Friday, September 26, 2008

Medicines, drugs and healing plants on the camino

Have a medical and dental check-up before you go an any long hike.
  • Know your blood group in case of emergency.
  • Ask your doctor to write out the generic name for your prescription medication and not the brand name, this way, a drug can be matched with the Spanish equivalent.
  • Any prescription medications you take with you should be kept in their original containers
  • Take copies of your prescriptions with you.
  • Make sure you have enough medication for the duration of your stay.

Most pilgrims pack a small First-Aid kit containing prescription drugs, pain killers, muscle rubs, laxative or anti-peristaltic (for the treatment of diarrhoea), etc., as well as blister kits, plasters, strapping tapes and bandages.

My First Aid kit list for long distance walks:

All taken out of packets & boxes and packed in money bags

  • Immodium (diarrhoea)
  • Valoid (vomiting)
  • Buscopan (stomach cramps)
  • Semprex (anti-histamine)
  • Zantac 75 (ant-acid)
  • Medikeel (throat infection)
  • Spasmend (muscular spasms)
  • Disprin (fever/pain)
  • Arnica Oil (massage)
  • Teatree ointment (lips and sores)
  • Ibufuren (cream and tablets)
  • Tabbard (insect repellent)
  • Savlon Cream (anti-bacterial)
  • Vaseline (Petroleum jelly)
  • Merchurochrome (wounds)
  • Stopitch (insect bites)
  • Elastoplast (variety, blisters, wounds)
  • Compeed plasters (blisters)
  • Strapal (sports strapping)
  • Crepe Bandage
  • Sunscreen – body and lips
  • Eye drops
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors, needles
  • Ear plugs
  • Antiseptic wipes

NB: If you are - or ever used to be allergic to anything - whether it is foods, seeds, pollens, grasses etc., take antihistamines with you. You might have become immune to your local products, plants and insects but you could flare up when you inhale, swallow or touch exotic plants or foods.
One also needs to pack something to treat insect bites. If you have ever been allergic to stings, such as bees or wasps, take your medication with you.

Bed bugs have been making headlines for a couple of years on the Camino but this year the problem seems to have reached almost plague proportions. The Xunta in Galicia has suggested that all albergues be closed for a period of two weeks during the winter in order for them to be fumigated.
Different remedies and drugs have been suggested:
Lavender oil, Bayticol (used to kill ticks on clothing), Sawyers (a similar product sprayed on fabrics, used by the US Army to kill most insects in the field): Bakers Venom Cleanser - a product that claims to be an antidote to bee stings and other painful insect stings.
A new natural product made of essential oils is available here.  The single kit makes 25 oz of spray and has four sachets and the double kit makes 50 oz and has eight sachets.

Pack small quantities of non-prescription drugs. You don't have to take an entire medicine chest with you on your walk. Remember – Spain is a First World country and, along the Camino Frances in particular, has more farmacias than bars. Over the years, pharmacies have built a roaring trade in ibuprofen creams and tablets, blister plasters, muscle rubs and ear plugs!
Many brands are available in Spain – eg: Imodium- but others may be sold under a different name. Many drugs available only on prescription in the UK and other countries can be purchased over the counter here. You are still advised to seek a doctor’s advice.

Nationals of EU countries can get free medical treatment in Spain on production of the relevant paperwork (Form E111 for British people), although for holiday-makers, private insurance is highly recommended. Spain has a very good national health service that works alongside a wonderful private sector. Hospitals are of a very high standard. Chemists (farmacias) are plentiful in Spain and are marked with a large green cross. The law states that farmacias must operate on a rota system so that there is always one open. Local press carry details of the duty farmacia. Details are also posted on the door of the farmacias. You can obtain basic medical advice here.

There are also alternative chemists such as Chinese clinics and herbal clinics. Most speak English but a few words or just pointing at a blister, sore back or limb will suffice. (

Keeping medication cold:
At the time, I was on multiple daily injections of Humalog and Lantus, and there was not enough room in my bicycle packs for all the syringes I would need. My doctor advised me to take two insulin pens instead of syringes because the needles and vials for a pen are much smaller. To keep the insulin cool I bought a product called Frio, a crystal-filled pouch that comes in several sizes. When submerged for five minutes in cold water, its crystals turn to gel and keep the pouch at an insulin-friendly temperature. I packed twice as many supplies as I expected to need, as well as two blood sugar meters, a glucagon kit, and extra prescriptions for my medicines. I obtained a doctor's letter for customs, airport security, and anyone else who might be alarmed by all those needles.PS: Instructions on boxes of Compeed plaster suggest that people with diabetes check with their doctor before using them.
112 is the Europe-wide emergency number. It works even if you have no money in a pre-paid mobile phone or even if your supplier has no network. It works 24/7 365 days - and the operators speak many languages. The number for the Guardia Civil in Spain is 062. NB: Most of the photographs of plants can be found on

The list below is for people who know and recognize different plants for medicinal use:

At different times of the year you will find common plants such as lavender, rosemary, chamomile, fennel and penny royal along the paths. Enjoy what nature provides but respect private property - don't pick flowers or plants on private property or in designated nature parks.

Achillea millefolium - Yarrow: An aromatic tea is made from the flowers and leaves. An essential oil from the flowering heads is used as flavouring for soft drinks. Yarrow is widely employed in herbal medicine, administered both internally and externally. It is used in the treatment of a wide range of disorders but is particularly valuable for treating wounds, stopping the flow of blood, treating colds, fevers, kidney diseases, menstrual pain etc. The fresh leaf can be applied direct to an aching tooth in order to relieve the pain.

Alnus glutinosa – Alder: The fresh bark will cause vomiting, so use dried bark for all but emetic purposes. Dried bark is astringent, cathartic and tonic. Boiling the inner bark in vinegar produces a useful wash to treat lice and a range of skin problems such as scabies and scabs.

Arctium minus - Lesser burdock: The roasted root is a coffee substitute. Young leaves and leaf stems - raw or cooked. Young flowering stem - peeled and eaten raw or cooked like asparagus. Burdock is one of the foremost detoxifying herbs in both Chinese and Western herbal medicine. Is said to be one of the most certain cures for many types of skin diseases, burns, bruises etc. It is used in the treatment of herpes, eczema, acne, impetigo, ringworm, boils, bites etc. The plant can be taken internally as an infusion, or used externally as a wash. Use with caution.

A wonderful product sold in Spain is Alcohol de Romero.
It is an effective remedy for sore feet cramps, muscle aches or joint pain caused by excessive or prolonged exercise, general discomfort caused by exposure to cold weather etc. Rubbed onto hot, tired feet it cools, dries and refreshes the skin. It also enhances the absorption of massage oils.
NB: Rosemary essential oils has a stimulating effect on blood circulation. It is a fantastic stimulant for people with low blood pressure, however it is not recommended for people with high blood pressure.
Alcohol, Rosmarinus offinalis (rosemary) leaf oil.
 Dictamus albus - Burning bush: A lemon-scented tea is made from the dried leaves. The burning bush has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for at least 1,500 years. The plant is used both internally and externally in the treatment of skin diseases (especially scabies and eczema), German measles, arthritic pain and jaundice.

Eryngium campestre- Field eryngo: Young shoots - cooked. An asparagus substitute. Root - cooked. Used as a vegetable or candied and used as a sweetmeat. The root is antispasmodic, aromatic, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant and a stimulant. It should be harvested in the autumn from plants that are at least 2 years old. The root promotes free expectoration and is very useful in the treatment of coughs of chronic standing in the advanced stages of pulmonary consumption. Drunk freely it is used to treat whooping cough, diseases of the liver and kidneys and skin complaints. 

Foeniculum vulgare- Fennel: Condiments; Leaves; Root; Seed; Stem. The leaves can be used as a garnish on raw or cooked dishes and make a very pleasant addition to salads. They help to improve digestion and so are particularly useful with oily foods. The leaves or the seeds can be used to make a pleasant-tasting herbal tea.

Hyoscyamus niger- Henbane: This is a very poisonous plant that should be used with great caution, and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. It has a very long history of use as a medicinal herb and is used extensively as a sedative and pain killer and is specifically used for pain affecting the urinary tract, especially when due to kidney stones. Its sedative and antispasmodic effect makes it a valuable treatment for the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, relieving tremor and rigidity during the early stages of the disease. All parts of the plant, but especially the leaves and the seeds, can be used. The plant is used internally in the treatment of asthma, whooping cough, motion sickness, Meniere's syndrome, tremor in senility or paralysis and as a pre-operative medication. Henbane reduces mucous secretions, as well as saliva and other digestive juices. Externally, it is used as an oil to relieve painful conditions such as neuralgia, dental and rheumatic pains.

Hypericum androsaemum – Tutsan: The leaves are diuretic, and have antiseptic properties. Can be used to cover open wounds.  Hypericum perforatum - St. John's wort: The herb and the fruit are sometimes used as a tea substitute. The flowers were used in making mead. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh whole flowering plant. It is used in the treatment of injuries, bites, stings etc and is said to be the first remedy to consider when nerve-rich areas such as the spine, eyes, fingers etc are injured. St. John's wort has a long history of herbal use and is an extremely valuable remedy for nervous problems. In clinical trials about 67% of patients with mild to moderate depression improved when taking this plant.

Malva silvestris – Mallow: Leaves - raw or cooked. The young leaves make a very acceptable substitute for lettuce in a salad. The leaves are a tea substitute. When combined with eucalyptus it makes a god remedy for coughs and other chest ailments.

Mentha aquatica - Water mint: Leaves - raw or cooked. Used as flavouring in salads or cooked foods A herb tea is made from the leaves. A tea made from the leaves has traditionally been used in the treatment of fevers, headaches, digestive disorders and various minor ailments. It is also used as a mouthwash and a gargle for treating sore throats, ulcers, bad breath etc.
Mentha pulegium – Pennyroyal: A mint herb tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves. Pennyroyal has been used for centuries in herbal medicine. Its main value is as a digestive tonic where it increases the secretion of digestive juices and relieves flatulence and colic. Externally, an infusion is used to treat itchiness and inflamed skin disorders such as eczema and rheumatic conditions such as gout.
Mentha sativa - Ginger mint: Leaves - raw or cooked. They are used as flavouring in salads or cooked foods and go particularly well with melon, tomatoes and fruit salads. A herb tea is made from the leaves.

Nasturtium offcinale - Watercress: Mainly used as a garnish or as an addition to salads. The seed can be sprouted and eaten in salads.

Populus nigra - Black poplar: Inner bark - dried, ground then added to flour and used for making bread etc (A famine food, used when all else fails). Leaf buds are taken internally in the treatment of bronchitis and upper respiratory tract infections, stomach and kidney disorders. They can be put in hot water and used as an inhalant to relieve congested nasal passages. Externally, the bark is used to treat chilblains, haemorrhoids, infected wounds and sprains and internally in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, gout, lower back pains, urinary complaints, digestive and liver disorders, debility, anorexia, also to reduce fevers and relieve the pain of menstrual cramps. 

Rosmarinus officinalis - Rosemary. Young shoots, leaves and flowers - raw or cooked. They are used in small quantities as a flavouring in soups and stews, with vegetables such as peas and spinach, and with sweet dishes such as biscuits cakes, jams and jellies. They can be used fresh or dried. A fragrant tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves. Commonly grown in the herb garden as a domestic remedy, used especially as a tonic and pick-me-up when feeling depressed, mentally tired, nervous etc. infusion of the flowering stems made in a closed container to prevent the steam from escaping is effective in treating headaches, colic, colds and nervous diseases. A distilled water from the flowers is used as an eyewash.

Rubus fruticosa- Blackberry:
Fruit - raw or cooked. Ripe fruits from late July to November can be made into syrups, jams and other preserves. The leaves are often used in herbal tea blends. Young shoots are harvested as they emerge through the ground in the spring, peeled and then eaten in salads.

Samolus valerandi - Brook weed or water pimpernel. The leaves are edible and they were used to prevent scurvy

Senecio Jacobaea - Ragwort. (Herba de Santiago):
Scorzonera Hispanic: -
Scorzonera roots, leaves and flower can be eaten. The root is rich in insulin which can cause flatulence in some people.

Urtica dioica - Stinging nettle:

Poisonous but the plant is astringent, diaphoretic and diuretic. The juice of the plant is cooling and astringent, it is used as a wash in burns, sores. It makes a good gargle for ulcerated mouths and throats and is also said to take away the pain of a bee sting. Caution is advised here since the plant is poisonous and some people develop a rash from merely touching it.

Sedum album - Small houseleek. The leaves and stems are applied externally as a poultice to inflammations and are especially recommended for treating painful hemorrhoids

Sempervivum tectorum - Houseleek. Young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw in salads. The juice of the leaves is used as a refreshing drink and leaves and their juice are used for their cooling and astringent effect, being applied externally to soothe many skin conditions. They are used as a poultice in much the same way as Aloe Vera in the treatment of a wide range of skin diseases, burns, scalds, bites and stings.

1 comment:

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