Advice For The Traveling Herbalist
As someone who is constantly yearning for new land to explore, I've gotten quite smart about packing light. Deciphering what is essential and what will end up at the bottom of my bag, has become second nature to me and I typically look forward to the challenge.
Deciding which parts of my already compact apothecary to bring with me was both exhausting and really really fun. I’ve always had a fascination with travel, packing has always been very exciting for me and I have a very musty collection of old suitcases. Growing up I always fantasized about going to faraway places, trying new foods and making friends all over the world.
I believe that travel is an essential kind of education. One that requires a different sort of courage than school does. Something happens to your soul when you go to new places and I've done some of my best thinking and growing while on route to foreign lands. The mind expands and gives you a new eye to view the world with.
I wanted to share some of my traveling experience and the herbs/remedies that have helped me along the way. Below is a little bit about what I've learned through the years between moving and traveling while carrying a portable apothecary.
Here's a list of what I carried during my most recent travels overseas
Echinacea tincture - I swear by this when I travel, especially on planes and cramped buses. I typically load up on the stuff while in transit. Echinacea is fantastic to prevent colds and fight off infection if needed and tinctures are the easiest way to dose, in my opinion.
Coconut oil - I bought this once I got to Sweden and I didn't regret the extra weight I had to carry around because if it. I use it as a moisturizer, mouthwash (or oil pulling), and antifungal. It was great to have at night to mix with a drop or two of lavender essential oil and rub on my feet after a long day pasteurizing apple juice.
Dandelion everything - I'm a huge fan of dandelion root for water retention and digestion, especially while traveling. If you've ever spent 12 hours on planes, buses, boats or just sitting in an airport, I'm sure you know the wicked effects of sitting still in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place. I like to carry Traditional Medicinal's Roasted Dandelion Root tea and a tincture of both the root and leaf.
Band-aids - Because if you’re at all like me, you fall and scrape your knee in any & every situation.
Tweezers - Perfect for ticks, splinters and rogue hairs.
Essential oils - Tiny bottles of magic, essential oils are fantastic to carry while traveling. Here are some of my go to’s : Ravintsara is excellent for aiding in the prevention of the common cold and flu. Lavender for everything; this oil has incredible soothing and anti-fungal properties. Add a few drops of lavender to a carrier oil and massage onto your belly when cramping or your feet after a long day. Peppermint oil is great when feeling nauseous or lacking concentration. Simply take a whiff and feel refreshed. ( Please note that I will NEVER suggest that you take an essential oil internally. These oils are very powerful tools and can have damaging effects on your liver. Please consult a practitioner or do your research before adding these to your daily routine. )
A wine key - Because 2 euro wine is amazing and that little saw may come in handy one day.
A tea ball - In case you stumble across some amazing new plant friends.
Skullcap tincture - I traveled with my Star Soother blend, which has been the most helpful tool when adapting to the stress of traveling and experiencing new cities. Skullcap is a really beautiful herb in aiding the mind and body in times of stress. Skullcap helps me ground out and focus on a task at hand, which is really beneficial when exploring new places and dealing with long days of travel.
Zines - Perhaps it’s a little extra weight but I love carrying around the sweet words of my friends. This past trip I carried Maribeth Keane's, Your Wise Gut and the Great Kosmic Kitchen’s, Be Radical, Eat Traditional.
Perfume - Sometimes it’s necessary to smell good and traveling can make that a little difficult (I dated a train hopper for years, believe me I know). This past autumn I traveled with Land and Sea Apothecary’s Bluebird perfume.
Emergen-C - I was surprised at how many times we these packets were passed around and referenced during my time in herb school. They really do work, are so easy to travel with and are worth the money.
Salves Salves Salves - I'll put anything on a cut, sprain or bruise if I trust its herbal beginnings. I've been particularly taken Golden Salve by Equinox Botanicals, a sweet miracle from Ohio. As well as Avena Botanicals, Echinacea & Goldenseal salve, which can be helpful for infections and yeast overgrowth. Salves are particularly helpful when traveling if you don't want to carry a medicinal oil with you. They are far less messy and often last longer than oils.
Calm Magnesium packets - Humans tend to be rather deficient in Magnesium and a daily dose of these packets can really help. Magnesium can help with stress and ease muscle tension. Try adding one of these packets to a cup of hot water for a tasty beverage when dealing with constipation, lack of sleep or general stress.
Your perfect bitters blend - Finding the right bitters blend for you can be a total game changer. The first blend I ever tried was given to me when I was in the Roots program at the California School of Herbal Studies and I'm not exaggerating when I say that it changed my life. Bitter herbs stimulate your digestive system and help produce bile, therefore creating a nice environment for easier digestion. Experiment with herbs like Gentian Root, Yarrow, Orange Peel, Chamomile and Dandelion. Urban Moonshine makes a wonderful bitter spray that is ideal for travel.
Lip balm - Be mindful of the various climates you are traveling through - especially through the states! Lip balm may become your new BFFL while traveling due to its flexible nature. Find the right one and keep your precious pout hydrated and any other dry skin at bay. I'll apply chapstick to my chin, cheek, fingernails and nose if the situation calls for it. Don't be fooled by its typically phallic shape, chapstick is the perfect travel companion. Badger Peppermint Lip Balm is my favorite, but since it's hard to come by, I usually grab the basic Burt's Bee chapstick.
Umcka Cold Care packets - A homeopathic cold remedy. This is really simple to carry and add to hot water for a soothing drink when you have a cold or cough.
A Folding Knife - There's a cooler and more legitimate name for this type of knife and I just know it. This was extremely useful when harvesting plants, slicing cheese and feeling as though I could protect myself against the world with its tiny blade. Just make sure to check it in your suitcase if your're taking a plane somewhere.
Nettles- “When in doubt use nettles” - David Hoffman. I carried a Maine made nettle tincture this autumn and took it whenever I felt tired or menstruating. I was lucky enough to catch the very end of nettle season in Sweden so I didn't have to completely rely upon a tincture to gain the total nourishment of nettles. Grab a box of nettle tea bags before hand if that's more to your liking.
Natural Hand Sanitizer - The more common hand sanitizers are made with alcohol and other harmful ingredients. I used Clean Well and I like it a lot because it's made of thyme and smells wonderful. Plus, it doesn't leave my hands feeling dried out after applying.
Smith’s Minted Rose balm - Perfect for every inch of dry skin, not just lips. I've been inlove with this product since I discovered makeup at age 14 and I can't ever give it up.
Alkaseltzer cold tablets - Not exactly herbal but my mom sent this to me while I was abroad and I'm so grateful for this discovery. I came down with a wretched cold in Gothenburg and these tablets saved me from the drudgery of losing time with my family and blowing my nose every ten seconds.
Other helpful tips
Learn what herbs grow in your intended area of travel :: Save space in your traveling apothecary and educate yourself on what is growing around you. Ask a friendly local or go on a walk with a guidebook from home. Familiarize yourself with at least one herb in your area and designate some time with it. Always always ALWAYS be respectful of the land from which you harvest. Make sure there is an abundance of that one plant around you and take only what you need.
Tea Bags :: The beauty of traveling with tea bags instead of loose leaf tea, is the ease in taking your herbs while in transit.
Find your herb :: Don't have a lot of room or are short on funds? Pick one or two herbs that you are well acquainted with and toss that in your bag. Tincture, tea, salve or essential oil, having that one familiar plant friend with you can be so helpful if you ever find yourself sick, anxious or lonely.
Traveling Alter :: When I go somewhere I like to bring along a few personal trinkets that have special meaning for me. It's sort of like my ode to the importance of sacred space and sweet reminders of far away loved ones.
Cards :: Whether it be tarot, oracle or just a plain ol' deck of playing cards, it's nice to have something to direct your mind toward and pass the time. I bought my first deck of tarot cards when I was 19 and traveling around the east coast, sleeping on rooftops, church steps, stoops and the occasional train yard. I spent my last $20 on a classic Rider-Waite deck and they have traveled with me ever since; providing comfort and insight when needed.
Don't let money stand in your way :: Money is stressful. It can be a huge factor in preventing yourself from traveling, but it really doesn't have to be. I spent less money traveling through Europe than I ever do at home. I worked hard for months, spent very little then took off. WWOOFing is an incredible way to experience new lands and cultures. Work on a farm in exchange for room and board while meeting different people from all over the globe. I suggest finding a farm that has multiple WWOOFers at a time so you can get that community feeling.
Less is more :: Limit your wardrobe when packing - you will most likely end up wearing the same few things anyway. Stuff everything in compression bags to make more space and try to leave some room for the inevitable souvenirs you will gather as you move from place to place.
Remember that you are enough. Traveling can be rough, lonely and discouraging, but you have enough within you to set up a little home within yourself and make it through.