SOMETIMES IT’S THE local water supply. Often it’s the result of a chatty all night smoking/drinking binge. Or it could be just one too many dairy or baked treats, coffee, anxiety or simply failing to properly hydrate ourselves.
Whatever the cause, gastrointestinal upset including heartburn, gas, cramps, headache, nausea and sluggishness are always a part of traveling. In my experiences I have come across several widely available herbal alternatives to antacids and alka seltzer which can be used to negate these effects, making you and your accomplices happy.
A small kit will only add ounces to your bag. Consider some of the following:
Pepermint (Mentha x spicata) is native to Europe and is an excellent digestive antispasmodic (relaxant) soothing the nerves upon scent relieving nausea and freshening the breath.
In lieu of proper bags, an infusion of one ounce herb to eight or so ounces of boiled water can be steeped in just a few minutes. The Mint (Lamiaceae) Family in general contains many plants good for the innards (Oregano, Thyme, Sage, etc.).
Native to southern Europe and W. Asia, Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is often added to many herbal tea mixtures in the form of powdered root to add sweetness and body to the infusion.
Often it is available whole in twig-like root stalks that can be gnawed on for the hell of it with pretty girls or boiled in water for fifteen or so minutes to create a tea that soothes heartburn and relieves gas.
Chopped, it can be infused in a wire mesh steeper on a cup by cup basis in half the time. Licorice mixes well with Peppermint.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is native to Asia and familiar as the gnarled golden roots in produce sections of grocery stores everywhere. I used to take home a half a kilo of crystallized ginger per week when I sold supplements at a health foods store in Cincinnati and would eat ten to twenty chunks at a time, perhaps an acquired taste.
An icy hot tea can be decocted (boiled) from chopped, fresh root in about twenty minutes and works wonders for nausea and motion sickness. Drying it first is ideal, but far more time consuming.
I became wise to the delights of Coca (Erythroxylum coca) herb several years back on a trip to Peru. Immediately out of the airport in Cusco, several women approached with two to three ounce baggies of dried leaf.
Although traditionally chewed fresh with a bit of slaked lime (Calcium hydroxide) to enhance absorption, I utilized it in hot tea form drinking several cups a day, offsetting the worst and preventing rough Pisco hangovers all the while staying hydrated. Coca has a mild “planty” taste and is just fine at room temperature. It is super effective in treating he debilitating headaches and nausea of altitude sickness.
While those are my favorites, several more options remain available. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) with it’s light apple scent, is great as an all around soothing tea.
Individual Clove buds (Syzigium aromaticum) can be worked inside the mouth as a breath freshener and tooth ache reliever or delivered as an infusion for the innards.
Anise (Pimpinella anisum), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and Caraway seed (Carum carvi) are all of the same botanical family (Apiaceae) used in many gin, liquor and baking recipes (And no, copious amounts of Raki, Ouzo or Absinthe will not endear your belly to you further). All have tastes reminiscent of Licorice with broad digestive benefits attainable via chewing or steeping the crushed seeds.
Or consider the following plants to relieve indigestion…. Bananas (Musa sp.[technically the largest herbaceous plant]) replenish potassium electrolytes after a bout of diarrhea and vomiting.
Pineapple (Ananas comosus) provides the highly effective protein-digesting enzyme bromelain which contributes to calm stomachs and friendlier smelling dorm rooms.
Where / How to Find Herbs / Herbal Supplements
Herbal Supplements can be purchased (regulated by the FDA in the United States and Commission E in Germany) in bulk or, tablet, capsule and tincture form, although absorption rates will differ with the later three.
Due to pretty packaging and processing they tend to be more expensive and harder to find in whatever godforsaken (Edenesque) hell hole you may find yourself, therefore I don’t recommend them.
What I do recommend is determining your degree of allergy and potential side effects with whatever prescription medications you might be taking then hitting up the local grocer. Keep in mind several cups of tea are often needed to feel the full medicinal effects, and hot water increases absorption.
Also, don’t neglect your sense of smell, which will capture the stray volatiles as you gulp away. I have found that a cup or two with meals and a couple hours before or after works best as a preventative with the strength of my doses varying with mood, hunger or availability.
Honey is an excellent additive for it’s sweetening, antimicrobial and throat soothing effects. Don’t forget the cold showers, steam baths, ambient music, companionship or complete silence as compliments to your need to feel better.
And next time you find yourself in a far off market perusing bins and bushels of colorful and fragrant herbs, don’t hesitate to haggle a purchase, before the party starts.
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Mike Groth is always on the verge of going somewhere else even though he has no idea where that might be. In 2002 he earned a B.S. in Geography and Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Laughter, love, cooking and dancing seem to be all he cares about lately.