Here is a repost of the very popular article I did for the Huddersfield Examiner in 2012 on how to keep healthy on your holidays.
Top of herbalist Sue Salmon’s list of remedies to take on holiday is her old favourite, Echinacea, in convenient tablet form.
That’s because it can be used not just to treat an infection but also to help to prevent illness.
“If you’re flying and being exposed to recycled air there’s a risk of being infected by airborne pathogens,” she says. “But Echinacea is brilliant at supporting the immune system.”
The flowering herb works by making the body’s defence network of phagocytes – which envelop pathogens – more efficient. “There is evidence that it can help balance an immune system, which means its a good one for people with allergic symptoms like hayfever,” added Sue.
However, there are quite a few effective herbal remedies that are entirely free and readily available in gardens and hedgerows.
Take the commonly-found Plantain, for example. It grows just about everywhere and can be applied to an insect bite or nettle sting. Simply crush a few leaves and dab over the swelling. “It will soothe the area and is also rich in zinc, which promotes healing,” says Sue. “If you have indigestion you can chew on a leaf for relief, just make sure it’s clean.”
Even the humble garden Daisy is a source of healing.
“It is like the English Arnica,” says Sue. “It will help a bruise or sprain. Just crush a handful of the flowers and rub over the skin. It can even be used on cut skin.” Distilled Witch Hazel, available from pharmacies, is also healing and soothing and because of its astringent properties can help to stop bleeding from cuts and grazes.
And anyone fortunate enough to have an Aloe Vera in their house has a ready source of gel to apply to sunburn. Simply break off a leaf and spread the sap over the skin.
“Aloe Vera has anti-inflammatory properties and there is research going on looking into the way it helps irritable bowel symptoms,” said Sue.
With a BSc degree in phytotherapy (the medicinal use of plants), Sue has been practising for nearly a decade now, but has had a lifelong interest in natural alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs.
She suggests that holidaymakers pack themselves some Chamomile tea bags, which serve a number of purposes.
She said: “Holidays can be stressful and chamomile is relaxing. You can even give a weak infusion to a fractious child.
“It’s calming and promotes sleep and can be used to soothe an upset stomach. It used to be called Mother of the Gut because it is good for settling an irritated digestive system.”
If you fear beginning your journey with a bout of travel sickness, then chew on some crystallised Ginger or make yourself ginger tea by grating some of the fresh root into hot water and allowing it to infuse.
However, if the worst happens and you succumb to a tummy bug while on holiday, use slippery elm tablets to aid recovery.
“It is one of the old, traditional remedies and brilliant for settling an upset stomach,” says Sue.
“Once you’re past the stage of having to drink lots of water and use electrolytes, but everything still feels tender, then slippery elm will coat the digestive system, protecting it from irritants. It’s also a really good pro-biotic and will help the good bacteria in the gut to re-establish themselves.”
Lavender is another traditional flowering herb with several uses. Check to see if you have any Lavandula Angustifolia in your garden and if you have pick the flowers and bake them into biscuits for a relaxing treat or make an infusion with hot water and drink before bedtime.
The essential oil of lavender, which should never be taken internally but can be used neat on the skin, is perfect to take on holiday. Dabbed on to a pillow it can help with disturbed sleep and it has antidepressant properties.
“Unlike St John’s Wort, lavender can be used alongside other medication for depression and insomnia,” said Sue.
Last, but not least, Sue advises including a tube of Calendula cream in any holiday first aid kit.
She said: “It I was going to take just one ointment it would be Calendula (also known as the pot marigold) as it is a good all-round antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and wonderful for cuts and grazes.”
Because all herbs contain active compounds it’s important not to use them if you are on medication. Breast-feeding or pregnant women should also exercise caution when taking herbal medicines.