Building Your Herbal Travel Apothecary

by Brooke Sullivan

‘Tis the season for travel. Whether heading off to not far family functions for the holidays, across country or to other countries, people everywhere are making reservations, getting passports ready and packing bags. Along with common toiletries and other basic necessities, I suggest packing a small apothecary for optimum travel health.

What is an apothecary?

In our modern day, an apothecary can be a term used for one’s medicine cabinet, an herb shop or even just a medicine bag, broader in action than just a first aid kit. It can contain tonics (gentle and nourishing remedies) as well as remedies for acute illnesses, chronic sicknesses and emergencies.


Who wants to spend vacation sick or uncomfortable? When traveling, we can be hit by unexpected (yet perhaps common) illnesses that can be possibly avoided with the right preparation.

From Montezuma’s revenge to Bali belly, jet lag to insomnia, no one is immune to the various bacteria and stresses of the world. Building the immune system before traveling is for most folks a good idea.

Creating a personalized travel apothecary empowers us to stay healthy. It’s the basics that comprise the heart of one’s apothecary, so that’s the focus of this article. I share my FOUR APOTHECARY FOUNDATION items below.


Consider the Particulars

I also suggest packing particular remedies for the journey and the territory you will be exposed to (read Don’t Leave Home Without It or come into HAALo to discuss particulars with a practitioner).

For example, depending on where I am headed, I look at the elevation (such as Aspen, Colorado or Mount Shasta where altitude sickness can get triggered), dietary limitations or places known for parasites, physical impact (white water rafting, days of physically intense yoga asana or backpacking trips) and pack accordingly.

This approach guides me to pack particular remedies for specific trips. (Examples: ginkgo and rhodiola help with altitude adjustment, arnica and calendula for bruises and cuts, yellow root and yarrow for belly bugs.)

My “basic” remedies come with me everywhere, and I supplement it with particular remedies geared towards a specific destination. That said, a travel apothecary needn’t be huge.

The Basics: A Travelling Apothecary Foundation

The four basic remedies for a travel apothecary work well as stand alones, but are even more effective synergistically. There are three herbal tinctures (easy, affordable and potent means for portable health tonics) and one herbally-infused oil.

My top four are

  • a Digestive Bitters,
  • a Nervine Tonic,
  • an Immune/Adaptogen, and
  • an Oil.

These fit as 1 or 2 oz. tinctures in a little zip top bag that passes airport security and slides effortlessly into a purse or carry on. Yes, I said carry on. ….it is very important to carry your kit as it is often the travel to a place that stresses the body/mind.

Road Warrior Experience

To give a little back story of my own personal research in this field, in 2012, after four years of traveling to yoga conferences and music venues (as a performer in our family’s internationally-touring band), helping yoginis digest their food, musicians sleep and my family and band mates stay vital enough to perform no matter what, I saw very clearly the patterns of imbalance travel triggers.

Issue #1: Belly Health

Indigestion can occur from:

  • stress (think of rushing through SFO airport to make your connection on time),
  • eating rich foods (as when one goes home for Thanksgiving),
  • consuming different foods than one is used to (which is often the case when one is traveling!), and
  • eating airport or airplane food (processed, hydrogenated, filled with chemical preservatives...ewww).

Many traditional health systems agree that health begins with the belly. Bitters offer the boost to keep your belly happy, healthy and everything running smoothly (ha!) both for the short term and the long run.Also, bitters taken before a meal activate the salivary glands to release necessary digestive juices (such as bile from the gallbladder) to prepare the body for proper digestion.


The beauty of bitters is that if you forget to take them before a meal, taking afterwards still helps.

Gas is also a big issue when on the road, and can be helped by bitters containing carminatives such as orange peel. Taken even in between meals, this alleviates many embarrassing or uncomfortable situations! From retreats to theaters to festivals I had people ordering bitters, inspired to start their own personal apothecary! Thankfullly, doling out my bitters created a surge of folks that were happy to be pooing after being constipated or relieved from their diarrhea due to anxiety, stress, nerves or crappy/unfamiliar food (yellow dock root being the main plant ally here).

Issue #2: Stress

The second remedy of utmost importance is one that brings calm and tranquility in busy or stressful situations. This is a Nervine tonic.

Nervines are remedies that can:

  • balance the flow between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight vs. rest and digest),
  • nourish the myelin sheath (coating) that surrounds the nerve endings for a more ‘cushioned effect’ against stress (such as milky oats),
  • relax the mind and physical body (scullcap, chamomile), and
  • sedate, such as for insomnia (passionflower, hops, kava, California poppy).

The body’s ability to be active when necessary and relaxed when appropriate can often become imbalanced when traveling, so nervous system support is very important.

Issue #3: Immunity

The third bottle is an immune system tonic. There are many plants that support our immune system such as echinacea, astragalus and the whole slew of antioxidant rich berries! One of my favorites is elder.


There are a number of articles on the effectiveness of elder for the immune system, specifically one from the Immunology Laboratory of Hadassah University Hospital, Israel, which states that elder helped speed recovery and prevent illness from 10 strains of the influenza virus. This is very interesting to me, as I have watched throughout the years, elder more effectively prevent folks from getting the flu than those who had gotten the flu shot.

The wisdom behind this and plant-based medicines is that the plants themselves are living organisms that must adapt to survive in our environment. Vaccinations can only be made from viruses that have already occurred. There is no man made protection from the unique, adapting strains of future unknown viruses. It is the living intelligence and adaptive response of the plants that are wise beyond science.

Our relationship then, to plants as remedies, offer us amazing and ongoing support for our golden health and immunity.

Enter the Adaptogen

In both my nervine formula and immune system formula, I add what is called an adaptogen. Adaptogens are the perfect plants for travel, as their main function is assisting the body to find homeostasis (adapt) during change or stress.

The most recognized definition of an adaptogen is: a plant that brings health and balance specifically to the adrenals, the body’s response to stress.

There are a number of adaptogens out there, and each plant has an affinity to particular organs and systems in the body.

In my nervine formula I add the adaptogen schizandra. This 5 flavored fruit, or Wu Wei Zi, is a storehouse of health, helping support not only the nervous system (its benefits as a nervine often go overlooked) but also the digestive system. It is also an amazing hepato-protective (protects the liver from stress hormones, radiation, toxins, etc....).

In my immune blend I add holy basil, or tulsi. This delicious plant has an affinity to the respiratory system as well as the liver and digestive, so beyond immunity it brings balance to the whole system. Tulsi is also known to be a plant that increases love and devotion, a wonderful ally when traveling to visit friends or family.

My Elder/Tulsi tincture is also easily converted to a tea, adding a few dropperfuls to hot water, a touch of honey and voila! Much of the alcohol dissipates and what is left is a tasty beverage. Tea in a bottle...GREAT for airplanes.

Issue #4: Protection (and Jet Lag)

Lastly, the 4th bottle I include in my travel apothecary is an oil. Oils are amazingly versatile. Oils by themselves assist the immune system, adding another layer of protection against pathogens as well as lubrication to prevent dehydration (a common theme of travel).

The good fats in oil also support the nervous and stress system responses of the body. I have used herbal oil as an immune system protectant by lathering the oil over my lymph nodes (neck area), up in my nose (protecting from pathogens as well as smelly lavatories) and the soles of my feet (which helps lubricate the body internally and also helps one to ground while up in the air or trying to go to sleep).

StJohnsWortThe best plant (in my opinion) for an herbal travel oil is St. John’s Wort. St. John’s has a historical reputation of protecting one from unwanted psychic energies. Topically it is the best for nerve pains, specifically along the spine or for sacral issues. This is of course highly beneficial for body self care when sitting long periods in tight spaces.

Additionally, as a mood enhancer, St. John’s Wort can help balance emotions and lift moods (great for having to be social or ‘on’ when traveling).

In a tincture or homeopathic, this plant assists the soul/subtle body to remain grounded and present, thereby helping prevent jet lag.

Herbalist Susun Weed recommends taking one dropperfull of St. John’s Wort tincture every hour when on the road or in the air as a jet lag preventative.

I have used the homeopathic version, Hypericum 30c, for jet lag and time change to India, with remarkable affects. The homeopathic version is beneficial if one does not want so much alcohol. The little milk pellets of the homeopathic, when passed out to my yogi friends on the plane, have often been graciously accepted as prasad, gifts made with love and gratitude with a blessing. They too experienced wonderful results with the homeopathic version.

Empowerment: your health is in your hands

Overall, having a travel apothecary is empowering and builds a plant-loving and health-conscious community. Not only supporting myself and my family with these amazing little kits, I have made many friends, supported lots of people and have been lucky enough to share my love for the plants! People are thrilled to experience new and unique ways to enjoy life, especially by being able to take their health into their own hands in an easy, affordable and effective way.

-BrookeAbout Brooke

When I pack my apothecary I see it as my armor of defense as well as my best friend for comfort and familiarity—and gifts that I can share with others.

My experience as an herbalist and with hundreds of traveling adventures under my belt has led me back and forth across this country as well as to Europe, India, Mexico and the Hawaiian Islands.

From third world to first world, planes trains and automobiles, I have witnessed the plants supporting people right and left, including myself.


Now through the end of the year (2014) at HAALo, Brooke is accepting new clients with a special introductory consultation rate of $45!

Brooke also has a new Sage Apprenticeship program starting in January at the California College of Ayurveda.

Contact Brooke directly for more information via her Vital Yogi website or visit her at HAALo on Thursdays.

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