The Nature Doctor
Nature gives us everything we need for the protection and maintenance of our health. It is down to mankind to take care of its treasures. Alfred Vogel
There are 40,000 to 50,000 species of plants throughout the world that are used as herbal remedies. Unfortunately, in many cases, ‘God’s pharmacy’ has literally been robbed. Silphion used to be so highly valued in the Mediterranean both as a remedy and for seasoning, that traders plundered the wild stock to such an extent that the plant disappeared. The last Silphion root allegedly ended up on Nero’s table.
Plants that are ‘raw growing materials’ are under threat. Every year, more than 400,000 tonnes of raw material for plant remedies is traded with a value of over $100,000US dollars. Not without consequences. 4,000 out of approximately 50,000 species of healing plants are endangered according to the World Nature Protection Union, IUCN. It is estimated that up to 10,000 species could disappear if we do not put a stop to over-exploitation.
Endangered plant species are not only to be found in exotic locations. The Spring Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis vernalis), Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and Arnica montana all grow in Europe. They are seriously endangered mostly due to uncontrolled or non eco friendly, unsustainable wild gathering. Biologist Roland Melisch, who works for the species protection programme, Traffic, complained that certain manufacturers of phyto medicines were not aware of the problems and therefore failed to exercise care. Traffic is a community project of the World Protection Union and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Responsible manufacturers of herbal remedies and cosmetics ensure that the plants they use to produce extracts come from controlled cultivation or controlled wild gathering. Companies like Weleda, well known for their natural cosmetics, spend money on medicinal plant gardens and of course the Swiss company, Bioforce, producer of A.Vogel remedies, has its own cultivations.
If we want to achieve something, we must abide by Nature and its rules. Alfred Vogel
Bioforce grows about 30 species of plants on its own land in Roggwil which are used for natural remedies. They are organically grown and gently weeded and harvested. Around four hectares are sufficient for a great part of the required raw materials. Plants and fruit which do not thrive in the Lake Constance climate or require special soil are cultivated or harvested elsewhere by experienced farmers, such as Arnica montana which is cultivated in Germany and Devil’s Claw which thrives in cultivation in the Kalahari.
Sometimes there is a need for wild gathering:
- because wild plants can contain higher concentrations of medically effective ingredients;
- because cultivation is not possible;
- because population groups depend on the collection of medicinal plants.
In such cases, carefully controlled gathering can offer a solution. Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) thrives only on boggy ground, low in nutrients. Seldom found in Central Europe, Sundew, which is used in Vogel’s Drosinula syrup, thrives in the north, particularly Finland, where wild gathering is authorised by the state, allowing local families to profit from the additional income.
Nowadays, in the era of globalisation and worldwide trade, it is, more than ever before, our task to use these precious gifts responsibly.
What can be done?
- Find out which medicinal plants need to be protected. Do not gather these plants yourself or buy any products in which they are contained.
- Choose alternatives to endangered plants: hawthorn instead of pheasant’s eye for heart problems, saw palmetto instead of African cherry for prostate problems.
- Ask manufacturers of medicines if they take into consideration those species of plants that are endangered, how they cultivate the plants for their products and whether they control wild gathering. Such messages, pointed out time and time again by consumer protection agencies should be taken very seriously by companies.
- Refrain from buying products that do not declare their ingredients and those with dubious uses.
- Only choose preparations that originate from demonstrable environmentally friendly production.
Edited extract from 'Geshundheits Nachrichten' February 2006