsters the body as a whole—is perfect for general, gentle support, he says.

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