Recently, a chance encounter got me thinking about alternative medicines and traditional healing remedies from around the world.
While here in Jamaica, I was wandering through the market and a lady called me over to check out her veggies. After picking out some choice carrots, I spotted a little plastic bag of what looked like tea. Intrigued, and being in the country of Bob Marley, I was curious (Spoiler: it wasn’t green!). My new market friend lady said it was shaved Bissy, a nut that grows wild in Jamaica, and in other parts of the tropical world. She said drinking the tea brewed from this nut would make me pure and beautiful, plus it would cure me if I was poisoned. This sounded like a good tea to have around. I bought the baggie for a dollar, and tried it out. It was pretty tasty, and I do believe it made me more beautiful, if not less pure. It’s a natural source of caffeine, plus it boosts my metabolism! Though hopefully I’ll never need to try it as a remedy for poison!
This herbal experiment got me thinking about other remedies, potions, alternative medicines, and concoctions I have experienced around the world, and wondering about what I’m sure other travellers may have tried. So I enlisted the help of some of the most adventurous travel bloggers around to share with us their experiences trying out local remedies and traditional healing methods during their travels.
Cameron, from The World Pursuit
Buchu: While exploring the Fynbos in South Africa we came across the Buchu plant. The Fynbos is a small strip of lowland shrubs in the Cape of South Africa that makes up the smallest floral kingdom in the world. Natives to the region have been using the plethora of flora for millennia. The one we happened to come across is Buchu, a delicious smelling shrub. Simply dry out the leaves of the plant and use them to brew a tasty herbal tea that comes with all sorts of health benefits and settles any upset stomach.
Allison, from Eternal Arrival
When in Oaxaca, I tried a temazcal bath, which is based on the traditional healing ceremonies of the Aztecs and other indigenous groups. I started by crawling naked into a small, pitch-black bath chamber heated with stones. The temazcalera, or bath attendant, threw branches of herbs on the hot stones and poured water over them, creating scented steam. While she did this, she chanted in the Nahuatl language and encouraged me to douse myself in water to cool off. After about an hour, I emerged from the darkness and heat, feeling a bit bizarre and confused in my own skin, but utterly calm. After the bath, I laid down in a room with soft music playing, the smell of eucalyptus still in the air. The temazcalera gave me a half-hour massage, and I sank into a state of complete trance. When I awoke, it felt like all my earthly problems had totally melted away in the bath.
Norman, at Années de Pèlerinage
A year back, I stayed a night on the floating reed islands of the Uros people in Peru. It was, all in all, a fantastic experience until I got introduced to their traditional food. You have to know, that the Uros don’t only build their islands with the Totora reed, they also eat it. Various parts of the Totora are also considered a medicine. So when I was complaining a little about my hangover from the day before at the bar, the mother of the family told me to eat some of the reed. You can actually peel it, much like a banana. Be prepared for a rather bland taste. Did it help? Hard to tell, since I only had a minor headache, to begin with. I certainly didn’t know, however, that eating the Totora had a negative side effect – a rather watery one I only noticed a day later on the toilet. 😉
Gemma and Craig, at Two Scots Abroad
Hungary is one of the cheapest places in Europe to drink alcohol. However, you’ve not lived like a local until you have tried the traditional Hungarian drink, Palinka. Palinka is made from fruit and stored in the cupboard under the stairs by Grandpas all over Hungary! This potent poison is not just used to get wrecked (as Hungarians like to do) but also for ailments such as teeth problems, stomach issues, and feeling lethargic! It’s pretty normal for Hungarian men in villages to kick start the day with a shot or two. Unicum is also another Hungarian alcohol beverage which was created for a member of royalty who was having digestive problems. This herbal liquor is also consumed morning to night, less for health and more for the partying which is one of the main things to do in Pest!
Shara, at SKJ Travel
In the dry, 14,000-foot altitude at Lake Titicaca, Peru, my lungs and throat were suffering miserably. I would get to coughing uncontrollably. Our host on Amantani Island picked some moonya for me, a common herb in the high altitudes of Peru believed to assist the lungs, and gave it to me to rub in my hands and breathe in — a form of aromatherapy (our guides on the Inca Trail did this as well). Then he picked two leaves of eucalyptus from a tree in his courtyard and started chewing them. He took them out of his mouth and to my great surprise, slapped them on my temples. My instinct was to go “ewww!” and tear them off! The spit was the mechanism for affixing the leaves to my temples, where the vapour, which was released through the chewing, could help my breathing. I guess in all truth, it makes sense — a precursor to Vic’s Vapour Rub. Though the vapour didn’t last too long, it was a welcomed momentary respite from the chronic coughing.
Inma, at A World to Travel
In Mexico City, once you are done with touristy markets like Jamaica and local ones as La Viga, you need to add something slightly different to your list of the best spots to visit in Mexico City. Sonora market, the epi-center of everything goes in Mexico city, is a mighty one where the vendors will offer you all kinds remedies. From all kinds of herbs, food and costumes to live animals for shaman rituals, everything and anything can be found in this mega market. Be careful if you bring a camera, those aren’t really welcomed there!
Stefania, at Every Steph – Green & Glamorous
I spent almost 4 months in Asia last fall, and I found myself at the pharmacy countless times. Nothing serious, fortunately, but you know it’s easy to get hurt or develop a stomachache when you are running around all day in a foreign country. In both Thailand and Vietnam, though, many times when asking advice to the pharmacist or some local, I would always get the same answer: “Rub some Tiger Balm”. Now, if that’s what you are thinking, you can rest assured that Tiger Balm doesn’t have any ingredients coming from a tiger. It’s a balm that contains a blend of camphor, menthol, mint oil, clove bud oil, and cajuput oil. Have you been stung by an insect? Tiger Balm will help with the itchiness. You got a cold and it’s difficult to breathe? Rub Tiger Balm on your chest. Sore throat? Apply it on the neck. Headaches? Rub it on the temples. Did you get food poisoning and you have diarrhea? You know the drill. Rub it on your belly. Tiger Balm is super cheap and easily available in every 7/11 or corner store. Always keep some with you!
Danielle, at Like Riding a Bike
When I was high in the mountains of Peru, I was horribly sick from the altitude. I felt constantly weak and nauseated, and nothing seemed to help. That’s when I discovered coca candies in a local market. I decided to give them a go, as I was ready to try anything. They tasted delightful, like any ordinary hard candy, and relieved my symptoms almost immediately. I found that I had to keep popping them, as the results only lasted half an hour or so, but still, they were a miracle! Many people in the region also chew coca leaves or make coca tea, which are also said to help with altitude sickness. Oh, and it’s important to note that though the candies as well as the leaves come from the same plant as cocaine, you definitely don’t get high from them (or no more so than your average cup of coffee!) Give it a try next time you’re in high altitudes!
Annalisa, at Singapore n’ Beyond
Visiting Penang for the first time as an adult was so much fun. Georgetown had a sense of community that felt warm and inviting, and the art and food scene was thriving and wonderful to witness. On my first day, I attended a cooking class that included a market tour in the morning. During the tour, our dutch guide who had been living in Penang for 12 years brought us to a little roadside stall selling various goods. Their naturally made remedies were recommended, and this jar of citronella mosquito repellent balm caught my eye. The mosquitoes were everywhere, I really needed it! It only cost RM5.40, less than 1 Euro. I used it quite liberally, and as long as the smell stays on- it works. Unfortunately the smell doesn’t last very long, but I quite prefer it over the chemical scents.