Whenever I travel I always pack a medicine pouch. Over time this has evolved. From bandaids and salves to flower essences, stones and talismans. As the years flow by my very definition of medicine changes, grows, and transforms. From the sturdy resiliency of the western medical breastplate, to the more ineffable healing of the natural world— quiet and effective as the swoop of silent downy owls. Whenever I travel I like to carry medicine with me that helps me connect into the deeper, less tended sides of myself. The underground streams that are only healed when I untether and take myself away from it all. When I travel my medicine pouch is more than just a stockpile of first aid herbs, it is a reminder of the transformation that is possible.
Traveling itself is a deep kind of medicine for me. It is a time when I am allowed a kind of shaman’s-view of my life. I slip out of the confines of my day-to-day and journey, meeting strange and wonderful allies, encountering obstacles, seeing life from an expanded perspective. Every time I travel I come closer to home. I am able, with distance, to see more clearly – what is feeding me, and what isn’t? What newness would I like to call into my life? And what can I let go?
For the next few weeks I’ll be traveling to California and back again to share earth medicine. This week I’m headed to the Spirit Weavers gathering, nestled in the heart of the Redwoods, to teach about plants and stones. And when I return I’ll be heading straight for the Firefly Gathering here in western Appalachia with several classes in intuitive plant medicine and dreamskills!Every single time I travel my medicine pouch looks a bit different. In preparation for this journey I’ve spent several dreamy weeks slowly feeling my way into what medicine should be brought along for these particular travels. Herbs, talismans, tinctures and stones. Sometimes the medicine that decides to come into my pouch is a mystery to me. Just like ocean waves, and the contents of my own dreams— I may not grasp the fuller picture, but the meaning stirs me . Each medicine, subtle, ineffable, irreplaceable, brings me closer to embracing the medicine of the journey itself.
A Flower Essence
Every time I travel I choose one core vibrational elixir to imbibe every day.
Traveling is a unique time of stepping out of your day-to-day life and embracing a more potent experience of being alive. As Rick Steves says, Traveling is living intensified. And so when we travel, the deeper emotional and spiritual healing in our lives is intensified as well.
In the days or weeks before my trip I like to sit down in my apothecary of flower essences and intuitively select a blend of one to four flowers based on my intention for the travels. I let my hands and my heart choose, allowing my brain to be quiet for once. When each element has been selected I combine them into a dosage bottle and give the mixture a name. For this journey I called my formula, “The Heartwood.” The name helps me to remember and reconnect into my original intention for this time of inner work and outer travel. I find that taking a step out of my normal life can help me tune in even more sharply to the workings of subtle and vibrational plant medicine. And when you take such medicine every day of your trip, the journey itself becomes a true passport to a new era.
Try making a blend for yourself before your next trip. One Willow’s Flower essences (like most essences you purchase in the store) are all stock bottles, so you can begin to collect your own stock apothecary of flower essences and create literally hundreds of dosage bottles (for you, your mom, your dog… no joke, the use of flower essences in veterinary practice is booming).
(Not sure what stock + dosage bottles are? Or how to make them? Take a gander at our handy Flower essence FAQ )
For every trip I choose one stone to be my talisman. Journeying out of your normal, everyday routine provides you with an incredibly rich opportunity to enter into a time-out-of-time space and tap into a meditative state of receptivity. This is often my favorite time to go deep with a particular stone, letting it potentize my journey.
I let the stone choose me. I visit my stone drawers or the crystal shop or the creek beside my house and see which stone waves or sparkles at me. I particularly love when I know very little about the stone, and so I can start with a blank slate in which to learn through my experiences. Either way, my relationship with a stone deepens dramatically when we travel together. I will often sleep with the stone under my pillow. Hold it in my hands during stressful moments and bring it out to bathe in wild waters or under the moonlight with me.
Two stones I often love to travel with are:
Deeply calming, soothing and lithium-filled this stone is my go-to for airport anxiety and travel insomnia. I particularly love finding tumbled pieces and holding them in my left hand while I practice deep belly breathing or EFT tapping to refind my peace.
Like many black stones, Black tourmaline creates healthy psychic boundaries as well as protects against negative energies. As someone who identifies as unavoidably empathic (sometimes detrimentally so!) I value the companionship of this stone deeply. Known to help those who hold a lot of energy to “decharge”, it is a vital stone for anyone who facilitates healing work. Tourmalines in general help us to understand that it is okay to go within, to bring your energy down into your personal self and refill the well, a sacred reminder that cannot be repeated enough when we are in the midst of travels.
(Want to learn how to select the right stone for you? Check out my new online course, How Stones Communicate! )
My Top Three Tinctures for Travel
Spilanthes (Acemlla oleraca) – I always bring an immune stimulating herb with me whenever I travel. When we journey out of our comfort zones it’s common to be a bit more susceptible to passing colds. Having an immune stimulant in my pouch has often meant the difference between a day of feeling gunky and the full-blown flu. This zesty flower is one of my all time favorite immune herbs. Stimulating and antimicrobial, I take a couple dropperfulls of the tincture whenever I feel the icy approach of a cold or illness. It is particularly helpful when you are wanting to avoid airplane plagues. Spilanthes is easily adaptable to a wide variety of garden soils and such a curiously fun plant to grow.
Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)- Traveling is wonderful and exciting … and it can also be downright stressful! To help downgrade the overwhelm, I always travel with at least one adaptogen (an herb that helps your body, heart and mind deal with stress gracefully), and Tulsi is my absolute go-to. A student once asked me if I could bring only one herb to a desert island, what would it be? My answer was Tulsi. In the realm of the multitudinous, the complex and the mysterious manifold, Tulsi (or Holy Basil) reigns queen. A sacred herb of the Ayurvedic traditions, Tulsi has one of the longest lists of herbal actions I’ve ever seen. Along with being an adaptogen, it is also considered an anxiolytic (anxiety reducing herb), anti-depressant, nervine (an herb that relaxes our nervous system) antimicrobial and immunomodulator. It is calming and focusing for the mind and can even lower blood pressure. Tulsi embodies so many different medicinal properties, it is considered a virtual panacea in some traditions. And as such, Tulsi is a brilliant ally for helping us to integrate complexity within our own journey, expanding out into the possibility of all those open horizons.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) – Traveling to strange and foreign lands often means eating strange and foreign foods, am I right? I’m normally pretty on point with my diet but when I travel, well, sometimes the best laid plans get thrown out the window! Whenever I journey I never leave home without a digestive bitter. Largely eliminated from our modern diet, bitters are a cornerstone of traditional eating. Bitters, which often accompany food that is difficult to digest or even potentially toxic, send an important signal to our digestive system to stoke the digestive fires. Taken in small doses before a meal, bitters can greatly increase our digestive powers, aiding absorption of essential vitamins and minerals and eliminating bloating, gas and indigestion. Bitters also help bolster the liver, thus increasing the elimination of toxins. Recent studies have found an inextricable link between our brains and our guts. When we improve digestion we can actually improve our mental health and mindset.
Bitters are often chosen by constitution. Do you tend to run hot or cold? Would you be better benefited by a cooling, simple bitter (like dandelion)? Or by a warming, aromatic bitter (like cardamom or sassafras)? I run on the cold side so I always gravitate towards aromatic bitters. And Sassafras is simply my all time favorite. This important Native American medicine is an aromatic and delicious medicinal. The root (or more specifically the root bark) is one of the most traditional spring tonics, due to its blood cleansing and stimulating nature. It is also strongly anti-inflammatory, carminative (gas relieving), and diaphoretic (warming, sweat-inducing and helpful in breaking fevers). I take 5 drops 20 minutes before a meal to stimulate and warm my digestion.
Medicine to Give Back
It is important to me to bring offerings whenever I travel. Hand-harvested sage, tobacco from my garden, stones I found and greatly love. I like to leave offerings wherever I lay my head– at the roots of trees, on the banks of rivers, and with friends who graciously offer to host me. Medicine is a moment of exchange, so give back to the people, places and friends who have gifted you such essential experiences.
Blessed travels everyone!
It was the beginning of August and I was home for a hurried weekend before I rushed off once again to foreign lands. This time, I was traveling to LA. My family had rented a house up on the high bluff of Pacific Palasaides so we could spend time with my sister in her natural habit and hopefully get nice and leisurely on a beach somewhere.
I had been to LA several years ago when my sister first started college at UCLA. I remembered loving the beach, despising the driving, and giving the whole city an appraisal typical of my attitude towards all urban places: “interesting…can I leave now?” What I didn’t expect was to be so thoroughly, completely, shockingly blown away by the flora.
It was as if some magical ink vat had exploded in a swirl of neon and settled like confetti in every nook of the city. Fuchsia, tangerine, indigo, bright white and electric greens. I was transfixed, craning my head out of the back of our boat-like rental van, trying to identify anything and everything before I became seasick with the sway.
I cajoled the family to stop at a Barnes & Nobles so I could rifle through their botany section and find a guide that could unlock the mysteries of these maddeningly gorgeous plants. The selection was about as diverse and well-attended as a bible study at burning man. Apparently, most people shopping in Santa Monica aren’t necessarily looking for flora books. I settled on a guide to Western wildflowers, knowing full well it wouldn’t be able to cover the mind-altering array of succulents, blooming trees and exotic landscape imports, but it was better than nothin! Camera in hand, I just explored.
It was incredible. The curbs overflowing with zinnias, fennel growing wild inbetween cracked cement, the carefully placed shadows and sharp rivers of light. I never got over the succulents. The same aloe we grow as puny house plants towered as large as cars alongside the highway; the blooms of yucca hung from the sky like a chandelier of celestial bells. It was like living your whole life in the company of hills and suddenly being dropped at the foot of a mountain. My dad (who is an incredibly talented and devoted photographer) and I spent a lot of time lingering behind the rest of our caravan to capture it all. Everywhere I looked was a perfect picture.
One day we drove up the coast to Malibu. It was rugged, windy, and bright. The trail to the beach was threaded with cherries and sandbar willow. At the water surfers drifted like buoyant, brightly colored debris across the waves. I largely ignored the surf. Instead, I spent hours hopping rocks in the tide pools– peering at the hapless captivated sea creatures, watching anemones move as slight as branches in the wind and delighting in the rainbow of hermit crabs, which crawled like spiders between webs of richly colored seaweed. It was bliss.
Another day we drove out to Ojai a stunning valley Northwest of LA. Ojai, which comes from the Ventureño Chumash word ʼawhaý meaning “moon,” is one of those places you visit and then immediately begin to envision as a future home. You can’t help it, the idea of retiring there, in the golden years of some distinctly contended future, seems so perfect it’s almost palatable. The climate is Mediterranean: the summers are hot, the winters mild. Succulents grow in a tangle across front yards and the simple ranch-style houses sit cozily along rivers dotted with swimming holes. The valley is surrounded by clear blue mountains and the air just lifts you.
The land is full of white sage; its distinct smell seems to be embedded in the very rocks. As I wandered I carefully harvested small, precious bundles of this sacred smudge herb (and awesome topical anti-microbial remedy!). I also met Yerba Santa for the first time, a medicinal bush so sweetly aromatic and distinctly resinous it is almost erotic. Traditionally, Yerba Santa was used for bruises, sprains, achy joints, and rheumatism — the sticky leaves were employed as a kind of primitive band aid. It’s real notoriety, however, comes from its incredible ability to heal the respiratory system. It’s a popular remedy for coughs, colds, asthma, bronchitis, and TB. I collected only a small handful (which promptly glommed onto one another like lollipops left on a hot tabletop).
We stopped to dip in the cold, clear water– a welcome refuge after the heat of the exposed valley. The silver of the day began to sharpen and diffuse. The later it became the more the colors of the landscape, borrowed by the high overhead sun, returned to grow heady in their own shadows. We lingered for hours, and then we finally left. Later, back on the coast and still smelling of sweet sage and desert air, I set the herbs out to dry. I had one more day and already I was thinking about my return trip. How I would tincture the small harvest of Yerba Santa and dry the sage in a crown of strings around my bedroom. The reality of my life was sifting back in, honeyed and familiar. Once again, I turned my attention as slow as a ship towards home.