From Amazonian parasites, to Zanzibari malaise, I’ve experienced my fair share of sickness abroad. I consider myself lucky compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard, but travel can take a serious toll on your energy and health.
I always travel with a full supply of herbal medicines and tinctures to keep my energy up, my body healthy, and mind happy while on the rough and dusty road.
I’ve personally researched, tested, and hand-selected this list of the most effective and useful plants and natural products that will keep you in an optimal state of health during your travels.
After years of experimentation and thought, I’ve finally created this resource of essential herbs, products, and medicines that no traveler should leave home without. Enjoy, and be well!
Transparency: Click on any of the pictures or names of herbs, and you will be taken to Amazon.com, where you can buy these products directly. This is the first article I’ve published with links to products for sale, all of which I think are amazing!
If you feel like these herbs will help in your travels abroad or in life at home, and choose to by them through these links, I will get a small commission, enabling me to continue doing what I love (this)! My core intention in this article is to help people stay healthy and strong using natural medicine, something I care very much about.
Before you read on: Don’t wait until its too late. Start building your immunity by taking the adaptogens listed below, and take probiotics for resilient digestive health. Drink lots of clean water, and listen to your body, and be prepared for what to expect in the areas you might visit.
Many people quickly turn to antibiotics for a cure, which can often lead to even more health complications down the line. I’ve rarely chosen to use antibiotics, except when dealing with hardcore intestinal parasites. I highly discourage their use whenever possible.
Also, I am not a doctor, and these suggestions are simply my opinion, based on personal experience. They are in no way meant to diagnose or treat serious medical issues, in which case you should definitely see a doctor.
Ashwagandha: This ancient ayurvedic herb and adaptogen (see glossary below,) is known to have around 80 alkaloids -active chemicals- within it. Its uses are many, but its primary application is for dealing with stress and lowering cortisol levels (see glossary). I generally use Ashwagandha at the end of a very long day, after a long bus ride, a serious trek, or navigating a hectic street market. This herb is all about deep relaxation on the cellular level, and a secret ingredient to getting the best sleep ever!
Schisandra: A full-power red berry packed with medicinal goodness! In my opinion one of the most amazing plants of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), shisandra is a potent adaptogen, used to help the body adjust to stress by acting as a subtle stimulant. It is also full of antioxidants, is antiviral, and immunogenic (builds your immune system). If you need to gear up for an action-packed day, or just need that next level of alertness, schisandra is essential. I take it every day! Recommended in the morning.
Eleuthero: The “original adaptogen,” eleuthero, also known as “Siberian Ginseng,” has been used traditionally in parts of Russia and China for millennia. This power-plant gives you a foundation of stamina & energy. It is anti-inflammatory, helps with memory, and has shown anti-depressant qualities in some studies with mice. Do not take for more than 3 months at a time. Recommended in the morning, together with other energizing herbs.
Rhodiola: Similar to schizandra and eleuthero, rhodiola is an adaptogenic plant used as an adrenal tonic, and in TCM. It’s full of antioxidants and other helpful phytochemicals (see glossary). If you’ve been going on little sleep, this plant can really help you make it through. Rhodiola has very strong and fiery energy, so don’t overdo it. It also is said to help oxygenate the blood. Use sparingly. Recommended in the morning.
Reishi/Medicinal Mushroom Blends: I can’t say enough about medicinal mushrooms, especially Reishi. Known as the “elixer of immortality” in TCM, and often regarded as the king of medicinal mushrooms, Reishi is a deep and powerful medicine. Reishi and medicinal mushroom blends can provide a massive boost to the immune system, and also has potent anti-cancer qualities. I highly recommend mycologist Paul Stamets’ brand, Host Defence. This is one medicine I never leave home without. Can be taken any time.
Cat’s Claw: Also called una de gato in its native Latin America, this Amazonian super-plant is deeply immunogenic. Some traditional Amazonian cultures believe that Cat’s Claw can help bring one’s soul back into one’s body after a severe sickness. It is best used as a preventative, to seriously fortify your immune system, and has anti-cancer properties. Can be taken any time.
Wormwood/Black Walnut: A serious “power couple,” wormwood and black walnut are awesome for anti-parasitic and digestive support. These hard-core plants can help knock out and prevent intestinal parasites in the beginning stages, and promote healthy gut flora. This particular blend also has a few extra plants in it that make it a well-rounded medicine. Best taken at onset of symptoms or as a preventative.
Artemesia Annua: Also called “Sweet Wormwood,” “Sweet Annie,” or “Qing Hao” in TCM, this particular species of wormwood is known for its anti-malaria properties. Many pharmaceutical malaria medications are made from high-potency extractions of this plant. Sweet wormwood is also a generally good digestive herb, and can be taken over a long period of time if you plan to travel in areas prone to malaria.
He Shou Wu: A famous herb in TCM, He Shou Wu, traditionally, is considered to support one’s vital life force, and also an an anti-aging tonic. It is an herb traditionally used for longevity and youthfulness, and works primarily as a kidney tonic, helping the body maintain strength. Apparently it is also known for preventing grey hair. Recommended in the morning.
Oregano Oil: Incredibly versatile, antiseptic, and antibacterial, Oregano oil can be used both internally and externally. It can be applied to cuts to prevent infection, and taken internally to help the digestive system, and kill any harmful bacteria. Be careful not to use too much, as it is very potent and can dry the skin.
Kava: I LOVE THIS PLANT! This relaxing root has been traditional used in the South Pacific for hundreds of years for its calming, pleasant effects. Kava can be used as a great sleep-aid and relaxation tool to help you get that full night’s sleep, or to sink into a mellow mood for a long bus or plane ride. I’ve always found a use for this sacred plant. Kava is like nature’s Valium. Recommended at night, or prior to sleep.
Spirulina: Not an herb, but a nutritionally-dense superfood (see glossary)! Spirulina is a potent green algae that is packed full of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and protein. Very often, travel is not conducive for a healthy diet. Green and raw foods are in painfully short supply in many parts of the world, and also a potential health risk. Mixing this very potent (start slow!) powder into fresh juice in the morning can do so much to help you maintain a solid foundation of health.
Probiotics: Also not an herb, but a collection of beneficial gut-flora bacteria that help with digestion and elimination. My most recent trip through East Africa, I started taking Prescript-Assist probiotics the first day, and have had ZERO digestive issues. These probiotics are “stable,” meaning they do not require refrigeration, unlike most store-bought brands. Essential for maintaining good digestive health abroad. Well worth the investment!
Tea Tree Oil: All-purpose anti-septic, tea tree oil lives in my dop kit. Regularly apply to any open wound/skin problem to prevent infection. Not a surefire way to prevent infection, but definitely an essential in my travel arsenal.
Melatonin: A naturally-based sleep supplement that can be used to get a solid night’s rest. Should only be taken in small doses (2.5mg,) and not every night. Can sometimes result in a groggy morning experience, but when you need it, that good night’s sleep is priceless.
Grapefruit Seed Extract: There’s a lot of conflicting information out about Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) these days. Some people swear by it, some people despise it. Often used by travelers as an anti-parasitic by dropping 3-5 drops in water (it tastes awful.) Recently I’ve been told by some holistic-health professionals that GSE is a chemically-based pharmaceutical product which is not actually “natural” at all. While GSE has definitely helped me in the past, the jury is still out on this one.