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Natural travel medicines

How common household ingredients can be used to treat common illnesses.   2013-11-11

Perhaps you have saved all year to take your dream holiday in some exotic destination. You have studied the pictures online and read all the travel information for your destination, maybe even learning some useful phrases in the local language. Your work colleagues and friends cast you envious glances as you say your goodbyes. Weight restrictions on the airline prevent you from taking a large first aid kit but you feel that you are strong and healthy so it should be fine. Forty-eight hours later however, you are scratching those itchy rashes, feeling a familiar scratching in your throat or lying on a hot uncomfortable bed groaning from stomach pains and experiencing a bout of vomiting and diarrhoea.

If don’t have a chemist close by or you simply prefer the ‘natural alternative’ we bring you remedies that you can find in any supermarket.


Let us start with stomach upsets, the most common health problem for tourists, which may be relatively mild or develop into the much hated Traveller’s Diarrhoea. The latter is defined as "three or more loose stools in 24 hours with or without at least one symptom of cramps, nausea, fever or vomiting". The milder cases are usually caused by the tourist trying out new foods which are alien to their gut e.g. certain spices may act as irritants. The more serious difficulties usually involve drinking or eating fluids/foods contaminated by a pathogen such as bacteria, parasites or viruses. Traveller’s Diarrhoea is most likely to affect people going from industrialised areas to developing areas and is common in visitors to Latin America, Africa and Southern Asia. For mild difficulties ginger is a great natural stomach settler and is available in many countries. Just chewing on it raw or steeping a lump of it in hot water will provide relief.

Salt, sugar & water

When struck by a dose of traveller’s diarrhoea keeping hydrated will hasten recovery and prevent more serious problems. For a quick and effective re-hydration drink mix one teaspoon of salt and four teaspoons of sugar in one litre of purified water. Add fruit juice for taste. This drink can also be used if you are dehydrated due to other conditions such as heat exhaustion.

Baking soda & lemon juice

Baking soda or bicarbonate of soda is a very useful ingredient for different remedies and is found easily in most places. You need to go to baking area in shops and look for descriptions such as karbonat or biocarbinato or the chemical formula NaHCO3. A half a teaspoon mixed in a glass of purified water is an effective antacid.

  • Do you need a natural ‘alka-seltzer’?

Squeeze the juice of two lemons and add half a teaspoon of baking soda.

  • For insect bites and rashes :

Make a paste by adding a little water to the bicarbonate powder and applying onto the skin. This will take the sting out of insect bites. For those of us who seem to attract insects to feast on them the world over, this is surely a great asset. It can also be applied to rashes in a similar way.

  • Are you sunburnt?

Add half a cup of baking soda to a lukewarm bath, soak in it and then allow yourself to dry naturally without towelling yourself. This will provide relief.

  • Do you need toothpaste or deodorant or something to soothe your aching feet after a heavy day’s walking?

Mix a small spoon of baking soda with a similar amount of water. Mix into a paste and dip your toothbrush into the mixture. For aching feet dip them into a basin containing three tablespoons of baking soda and warm water.

A word of caution, however, it is not recommended that pregnant women ingest it. Otherwise this cheap, readily available product offers the traveller benefits for all sorts of health issues.


Salt is another useful and cheap product which has medicinal properties. Again it is readily available in most parts of the world.

  • For sore throats

Gargle a mixture of warm water and salt (one teaspoon of salt to one glass of water) several times a day will soothe and promote healing.

  • For infected sinuses

A mixture of half a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water snorted up alternate nostrils into the sinuses is an uncomfortable but effective treatment.

  • Mosquito bites

Soaking a mosquito bite for a few minutes in saltwater, then applying an ointment made of salt and lard will reduce the swelling and discomfort.

  • Wounds

Salt has long been considered a natural antiseptic and has value as a wound cleaner in an emergency. If it is bleeding dabbing the wound gently with a salt solution is helpful. Once the bleeding has stopped soaking in a bath in which a cup of salt has been dissolved will aid healing and help prevent infection.


The final tip is to ask the local people what natural remedies they use. In developing countries herb and root teas and plant poultices are commonly used and there is a wealth of knowledge and experience in health matters. Obviously you will need to make some judgement as to whether the recommended treatment is safe but there is a chance that you will recognise the plant or herb, Mint tea for example, is known to help settle an upset stomach.

Holidays are meant to be enjoyed not spent suffering from illness. With a few simple ingredients most health problems can be overcome and you can return home with tales of adventure, beautiful scenery and marvelous experiences.