Taking the family on holiday is stressful enough, the last thing you want to worry about is trying to find medical care in the middle of the bush for grazed knees, tummy upsets and other minor ailments. Why not start putting together your own natural first aid kit, packed with herbal, aromatic and homoeopathic remedies that can fix common ailments quickly and effectively?
The kit is also useful to have around the home or office and even in your cubbyhole, handbag or backpack, but remember broken bones and serious infections or diseases require immediate medical attention. Pregnant women and people with chronic diseases should always consult their doctors before using any of the following natural treatments.
Boils: Dab one drop of neat tea tree or clove essential onto the head of the boil twice a day.
Cold extremities and chilblains: If you've been stuck in the snow or out in the cold for too long, and have painful chilblains on your fingers and toes, you need to stimulate blood flow to your extremities. Do this by applying fresh ginger, undiluted lemon juice, or echinacea tincture to unopened chilblains twice a day. This should prevent blistering. Internal remedies include cayenne tablets and cramp bark (make a decoction using 15ml of the herb to 750ml water and take three doses a day).
Cold sores: Apply an astringent and antiseptic essential oil such as geranium, bergamot, eucalyptus, tea tree and lavender. Crush some marigold flowers and apply the resulting liquid directly onto your cold sore using an earbud. You can also apply lemon balm cream to the affected area. Vitamin E oil or zinc cream also speeds up the healing.
Constipation: In her book, Health and Happiness, natural health expert Dr Arien Van der Merwe recommends psyllium for diarrhoea and chronic constipation. She precribes "two teaspoons of the seed or one teaspoon of the bark, in water, twice a day". She also advises drinking a lot of water when using this herb.
Diarrhoea: Make a herbal tea by simmering one heaped teaspoon of sage in one and a half cups of water for about twenty minutes. Drink up to three cups of this tea a day, but not for more than three days.
Dry lips: Whether you are at the beach or in the Drakensberg, your lips can get dry, chapped, sunburnt and sore. Unlike the skin on the rest of our bodies, our lips have no sebaceous (oil-producing) glands or melanin (a protective pigment) and are therefore really vulnerable to the elements.
Rub a little olive oil onto your lips. It will soothe the skin and make the skin more supple. Or you can concoct your own lip balm by mixing two drops of rose oil with a teaspoon of cold-pressed vegetable oil (such as olive or almond oil) and smoothing this mixture onto your lips throughout the day. A little rosewater mixed with an equal amount of glycerin will also soothe your lips.
You can also puncture a vitamin E capsule and apply the oil directly to your lips. Or try a natural product like Propolis Lip Balm that is made from propolis, honey, vitamin E and bioflavonoids. The propolis and honey are effective in treating external tissues, healing abrasions and cracked lips, while the vitamin E is essential in maintaining healthy tissue cell walls. The bioflavonoids act as a natural sunscreen.
Fungal and skin infections: For an unexpected bout of athlete's foot or any other minor skin infection, the following herbal remedies will bring relief if used externally: Tea tree, clove, marigold and thyme.
Hangover: If you've overindulged on your holiday, try the following herbal remedy: Make a decoction using 15g of dandelion root to 750ml water. Sip this decoction frequently throughout the day. A cup of rosemary, milk thistle or dandelion tea will help detoxify the liver and blood. Willow bark tea has natural asprin-like ingredients to help with the inevitable headache. Chamomile tea soothes the irritation of the stomach and the intestines, while buchu tea flushes the liver.
Headaches and migraines: Rub a few drops of neat lavender essential oil on to your temples to ease the migraine and promote relaxation. Drink up to four cups of rosemary infusion (made by adding one teaspoon of the herb to one cup of hot water) a day. If you feel a migraine coming on, take ten drops of feverfew tincture with water.
Insect bites: Homeopathy has many useful remedies for insect bites and stings. If the bite is swollen and red, apply calendula (marigold) cream and take Apis. If the area is bruised and sore use Arnica cream or take Arnica tablets. Cantharis will help alleviate a burning pain, while Silica is useful if you can't remove the sting.
Try this aromatherapy cure: Apply one drop each of lavender and tea tree oils on any type of sting every hour.
For mosquito bites, use topical applications of citronella, tea tree oil and eucalyptus oils. Soak mossie bites in salt water. And try basil plants to repel mosquitoes.
Keep a bottle of distilled witch hazel and calamine lotion handy to soothe any bite or sting. Ice cubes, aloe vera gel and onions can also help.
Make your own insect repellent by adding five drops of citronella to a cup of water. Dab this mixture on exposed skin.
Jet lagged? In her book, Health and Happiness, natural health expert Dr Arien Van der Merwe recommends Siberian Ginseng to alleviate jet lag. This herb increases physical and mental stamina, stimulates resistance to stress and helps maintain good health in general. But it is most effective in the treatment of prolonged exhaustion and long-term stress that one may experience after being in the air for a few hours, whilst flying through different time zones.
Van der Merwe writes that Siberian Ginseng also "improves intellectual alertness and job performance and enables the body to tolerate exhaustion, heat and noise," so that when you touch down you will feel refreshed and ready to face the rest of the holiday or the business trip.
Van der Merwe recommends "one dropper full of the tincture or two capsules three times a day for two days before your departure."
Minor wounds and bruises: Used externally on a wound, comfrey and aloe vera make effective DIY treatments for minor wounds. Do not apply comfrey directly to an open wound, rather apply the ointment around the edges of the wound or once a scab has formed. Aloe vera gel can be used to clean the wound.
Or use a natural product like Propolis Wound Spray that is produced from an alcoholic extract of propolis. This spray is very effective in disinfecting and treating cuts and scratches. It is also recommended for treating recent scars, nail fungi and inflamed chafing. Propolis promotes swift replenishing of the skin, and thus aids in the quick and aesthetic healing of abrasions. Used daily, Propolis Wound Spray is a natural alternative to iodine.
Motion sickness: Ginger and Ginkgo biloba will soothe the nausea caused by travelling in a car, bus or train. Van der Merwe recommends "two teaspoons of the seed or one teaspoon of the bark, in water, twice a day". She also advises drinking a lot of water when using these herbs. Drinking turmeric or peppermint infusions will also calm nausea.
Mouth ulcers and sore gums: Astringent herbs like sage and myrrh are especially helpful as they tighten up weak gums and loose teeth and treat mouth ulcers. Sage disinfects the mouth, while myrrh speeds up the healing process. Use a sage infusion as a mouthwash, or rub the sore gums with the leaves or powder form of the herb. Dab neat myrrh tincture on to mouth ulcers and infected gums once every hour
Muscle strains: Before going away on holiday, make your own marigold salve by mixing one cup of marigold petals (make sure it's calendula officinalis not the common garden marigold) into half a cup of petroleum jelly in a small pot. Simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally. Then strain the salve with until it is clear. Store it in a plastic container or glass jar to rub on those aching muscles.
You can also soak in a bath with 10 to 15 drops of rosemary essential oil or a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger (Ginger is great for soothing muscle and joint pain as it improves circulation to the injured area.
Skin abrasions: Dr Van der Merwe recommends using a mixture of Echinacea, golden seal, tea tree oil, aloe vera, calendula and camomile to treat cuts, scrapes, bruises and insect bites.
Or try a multi-purpose cream like Propolis Cream, which is useful in the treatment of many different skin abrasions including sores, chafing, scratches, acne, skin and scalp fungi and varieties of eczema. Propolis is manufactured by bees from the sap of trees and flowers and is known as "nature's antibiotic".
Snake bites: Before going on a hike in the bush, rub your legs with garlic to repel snakes, but if you do get bitten, get immediate medical attention and apply a salt pack while you wait.
Splinters and thorns: Pantyhose is handy to have around, because it snags small thorns and lets you pull them out. A slice of fresh onion or tomato or some honey applied to the skin will draw a deep splinter to the skin's surface.
Stomach ache: Eat one to two fresh cloves of garlic a day or take garlic capsules. Make a herbal tea by infusing two teaspoons of marigold in 750ml water. Drink up to five cups a day.
Styes: To boost your immunity, eat two raw cloves of garlic and drink two cups of any one of the following herbal teas daily: Echinacea, burdock, goldenseal or peppermint. Make the following herbal tea: eyebright (to soothe surrounding inflammation) or a burdock or marigold tea (to combat infection). Dip cotton wool into any of these teas and apply this hot compress to the affected eye for five to ten minutes.
Sunburn: The ancient Greeks used rose petals soaked in vinegar to soothe burnt skin. The vinegar has a cooling effect, while the rose petals soothe sore skin. Apply aloe vera gel or neat lavender essential oil directly onto the sunburn.
Toothache: Use the following natural remedies to ease your pain while you wait to get back to civilisation and a dentist. Rub a few drops of clove or cajuput essential oil around the gum above the sore tooth throughout the day (these oils are not recommended for pregnant women). Cloves contain eugenol, a local anaesthetic used by dentists. Chew on a clove or soak an ear bud in clove essential oil and apply to the sore tooth.
You can also dab the affected tooth and the area around it with a cotton wool ball soaked in echinacea tincture. Take willowbark (a powerful natural painkiller) tablets.
Upset stomach: Dr Van der Merwe recommends a tincture of dandelion, peppermint or camomile three times a day.
Put together your own mini-first aid kit that will equip you to treat most common minor ailments by incorporating the following natural remedies:
Essential tools: Plasters, tweezers, cotton wool and earbuds.
Aloe vera cream: Aloe vera is soothing, hydrating and rejuvenating, keep a tube handy for the treatment of dry, irritated or sunburnt skin or other burns. Pure aloe vera gel applied topically can help heal a rash.
Arnica: Used for bruising, sprains, shock and trauma. Take homeopathic arnica orally, but apply the arnica salve topically on unbroken skin. The active components in arnica are sesquiterpene lactones that reduce inflammation and decrease pain. Arnica stimulates and increases the action of white blood cells that digest congested blood. Arnica also disperses trapped fluids from bumped and bruised tissues, muscles and joints and thereby reducing bruising.
Used externally, arnica's anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties reduce pain and swelling and help wounds heal. Arnica salve is used to help treat arthritis, burns, ulcers, eczema and acne.
Echinacea tincture: Take orally at the first sign of infection and apply topically to insect bites and infected wounds. It might sting a little because of the alcohol in the tincture.
A herbal salve: This can be applied topically to any wound, open or closed. It promotes healing and prevents infection. Try comfrey or plaintain or calendula salve.
Lavender: One of the most versatile of all essential oils, keeping a bottle of lavender in your first aid kit will come in handy in all sorts of emergencies. Simply smelling the oil can calm one's nerves, resuscitate someone who's feeling faint and quiet an anxiety attack.
Apply lavender directly onto cuts, pimples, burns, bites and stings. It treats skin abrasions by reliving the pain and healing the tissue. It can also be used as an insect repellent.
A few drops in the bath will relax body and mind, while some on the pillow will help with insomnia. For ear aches, place two drops of lavender essential oil on to a ball of cotton wool and plug your ears with it.
Rescue Remedy: Keep a bottle of this wonder-worker in your handbag and the first aid kit. A few drops under the tongue will help calm you after any emotional trauma. It is made up of five natural flower essences including clematis (for the loss of consciousness and that far way feeling), star of Bethlehem (for shock) and cherry plum (for fear). Take a few drops before boarding the plane if you are a nervous flyer and parents can use it to calm their nerves for the inevitable arguments in the car on the way to the holiday destination.
Tea tree oil: Renowned for its antifungal and antiseptic qualities, tea tree oil speeds up healing and has a mild analgesic effect that reduces pain and inflammation. Can be used topically for burns, cuts, rashes, fungal infections, eczema and insect bites. It kills the germs that cause acne and boils and stops infections.
Mix one teaspoon of tea tree essential oil with one eighth of a cup of a cold-pressed carrier oil such as sweet almond. Apply with an ear bud or cotton wool to the affected area. One to two drops of neat tea tree oil applied directly to the skin can help treat ringworm, athlete's foot, warts and boils.
(This article contains some extracts (where indicated) from natural health expert, Dr Arien van der Merwe's (MBChB) book Health and Happiness.