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.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


(See at the end of this post suggestions on how to take your money - cards, cash, cheques etc.,)

People often ask the question:

"How much should I budget for walking the camino?"

The answer depends on many variables.
1: Are you a poverty stricken student
2: or a middle - of - the - road traveler?
3: Are you an affluent traveler?
4: Are you a budget traveler?

Pilgrims who need to watch every cent can do the camino on a daily budget of about 15 euro. This will mean staying in the 'donativo' albergues - and giving a small donation of about 3 euro (please, give a small donation if you can!): not eating in restaurants or cafe-bars: buying wine, beer or cold drinks in supermecados or markets: preparing your own food in the albergues or eating mainly bread and pasta for a month: not paying to visit museums or other monuments (there are many places that give a pilgrim discount when you produce your credential) and not buying chocolates, ice-creams or other luxuries. Frugal, but it can be done.
If you don't want to stay in the albergues, prefer to eat in restaurants, and can afford hotels, visits to the museums and Cathedrals - your pilgrimage could cost about 100a day: 3€ for breakfast: 5 - 10€ for lunch: 10 - 15 € for dinner: 30 - 45€ for a hotel room: plus extras such as wines, beers, cold drinks, sweets, museum and cathedral entry fees.

If you are a middle-of-the-road traveler watching your budget, you'll need to decide on these questions:

Will you be camping, staying in refuges or in hotels? Check my post on Refuges/Albergues here

Will you be walking alone or with friends? (If you spend an occasional night in a hotel or fonda [inn] it is cheaper to share a room.)

Will you eat in restaurants or be cooking your own food?

If you intend staying in the refuges (albergues) and eating frugally, there is a way to estimate daily costs.


This simple calculator has been designed so that you can get an idea of costs involved whilst walking the camino from any town to Santiago. It is based on an average price of the albergues (which vary widely by region and between private and public shelters) of 6 euros per night.

Daily expenditure will include the cost of breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks: the cost of washing and drying clothes in some shelters, and any costs that may arise from a visit to monuments, etc. They estimate an average cost of 24 euros a day. Add this to the 6 euro per night and the total estimate of the cost of walking to Santiago is about 30 euros per day.
Some 2008 costs:
Beds in albergues: From 3in Galicia to about 9 in an upmarket albergue.
Beds in a Hostal (small hotel - often on one floor in a multi-storied building) - 30 - 45
Breakfast in a cafe-bar: 3
Lunch or Dinner: A few café-bar-cum-restaurants have 3 different prices on their menu.
1) It is cheapest to eat at the bar.
2) You could pay €1 – €1.50 extra to eat at an inside table
3) .. and a further €1 - €1.50 to eat at a table on the terrace outside.
Pan (bread) is often free but some places will put it on the table and then charge you for it if you eat it!
It is sometimes cheaper to drink your coffee at the counter inside the cafe-bar than it is to drink it at a table outside.
Menu del Peregrino or Menu del Dia €7 – €12

Most Menu del Peregrinos include a first and second course, a desert, bread, water and wine.
If you don’t want garlic soup, chicken and fries, or a thin slice of beef steak and fries , it will be cheaper to eat from the al la carte menu.

A Menu del Dia will offer more variety on the courses.
An average restaurant per person bill is 12€. A glass of beer or wine at a bar is 1.50€. A tapa is 2€: a good lunch (menu del dia) is 5- 12€

Some general prices:

Water – €1 – €1.50

Coke – €2

Vending machine cans – 90c to €1

Vending machine bottle – €1.20 - €1.50

Chocolate bar like mars, kit-kat etc - 45-70c

White wine small glass – €1.50 euro

Red wine small glass – €1.20 Large glass €2

Beer- 50, 60 cents in the shop for 0.33 lt can and €2,50- €3 for 500ml in the bar

Estrella beer (small glass) – €2

Amstel beer (large glass) – €3

Coffee – €1.10 to 1.40

Tortilla – €1.50 to €2

Patatas fritas – €3

Ensalada mixta – €6 – €9

Toasted sandwich – €5

Bocadillo – € 4 (50c with each extra filling)

Pasta – most from €6

Platas Combinados – fish or steak or chicken or pork – from €9

Hamburger – a meat patty on a roll (no extras) from €2.50 to €6

Pan (bread) – 80c to €1

Magnum ice cream – €2

Other ice-cream cups €3.50 – €4
Buying from a Supermecado:
Kilo of tomatoes: €2.50

Loaf of sliced bread - 2.45
Pack of butter - €1.10
Medium jar Nescafe coffee - 2.50
Box of 16 triangles of spreadable cheese- €1,10- €1,50
1 litre fresh milk: 1

Packet of weetabix (430g) 2.60

Fresh chicken: 2.60 -4per kilo

Pork chops: 5-6 per kilo

1 kilo bag of potatoes: 70c

Pack of 40 teabags - 2.00-2.50

Tomatoes (summer) 80c per kilo

Green peppers: 1.80 per kilo

Decent frozen pizza: 3.50

Spanish cheese - from around 3 for 250g

Cheddar - from around 6 for 250g
If you are a smoker:
A packet of 20 Benson & Hedges - €3.55
Other goods:
Bottle of shampoo: €3
Deodorant: €2

Shopping hours:

These can vary considerably between region, city, town and type of shop.
Small shops open from between 0830 and 0930 (or earlier for food shops) until between 1300 and 1400 and from around 1700 until between 1930 and 2100, Monday to Friday, then from 0930 until 1400 on Saturdays. In some areas shops are closed on Monday mornings. In south Spain, the siesta lasts from 1330 or 1400 until 1700. Department stores, hypermarkets and many supermarkets are open without a break for a siesta from around 0930 or 1000, until between 2000 and 2200 from Monday to Saturday.

Markets: You have indoor markets, called mercados, permanent street markets and traveling open-air street markets that move from area to area. Often prices can be 20% lower than in shops and remember to take along your bargaining skills!
Markets usually operate from 0900 until 1400 and sell a variety of goods such as: food, flowers, clothes, shoes, crockery, , cookware, linen, ceramics, cassettes/CDs, arts and crafts, household wares, carpets, jewelry, etc. Watch out for well name brands though, as they are usually fakes

Not all camino routes cost the same.

An exception is the
Primitive Way which is cheaper: 3 euros per day for lodging, 23 euros per daily costs.
Total: 26 euros per day during the 11 stages of the Primitivo del Camino. You must then add the 2 - 3 final stages on the Camino Frances to your costs. <!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--> <!--[endif]-->

Walking the Via Turonensis I found that costs were almost double that of walking in Spain. This was due mainly to the cost of accommodation.
There are fewer pilgrim refuges in France and your lodging will be in Youth Hostels, Gites, pensions,
Chambre d'Hotel etc. Some hotels chains offer cheap accommodation - eg: Formule 1 or Logis:
Where you might pay an average of 6 euros for a pilgrim refuge and 20 - 30 euro for a hotel in Spain you can expect to pay between 12 and 40 euro a night for a bed in France.

Gites cost from 10 to 15 euros ($15 to $22) per night, shared occupancy with communal bath.
B&Bs cost 30 to 60 ($45 to $90) per night, but are not available everywhere. If staying in gites, bring your own towel and a sleeping sack. Blankets and pillows are provided.
Meals: Many gites and some B&Bs offer evening meals for an additional 10 to 30 euros ($15 to $45). Most gites have kitchens where you can cook. All gites offer breakfast, which is often included in the price.

http://www.gites- de-france. com/gites/

http:/ Logis Hotels

Thank you to KiwiNomad who passed on this advice:
"One of the best websites I know for accommodation on the Le Puy route is this one:

(I have excluded travelers' cheques because many banks in small villages and towns do not have foreign exchange facilities and do not accept travelers cheques.)
Cash - Credit Card -Travel Money Card
Many small cafe-bars, grocery shops, markets, small hostals and all albergues do not accept credit cards so you will need sufficient cash available to pay for these. Its obviously not wise to carry too much cash, but even though most villages and towns have 'hole-in-the-wall' cash dispensers I prefer not to have to make too many withdawels whilst on holiday.

I have done 4 pilgrimages of between 4 and 6 weeks duration. I take 500 euros in cash: have 500 euros in a TravelMoney card, and have money available in a credit card.

I keep large denomination notes in a money belt and small denomination notes and coins in a wallet which is attached to my waist bag with a lanyard. This means that I can't leave it on a counter or put it down somewhere.

A TravelMoney Card:
"The Visa TravelMoney card has the security of travelers checks and the convenience of a Visa Debit card designed especially for travelers". (
It's a prepaid Visa card, which means you can spend up to the value placed on the card anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. You can shop in stores, online, over the phone, and by mail order. You can get cash at Visa/PLUS ATMs worldwide. Each time you make a purchase, the amount of that purchase is automatically deducted from the card.Visa TravelMoney can be used at Visa/PLUS ATMs around the world. ATM functionality varies among financial institutions and countries. To get cash at an ATM you should first follow any on-screen directions. If asked which account to access, try selecting “checking”, and if that does not work, use “credit.”
NB: You cannot use the card to hire a car as it is not personalised (it does not have your name or signature on it) but most car hire companies will be happy for you to make your final payment with the card when you return it.

Credit Card: You can use your credit card to pay for any hotels you might stay in, to book transport, to pay for meals in restaurants, and to withdraw cash if needed. Credit cards incur charges that the TravelMoney debit card does not so try to use your cash or withdraw money from your TravelMoney card rather than your credit card.