Travel is exciting, but jetlag is no fun. Here are some handy tips to help you acclimate quickly!

One of the best ways to acclimate to the new schedule is to use food and hunger. If you can start before you leave to eat three meals a day and not snack in between (a much healthier way to live anyway, because it keeps your insulin levels lower and that means reduced systemic inflammation, increased ability to deal with stress, and lowered risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart attack), you will be setting a clock inside your body. Instead of the grazing model, where eating can happen anytime and doesn’t have temporal meaning to your body, three distinct meals a day sets a rhythm that your body understands.

Taking bitters before a meal is a good idea all the time, because it improves digestion and strengthens liver function. But, as you’re traveling, use bitters in conjunction with your eating schedule to reset your clock! Taking bitters causes digestive juices all along the digestive system to stimulate, causing salivation and hunger. If you’ve already set your body to expect three meals, and now you give your body the hunger signal, it will be easier for your body to understand what your new time is.

My favorite bitter is Yellow Dock, which also has a very mild and non-habit forming laxative effect (often handy when traveling!). If you can’t find Yellow Dock, there are other bitters you could also use: Gentian and Calamus are two that I’ve seen in stock at Whole Foods and health food stores. I like HerbPharm brand (the bright yellow label) or Gaia (green label). And of course, your local herbalist will have bitters in stock as well.
You’ll buy these as tinctures – the little brown bottles with the dropper tops. A tincture is just a very strong preparation of the herb, made with alcohol (the amount of alcohol you get in each dose is, of course, small). They come in one ounce bottles, so even a few of them should still fit in a zip lock in your carry on without upsetting the TSA!

Melatonin supplements are a great sleep aid for travel. Melatonin is the hormone that tells our body it’s time to sleep, and is produced in the pineal gland. It is suppressed by light, and stimulated by darkness, but on a plane you don’t have much control over that. Taking melatonin supplements can help you let your body know when it’s time to sleep in an artificial environment. (An eye mask isn’t a bad idea either!)

To help you get to sleep, Hops and Lavender are both great aids. Hops is a sedative; I recommend two or three droppersful a half an hour before it’s time to sleep, and then again at bedtime, to help your body transition into sleeptime in a more natural way.
Lavender essential oil is not taken internally: you use it topically as both a muscle and a nervous system relaxant. If you have tension in your neck and shoulders (or your lower back – really anywhere!), just rub a few drops in to help the muscles relax. For sleep, you can put a drop on each temple to help your head calm down.

You can use Melatonin, Hops, and Lavender all at the same time – each one is working together to help you sleep.

You can use these anytime: after you’ve arrived, using these to help you get to sleep at sleeping time and bitters to help you feel awake and hungry should help you find something stable to reset your clock by.

Also once you’ve arrived, you could use an adaptogenic herb to help your body deal with stress and provide you with a gentle stimulant. Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng) is a good choice here. Eleuthero does not contain caffeine, but is stimulating to the body in a moderate way. It has direct beneficial action on the endocrine system, helping you to cope better with the stress your body is under. You can get this as a tincture too, and you’d take three droppersful in the morning and around lunchtime, and possibly in the early afternoon, especially if you have a late night ahead of you. Eleuthero is not habit forming (like coffee), but you don’t want to take it too late in the afternoon, so that you don’t risk your good night’s sleep!

Finally, to keep your blood moving efficiently through your body while you’re flying, you can try an alterative herb, which will help your kidneys filter impurities out of your blood more efficiently and more thoroughly. Not exactly a “blood thinner”, your blood will nonetheless move more easily through your body just like fresh clean oil in your car just after an oil change. Also, alteratives help move your lymph effectively, and lymph is basically the “trash system” in the body. Because our lymphatic system depends on muscle movement to move trash (there are no muscles in the lymphatic vessels themselves), sitting for long periods of time results in mucky, gummy lymph that moves slowly.
Red Clover and Cleavers are two of my favorites for this job, both are available as tinctures from HerbPharm and Gaia at Whole Foods and your local health food store, if you don’t have a local herbalist.
Start your Red Clover or Cleavers a week or two before your trip, if possible, and continue it during your trip for benefits on the return flight as well. The dose would be three droppersful, three times a day. And of course, move around as much as possible during the flight to keep the blood and lymph moving around.

Safe Travels!


  1. Sumeyye on 10 January, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Can we still use these herbs if nursing?

  2. katja on 11 January, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I wouldn’t use melatonin in pregnancy, and I would use Hops only in moderation, as it has an estrogenic affect, but all the rest of the herbs shouldn’t be a problem. Remember though, your body will make its own melatonin if it’s dark, so definitely get an eye mask and dim the lights as long before bed as possible.

  3. Robyn on 10 September, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    I am a pharmacy student who is also in the Air Force, which means traveling around a lot is commonplace for me. This article is so helpful, especially listing the dosing and purchasing information/recommendations. I will definitely stock up on some of the tinctures before my next flight out. I love that they are available in small dropper bottles to fit in my toiletries bag! I have seen lavender and eucalyptus “pillow” sprays before, but I think a small essential oil dropper would be best. Could you use eucalyptus in the same manner as lavender? What are the benefits/uses of eucalyptus?

  4. katja on 3 October, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Hi, Robyn!

    Eucalyptus is food for koala bears. ūüôā Additionally, it’s often used as a decongestant. I generally prefer thyme, simply because it grows here (and I don’t have to steal it from koala bears!), and probably also because I like the smell better. But both have a long history of use for respiratory ailments.

    As with any essential oil, you don’t take the oil internally, it’s extremely concentrated! A spray is a common way to use essential oils, or in a diffuser with a candle, or diluted in olive oil (or some other carrier oil) and then rolled/rubbed onto the body.

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