The Traveling Herbal Apothecary

/, Sarah Wu/The Traveling Herbal Apothecary

The Traveling Herbal Apothecary

I am always that girl who is traveling with way too much stuff. Weighing and re-weighing, moving my stuff around from bag to bag just so I don’t have to be THAT GIRL pulling her shit out at the airport to avoid paying overweight fees… 

Always prepared, with my stuff neatly folded in pretty little bags so I can always find my shirts, rompers, socks, undies, crop tops, Teeki shorts, and accessories. Not forgetting my altar, tarot and animal medicine cards, yoga mat, office supplies and electronics, one book and one magazine (I have an iPad for the 100+ books in my Kindle app, that one piece of Apple genius has saved my back countless times), watercolors, multiple kinds of body massagers from a tennis ball and Gua Sha to a collapsible Theracane, travel speaker, jewelry box, cosmetics and body care, supplements and can’t live without foods like my Yerba  Matè and bulk daily herbal blend, some dank Numi Earl Grey tea, organic-direct trade-tree-to-bar-dark chocolate grown by fairies and watered with unicorn pee, nuts and ghee…

I have 6 pairs of shoes and three hats, a raincoat, a tough denim vest, scarf, a hammock and two sarongs. Anti-single use plastic, you will never catch me buying a bottled beverage, so included are bamboo cutlery, a proper Japanese fruit knife, a metal straw, two cloth napkins, a 20 oz Kleen Kanteen for cold water, a 64 oz Kleen Kanteen thermos for hot water that weighs like 2lbs empty, an insulated travel mug, a matè cup and bombilla, and cloth shopping bags. I’m jungle-beach-mountain-city ready for hiking adventures, botanizing, tanning my bum and hipstering it up at elixir bars and art shows.

I’m not so much a minimalist, but I can fit everything into large hardshell suitcase, a small carryon hardshell suitcase, a day pack backpack and purse, substitute purse for one of two hip belts depending on outfit. I’ve never been one of those oversized looking like I’m gonna fall over if I lean the wrong way backpacker type, eff that, I’m way too stylie and vain, and it’s ok to note my hint of snark and snobbery, I am just not that girl… and no judgement but, you also won’t catch me in a hostel unless it has one of those hip co-working spaces and I can have the upgraded private with my own bathroom. Everything I can lift and move with relative ease, at least in and out of a car, as you also won’t catch me on the bus unless I absolutely have to. I am a rent-a-car-for-total-freedom or call a Lyft lady, and I will always take a train  as long as I don”t have to carry my stuff up more than 5 steps. I am not a kid anymore after all… I need certain luxuries, while not having to be super luxurious, I am just fine with voicing and attaining my needs. I am a Taurus Moon and for my emotional sanity and physical bliss, I cherish my material comforts. Often I wish I had a Sherpa, but that would just make me feel guilty.

aaand… I can’t stand the thought of not having everything I need and I just don’t want to have to buy more stuff that I already have! I will always buy organic food, local honey and bee pollen wherever I go because I do need those things and if I’m coming from NYC expect another 6lbs of bagels because there is nothing like breaking those out for all to share! Everyone is gluten free until you put a toasted Pumpernickel Everything Bagel on the table!

Among my plethora of stuff, I also travel with a working Apothecary. I need the Apothecary because I am an herbalist. I can’t possibly live without my Materia Medica. It’s like an extension of myself, just like my pinky nails and teeth. And while I always try to learn the local bioregion, promptly going for a botanical walk in any new place as well as deeply researching available health food stores and farmers markets, I have to know I can access my medicines, either for myself or for anyone around me who may need some care.

Being a traveling herbalist isn’t light; glass bottles filled with fluid carry some weight, risk loss, questions by TSA and adds easily another 8-12 lbs in your luggage allowance of 50. But it’s the price one pays for not only a lifestyle but a beloved profession and community service.

Let’s go through my most minimalist traveling Materia Medica, and why I chose to bring all this with me where ever I may go.

Tinctures are concentrated alcohol extracts of plants. The benefit is flexibility with dosage and less bulk in travel. All of the dry and fresh plant tinctures I make are done in 30% rum, not super strong but effective, some I buy from reputable companies and from friends I trust. 

  • Breathe Easy with Ma Huang, Lobelia, Wild Lettuce and Yerba Santa: I love this formula for asthma and chest congestion. Ma Huang is illegal in the United States so you have to know someone who knows someone who knows how to score it, it is by far my favorite bronchial dilator. Lobelia effectively relieves asthma, Wild Lettuce is awesome for bronchial spasm especially when someone can’t catch a breath and Yerba Santa helps with any excessive mucus that may be blocking airways.
  • Peppermint Spirits is a mix of Peppermint tincture, Honey and Peppermint Essential Oil, this formula is perfect for nausea and indigestion.
  • Nerves and Pain Relief with Skullcap, Lemon Balm, Chamomile and Meadowsweet: Four of my favorite herbs that I take daily, Skullcap is the best for nerve pain, neck pain and tension headaches. Lemon Balm takes the edge off of nerve pain and uplifts mood and Chamomile is my favorite nerve tonic. Containing Salicylic Acid, Meadowsweet is an effective pain reliever and anti inflammatory. Perfect for sore travel shoulders from carrying too much or helping someone relax after stressful travel days. It’s also wonderful for menstrual cramps and irritability.
  • Motherwort, used in drop doses,  is my favorite for anxiety and nervousness. 
  • Echinacea, never leave home without it. Effective for insect and animal bites and to kick out respiratory infections or at least shorten their duration. 
  • Anis de Monte, a lovely digestive carminative.
  • Chaparro Amargosa, a Berberine containing bitter antibiotic. 
  • Propolis, is wonderful for sore throats, red gums and topically for scrapes and shallow cuts.
  • Osha, a superb respiratory antibiotic, it clears airways and prevents infection from deepening into the lungs. 
  • Red Root, an antibacterial lymphatic, is my favorite to combine with Echinacea for swollen throat and associated infections.
  • Targua, topically is an antibiotic wound dressing and internally it will stop up diarrea.
  • Antimicrobial Bitters with Jack Ass Bitters, Goldenseal, Berberis and Chaparro Amargosa, is always necessary if your traveling in countries with sketchy water supply or delicious street food. This antibacterial and anti-parasitic formula can be taken in low doses to stimulate the digestive juices and in high doses for food poisoning, bacterial infections (wherever in the body) and bacterial diarrhea.
  • Jamaican Dogwood, a fantastic pain reliever.
  • Yerba Mora, topically for skin eruptions, ulcers, fungal infections and bug bites. Also effective for acne.
  • Heart Ease with Lemon Balm, Rose Glycerite and Hawthorn, for those times you feel lonely and sad. 

Oil Extracts are similar to tinctures but they leak.

  • Care By Design CBD 18:1 and 1:1: I always want CBD available, problem is cost per bottle, but the effect is worth it. The 18:1 is for general pain and the 1:1 is when you need a little buzz.

Dry Herbs can get you called out of line so make sure they are well labeled, powdered and don’t have any seeds or flowers. Some countries and airports are more lenient, but it’s always good to be prepared with botanical names and a good story. Though whenever I am carrying questionable materials my magic mantra “soy invisible, soy invisible” seems to work 90% of the time! 

  • Licorice Root, my favorite for dry throat with a dry rattling cough that wants to be productive.
  • Kava Root Powder, to take the edge off and my favorite muscle relaxer.
  • Kratom leaf, for those times when you want to focus on work and have to sit in front of the computer all day, digital nomading is a real job now after all. It’s also nice for those of us who don’t like to drink alcohol, want to dance and be social, go to bed easily and wake up perky. I actually label this something different because it’s illegal in many countries or under review.
  • Marshmallow Root, excellent for dry coughs and constipation
  • Osha Root, to protect the respiratory tract and fight off all the travel bugs.
  • Stick of Palo Santo, to ground and create sweet vibes.
  • White Sage Leaves, to purify the air and cleanse the space of negative vibes.
    AKA hippie shower just add a few drops of  essential oil.

Syrup and Lozenges, the latter is the easiest to throw in any bag and takes up little space, while the former, the amount I carry is only good for three or four adult doses.

  • Herbal Cough Syrup, for hacking coughs and to open air passageways
  • Elderberry Zinc lozenges, for helping to fortify the immune system and prevent respiratory infections.
  • Echinacea Citrus Lozenges, to open airways and soothe a sore throat.
  • Ricola Lozenges, mentholated for sinus congestion and sore throat. 

Liniment/Patches, always a necessity as aches and pains can slow you down, and long flights make you stiff. Sometimes you need someone to help you apply, especially between the shoulders. 

  • Mentholated Thai Hit remedy, for painful muscles and to open airways in both sinuses and lungs.
  • Tiger Balm Patches, for tight muscles, these can be left on for hours.

Salve/Creams are essential for wound care and irritated skin conditions. I usually transfer into small travel containers. The only time I condone violence is to smack someone’s hands away when they are itching bug bites. Friends don’t let Friends scratch. Come home with a sweet tan and toned legs, not scars and a staph infection!

  • Florasone Homeopathic anti-itch cream, for bug bites and rashes.
  • Goldensalve, Golden Seal based salve for abrasions and surface skin infections, as well as a nice topical anti fungal.
  • Rosey Balmer CBD Salve, my favorite for muscle pain.
  • Weleda Skin Food cream, for dry, irritated skin.

Homeopathic remedies are super effective and light weight. While not herbal medicine, and a practice for which my scope of understanding is limited, there are a few remedies I always carry.  

  • Cocculus indicus, the best for motion sickness! Its working before the little sugar pills are even dissolved. 
  • Arnica montana, for soft tissue injuries like bruises, twisted and overworked joints. 

Essential Oils are concentrated little bottles full of super powers. A little goes so far, and I actually travel with more than what’s on this list but they serve a more ritualistic function and live in my altar bag. These are the medicinal ones I never leave home without.

  • Tea Tree, a great anti-fungal and anti itch that can fit most be applied directly.
  • Lavender, for spasms, insomnia and nervousness, an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, this is one of my panaceas.
  • Dr. Nick’s Essential Oil Wizardry Psychic Defense with Lavender, Peppermint and Rosemary, for all the empaths who take in other peoples shit.

Pharmaceuticals play a very important role, they work rapidly and are easily accessible. Don’t be afraid to integrate and if your somewhere you can but antibiotics cheaply over-the-counter, I would suggest buying a Z Pack three day antibiotic, just in case.

  • Benadryl (Diphenhydramine), because this could save someone’s life! For allergies and bee stings.
  • Ibuprofen, an effective rapid pain reliever and anti-inflammatory for those fevers you can’t get down.
  • Acetaminophen, same same but different, this one is a bit easier on the stomach than Ibuprofen. It’s really a personal choice.
  • Symbicort rapid relief inhaler, when the herbs don’t work, unlike Salbutamol this will not make the heart race.

Mineral and Vitamins: I have some favorite white and black powders that I use in conjunction with herbs and sometimes stand-alone. They are easily purchased in any pharmacy and a little goes a long way.

  • Activated Charcoal caps, for food poisoning or that sketchy water you accidentally drank. 
  • Baking Soda, an anti-inflammatory and drawing agent, excellent for bug bites and burns.
  • Bentonite Clay, a drawing agent for splinters, bug bites, acne and can be used internally like Activated Charcoal. 
  • Boric Acid, for yeast infections, intravaginally, mix with a bit of oil, a few drops of the Antimicrobial Bitters and Tea Tree.
  • EmergenC, for a hit of sugar and 1000mg of Vitamin C.
  • Zinc powder dries wounds and can be made into a sunblock with coconut oil for a bright white nose.

Disinfectants are critical to ethical practices. Don’t be the dirt bag who touches someone’s wounds with gross hands, you do all us herbalists, traditional and alternative healers a disservice.

  • Iodine, for cleaning wounds, dilute appropriately.
  • Alcohol, for cleaning hands and instruments. I always have mine in a spray bottle.
  • Alcohol pads, easy to pack, unfortunately single use.

Wound Care is a part of herbalism. Blood, mucus, scabs, pus, poop, flakes, it’s a part of the job. It’s not a practice for the squeamish. 

  • Various bandaids, included for knuckles, butterflies, large and small standard water proof.
  • Surgical Sutures, just in case.
  • Vet Wrap, sticks to itself to hold on wound dressing as well as serving as a supportive bandage for joints.
  • Micropore Tape, to wrap up wound dressing with no infection present.
  • Multipurpose Cloth, can be used to strain herbs, wrap a wound or create a sling.
  • Rubber Gloves, because you don’t want anyone’s fluids on you, unless you consensually do.

Cotton, the touch, the feel, it really is the fiber of our lives… and I alway buy organic. It’s the most heavily sprayed crop in the world, so use it with respect and honor the plant by not using the kind sprayed with neurotoxic chemicals. 

  • “Qtips”, to swab stuff and apply salves.
  • Cotton Balls, to sop up stuff and apply liquids.
  • Tampons, because they are highly absorbent and someone always forgets to pack their own. 

Tools are necessary for effective treatment, always sanitize before and after with alcohol.

  • Headlamp, to see in the night as well as in people’s throats and ears.
  • Needle Nose Tweezers, they best for getting splinters out or lancing boils.
  • Multipurpose fine point scissors, to cut stuff.
  • Multipurpose gardening scissors, to harvest plants with.

Miscellaneous: All the seemly random things that come in very handy. Herbalists are you-never-know type folks after all.

  • Multipurpose Contact Solution, because it is sterile and can be used in the eyes, nose, mouth and to clean a wound.
  • Earplugs, you never know when there may be too many dogs barking or some horrible music playing.
  • Thermometer, to always know the severity of an infection.
  • Lighter, to light stuff on fire, as well as to disinfect in case there isn’t anything else to use.
  • AAA batteries, replacement for the headlamp
  • Sewing thread and needle, to sew stuff
  • Pen, to write stuff 
  • Two sided sharpie marker, same same but different

You may notice a trend, a lot of remedies for wounds, digestive upset, nerves and respiratory infections. With travel, think acute care, you won’t be treating chronic issues, only the possible exacerbation of a chronic illness. Be ready to give stuff away, your med kit should definitely be lighter or empty by the time you get home. It’s the ultimate karma box, be in service and watch the rewards of smiles and gratitude. For those who feel this is too much or too advanced, I could minimize this list. If I only say had a cosmetic bag to fill, I would have Lavender EO, Echinacea, Rosey Balmer, Skin Food, Peppermint Spirits, the Antimicrobial blend, Benedryl, Qtips, tampons and bandaids. All the herbs I work with may not be available to you, so look at the tissue states they effect and find your local or familiar favorite analogs. There are over 35,000 known medicinal plants after all! 

Happy trails healers! 

By |2018-08-14T00:54:07+00:00August 7th, 2018|HERBALISM, Sarah Wu|0 Comments

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