Essential Travel Formulas
Summertime is a season of relief and relaxation, and for escaping the usual themes of daily life that we follow the rest of the year. Whether it's a quick weekend trip to a local lake or beach campground, a pilgrimage to see family, or a longer grand adventure, we pull out the travel list and get packing. Amongst everything else that gets stuffed into the car or suitcase, the family First-Aid kit is an essential item. Though the standard First-aid kit contains the usual emergency care items, traditional Chinese medicine has its own special list of medicines to address common health issues that can come up on any away-from-home adventure. Over the decades of teaching traditional Chinese herbal medicine, countless students have asked me to share my list of recommended herbal formulations to bring along on their adventures. What follows is an introduction to Mayway's Plum Flower® Travel Kit, which includes everything I have recommended to my students over the years.
Mayway's Plum Flower® Travel Kit
An Mien Pian
This wonderful herbal formula is applicable for a variety of Shen complaints. Suan zao ren and Yuan zhi make up 50% of the prescription, and though opposite in taste, work together to settle scattered Shen issues while also releasing pent up emotions. The remaining ingredients Calm the Shen by benefiting the Middle Jiao. The formula very effectively addresses occasional difficulty falling or staying asleep, as well as mental and emotional fatigue that can present as restlessness, irritability, anxiety, agitation, and impatience. Note that there are no Yin or Blood tonifying ingredients present, so the prescription is best suited for situational causes of unsettled Shen without underlying deficiencies.
- Dosage: 3-4 tablets, 3 times daily as needed.
- Cautions: Contraindicated during acute stages of external pathogen. Use caution during pregnancy.
Curing Pills are one of the most widely recognized and useful herbal formulas in the entire Chinese pharmacopoeia. Any herbalist caught without this amazingly effective prescription while on vacation should be instantly stripped of their herbalist's credentials! When afflicted by five glazed donuts and coffee while driving, pepperoni pizza and Gummi Bears at mid-night, or Grandad's goulash, where else does one turn?! This quick acting formula of tiny pills is readily digested in the stomach and goes to work very shortly after ingestion. Curing Pills effectively treats a broad variety of minor and occasional gastro-intestinal complaints including food stagnation, indigestion, abdominal distention, mild nausea, belching, heartburn, diminished appetite, irregular bowel movements and even hangover.
- Dosage: 1 stick pack, 3 times daily as needed.
- Cautions: Use with caution during pregnancy, and Yin deficiency. Contains wheat.
Peach Kernel Teapills / Tao Ren Wan
A necessary prescription for any extended travel! Tao Ren Wan contains Tao ren, Ya ma zi, Da huang, Qiang huo, and Dang gui. The traditional indications for Tao Ren Wan are Blood, fluid or Yin deficiency with mild heat and wind in the intestines leading to constipation or difficulty with bowel movements. Healthy, regular movement of the large intestine is a function of the Spleen Qi, with assistance from the Kidneys. The Spleen rules the muscles, and regular exercise of the skeletal muscles enhances the proper conduction of the large intestine. It’s no wonder that in the old days of sailing ships, all passengers and crew would take daily "constitutional" walks around the deck of the ship in order to maintain healthy intestinal movement! Tao Ren Wan is a necessary prescription for minimizing the negative impact of extended sitting, typical of long car or air travel, and irregular eating habits encountered in travel.
- Dosage: 8 pills, 3 times daily as needed.
- Cautions: Contraindicated during pregnancy and menstruation. Use with caution during breast-feeding. Use with caution in patients with weak digestion.
Gan Mao Ling Tablets
There may be nothing worse than missing vacation time lying in bed fighting off a "bug"! Gan Mao Ling is a relatively modern patent medicine formulation that is an ideal prescription for the road. It is equally useful for beginning stage external Wind Heat or mild Wind Cold patterns. Typical shared symptoms of these patterns include mild fever and chills, scratchy sore throat, sudden fatigue, swollen or sore lymph glands, runny nose, neck and shoulder achiness, body aches, headache, and mild cough. All the herbs in this formula are from the Clear Heat category, so the prescription has a particularly potent effect in clearing Toxic Heat patterns.
- Dosage: 3-6 tablets, 3 times daily as needed.
- Cautions: Contraindicated if strong chills present, and use with caution in deficient patients, those with hemorrhagic disorders, and those on anti-coagulant therapy.
Pe MIn Kan Wan
Pe Min Kan Wan is a modern prescription to address wind or wind heat obstructing the sinus and nasal passages. Specifically, the prescription disperses Wind, clears Heat, transforms Phlegm and unblocks the sinuses and nasal passages. The aromatic herbs Xin yi hua, Cang er zi, Huo xiang, Zi su ye, Bo he and Ju hua open Qi and Blood circulation through the sinus and nasal passages, disperse phlegm dampness, and eliminate pressure and constraint. E bu shi cao and Ban lan gen eliminate external pathogenic influences, while reducing local swelling. The spicy warm Fang feng expels exterior Wind, alleviates pain, and warms and consolidates the surface. It is ideally suited to treat acute runny nose, sinus congestion, facial pressure and pain, sneezing, itchy nose, watery eyes, earache and congestion and is effective for these issues precipitated by seasonal or environmental sensitivities.
- Dosage: 4-6 pills, 3 times daily as needed.
- Cautions: Use with caution during pregnancy, Yin deficiency, and excessively dry mucus membranes.
The Great Mender Teapills / Jin Gu Die Shang Wan
The Great Mender was originally formulated to treat acute musculoskeletal injuries. Whether from a minor sporting injury, trauma from a fall or other accident, it is designed to address acute Blood stasis with mild pain. Its’ traditional functions include circulating the Blood, dispelling Blood Stasis, strengthening Tendons and Bones, and promoting the healing of damaged tissues. Indications for The Great Mender include Qi and Blood stagnation due to traumatic injury presenting with mild pain, redness, swelling, bruising, delayed healing, or persisting pinpoint discomfort due to blood stasis. With serious injuries due to trauma, it is of course recommended that appropriate emergency medical care be utilized when necessary. This formula should not be considered a substitute for appropriate emergency medical care.
- Dosage: 8 pills, 3 times daily as needed.
- Cautions: Contraindicated during pregnancy or hemorrhagic disorders. Use with caution during menstruation or in patients on anti-coagulant therapy.
The above six herbal prescriptions are included in Mayway's Plum Flower® Travel Kit and cover 95% of the most common travel health challenges. From long experience, I also suggest adding one additional formula found to be invaluable in travels both at home and abroad.
Coptis Teapills / Huang Lian Su Wan
Within the extraordinary breadth and depth of the traditional Chinese Materia Medica, there is one herb that stands above the rest in its’ importance in travel medicine: Huang lian. Taken internally in pill form as Plum Flower® Coptis Teapills, this single-herb “formula” eliminates Damp Heat in the Stomach, intestines, Liver, Gall Bladder, Urinary Bladder, and the Kidneys, and treats acute Damp Heat symptoms associated with the intake of impure food and water.
- Dosage: 4 pills, 3 times daily as needed.
- Cautions: This herb is very bitter and cold and can injure the Spleen and Stomach when taken for too long. Contraindicated in conditions of excess Cold or significant Qi deficiency.
Huang lian is a bitter and cold herb that clears Heat, drains Dampness, drains and resolves Fire, cools heat in the Blood, and clears Fire on the skin. I also bring along powdered Huang lian to be applied topically, since it is the best treatment for every type of Damp Heat in the delicate and moist surface areas of the body. It can also be applied to wounds to prevent Fire from developing locally, and used as a wash when boiled with pure water and filtered to address Damp Heat or Fire in the eyes, ears, oral cavity and for various gynecological applications.
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, Until we meet again!
- Bensky, D. et al., Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, 3rd ed., Eastland Press: 2004.
- Liu, Guohui, Warm Pathogen Diseases, A Clinical Guide, Revised edition, Eastland Press: 2005
- Chen, J. & Chen, T., Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, Art of Medicine Press: 2004.
- Maclean, Will, Clinical Manual of Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines, Pangolin Press: 2003
- Wrinkle, A. et al., A Practitioner’s Formula Guide, Elemental Essentials Press: 2008.
Mark W. Frost, MSTCM, L.Ac. is chair of the Herbal Medicine Department at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco, California. Professor Frost teaches in both the Masters and Doctoral Programs, serves as a clinical supervisor in colleges Community Clinic, and has had a private practice in San Francisco for over 30 years. He is the author of numerous articles on Chinese herbal medicine and has presented at several TCM conferences since 2014.