Top Family Holiday Health Advice From An Expert Medical Herbalist

There’s nothing worse than arriving for your much-anticipated family holiday, only to have it ruined by illness. Being ill when you’re abroad is no fun, but there’s lots of inexpensive things you can do to take care of your family both before you go, and whilst you’re away. 

Here’s my best advice for good value, natural herbal remedies that you can take with you to look after the family for the whole holiday. You can find links to more information at the bottom of this article for each remedy described.

During the flight

It’s quite common to get cold-like symptoms during flights, largely due to the way air is circulated around the cabin. Both Echinacea tincture and Elderberry syrup have been shown to help protect against this, so taking doses twice daily starting a week before your flight will help if you are particularly prone to this.

Applying a small amount of Calendula ointment or balm to your lips and just inside your nostrils will make you feel more comfortable in the dry air. Also make sure you drink plenty of water (around 1 litre every 4 hours for adults).

Jetlag

It’s difficult to get a complete fix for jet lag, but there are a number of things you can do to minimise the effects. Regular long haul travellers often find it helpful to take Vitamin B complex, and pack a portable light box with them. The light box can help the body adjust into the new time zones more quickly by exposing the pineal gland in the brain (produces hormones that regulate sleep) to simulated daylight.

Adaptogenic herbs (those that help the body to cope with stresses of any kind) help to minimise the impact of stress upon the body, and since both long haul travel and jet lag are both stresses, it’s a good idea to take one before, during and after your flight. The most well known one is Panax Ginseng, which is available as tablets from reputable shops.

Insect bites and stings

Have you ever noticed that some people are like a 24 hour all-you-can-eat buffet for mosquitoes, and others get away without a single bite? Mosquitoes are attracted to certain smells which other humans don’t notice. When our diet has a high sugar intake, we smell delightful to mosquitoes, so coming completely off sugar for 2 weeks before you go away, and taking a daily Brewers Yeast tablet will make you one of those people that don’t get bitten.

This is much easier for adults than children, but try to cut down their sugar intake as much as possible, and use a chewable multivitamin-mineral if they don’t usually take one. Herbal insect repellent sprays are available from health food shops and reputable online stores like the Natural Dispensary.

What to do if you get bitten

If you do get bitten, apply neat Echinacea tincture to the bite straightaway. Echinacea calms the inflammation and acts as a local anaesthetic.

Later on, Aloe vera gel will help soothe the itching, but if you can’t get hold of any, grated cucumber, or cucumber juice will work well too. If you have any reason to suspect infection, get medical help straightaway.

Bee and wasp stings

Bee stings need to be swiped out by a fingernail or credit card if they’re left in the skin. Don’t pinch it with tweezers as it will empty more venom into the skin, but do apply fresh onion juice, or a small slice of onion to the site as soon as you can. 

Sounds strange but an onion contains an active ingredient that breaks down the chemicals responsible for inflammation so the pain goes away almost instantly.

Wasp stings respond well to vinegar being applied to the site straight away, but Echinacea will always help if you can’t get hold of any of the others. Taking regular doses of Vitamin C helps to calm the itching and irritation, so for an adult, 1g every 3-4 hours.

For children, give the maximum dose suggested on the label, and increase slowly from there if you need to, spreading doses evenly throughout the day.

Vitamin C does its work and makes its way out of the body within 5 hours, so like Echinacea, taking it little and often is key. Small, regular drinks of fresh orange juice will also help if you can’t get to any tablets, and dilute them slightly with water if you need to.

Lyme Disease

It might sound scary but Lyme disease in children is on the increase so, it’s good to be aware of how to prevent and look out for Lyme infection and if you’re planning high risk activities like hiking, it’s a good idea to go prepared. Although ticks are still the main carriers, Lyme Disease can now be spread by any biting insect. If you’re out walking in long grass, make sure your legs and feet are well covered, with trousers tucked into socks.

When you get back to your accommodation, do a thorough check of your skin with a magnifier (baby ticks are about the size of a pin head) and remove any ticks with a tick remover, checking again with a magnifier that it’s been removed completely. Apply neat Echinacea tincture to the site afterwards, and take small, regular internal doses too. Get urgent medical help if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Generally feeling unwell with fatigue and/or sickness.
  • Headaches
  • Joint pains
  • Fever
  • Rashes – especially a ‘bulls eye rash’ 
  • Swollen lymph glands (under the chin or in the neck, armpits or groin)

These symptoms can easily be mistaken for other illnesses, so make it clear to the healthcare practitioner that you suspect Lyme Disease as it’s important to start on the right antibiotic as soon as possible. Herbal medicine can be very helpful in Lyme Disease infection alongside mainstream treatment, so contact your Medical Herbalist for advice.

Sunburn

If all the other factors are in place, our skin naturally creates Vitamin D when exposed to strong sunlight, and Vitamin D in turn helps to protect the skin from sun damage. Before the industrial revolution, we would have spent most of our time outside, with our skin exposed to slowly increasing light levels during spring and declining over autumn.

The problem is now that we tend to spend most of our time indoors before getting on a plane somewhere warm and suddenly exposing our skin to high levels of UV radiation. If you can spend some time slowly increasing the time you spend in the sunshine before you go away, do. If not, take a daily Vitamin D supplement in the weeks leading up to your holiday, get yourself into the shade at regular intervals, and use a natural sunscreen.

Whilst sunscreens may help to protect our skin from burning, they only appear to be protective against some kinds of skin cancer. I’d recommend using a screen made from natural ingredients wherever possible, but please be aware that taking Vitamin D and using sunscreens doesn’t make it safe to spend long periods of time in the sun. Gradual exposure is key.

If you do get burnt, Aloe vera gel, preferably kept in the fridge is one of the best natural remedies you can use. Take a tube with you, but in some holiday destinations it grows in abundance and the leaves are sold in local markets. To take it from a fresh leaf, slit it longways with a knife, and scrape the gel out. It will liquefy very quickly, so apply it to all the affected areas and leave it on, keeping any left over in the fridge.

Make sure you wash your hands afterwards as the latex it contains is bitter and quite laxative if you get it in your mouth! Aloe vera gel is used as a sunscreen by many and is reputed to give protection to around factor 15, but as there’s no evidence it shouldn’t be used instead of a tested natural sunscreen unless you have no alternative.

Don’t forget to protect your eyes by always wearing sunglasses when you’re outside.

Tummy Bugs

We’ve known for a while that taking a good quality probiotic can significantly strengthen immunity and alleviate the symptoms of tummy bugs. More recently one study has found that a mixture of pro and prebiotics (known as a symbiotic) is even more effective for treating acute diarrhoea in children.

Prebiotics act as a kind of food for the probiotic bacteria, helping to spread and nourish it as it reaches the intestines. Taking a daily probiotic, and eating probiotic foods is a good idea anyway, but all the more important when you’re going away, and they most don’t need to be kept refrigerated now.

Use a specific children’s probiotic for children if possible, and preferably one that contains a strain of Saccharomyces (this will be on the label) which his particulalry effective. Probiotic foods you could use whilst away include plain live yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut or kimchi, miso, or kombucha.

Most Medical Herbalists will be able to prescribe and personalise a herbal travel mix aimed at making the body more robust against infections of all kinds. It can also be used externally to clean wounds and bathe insect bites. I’ve used it myself many times in the past and can highly recommend it (despite the taste!), particularly if you’re travelling to high risk areas.

If your family contract a more serious illness, obviously keep a close eye on little ones & older people and get medical help if you’re worried. Otherwise, make sure they rest and sip plenty of fluids. Chamomile, Peppermint or Ginger tea are all soothing to the digestion. If you need a rehydration mix and can’t easily get to one, coconut water or flat full sugar cola are effective.

Herbal Holiday Health Kit - 9 Must Haves

Find below my ultimate herbal holiday health kit list to pick and mix before you go on holiday. For each remedy, I have linked to a reputable source to grab it in a convenient travel size so it fits in your luggage. On the whole, most items are solids, the liquids are all fine to be taken as part of your luggage and are under 100ml if you want them in your hand luggage.

! Please be aware that taking dried Ginseng  (even in capsules) and dried tea may be a problem on long haul flights to areas such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada Etc Please check before you go!

  1. If you’re travelling to a high-risk part of the world, I recommend a prescription of travel mix which is personalised and prescribed by a medical herbalist. This mix is great for mosquito bites, upset stomachs and infections whilst abroad.
  2. Probiotics – choose ones that don’t need to be kept in the fridge and start them at least a week before going
  3. Natural sunscreen, and sunglasses
  4. Aloe vera gel – essential for sunburn
  5. Vitamin D and a good antioxidant complex to help protect your skin.
  6. Panax Ginseng and B complex if you’re going long haul.
  7. Chamomile tea bags – a great natural antihistamine, and anti-inflammatory for sore skin. I find that little ones can feel a little unsettled when away from home, so some Chamomile tea in a bottle or their bath water can help them to relax. They’re likely to be available wherever you’re travelling to, but check the rules about taking dried herbs to your destination before packing them.
  8. Echinacea tincture – take a small bottle to help protect against infection whilst you’re travelling, and in case you’re bitten by mosquitoes.
  9. Calendula ointment – is a perfect for any scratches, grazes and rashes. It can also be used as a lip balm and applied inside the nostrils before a flight. Neal’s Yard’s ‘Bee Lovely Beautiful Lips’ is a perfect travel sized version, with added essential oils.

If you have any questions about anything in this article, need help or want to learn more, you can contact me with the links in my bio below.

Hannah 🙂 

p.s.

You can visit the website below and enter your post code to find your nearest medical herbalist practitioner to get more professional help & advice.

Hannah Charman
Hannah Charman

Hannah is a mum, keen traveller and experienced Medical Herbalist based in rural Shropshire. She specialises in helping those with chronic illness following her own experience with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Hannah runs two herbal medicine clinics and online practice in the UK.

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