Herbs and Natural Medicine in Germany

By Francine McKenna on Email

For some time the scientific world has been concerned about the ever increasing numbers of bee colonies dying out and not surviving winters, because of the effect their disappearance is having on essential plant pollination, and German born Albert Einstein’s supposed claim that ‘if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live’, has once more been in the spotlight.  However there is another of his verified statements that is probably even more exact: ‘We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.

Albert Einstein lived from 1879 until 1955, and in 21st century Germany there are between 600 to 700 herb and plant based medicines available.  Herbal medicines are prescribed by more than 70% of general practitioners, are supported by the public health insurance systems and sold through ‘apotheken’, German pharmacies, as well as Bio Laden, natural food stores, and a limited selection can be found in supermarkets.

Both economically and technologically, Germany has an advanced herbal and natural medicine industry with continuous high level scientific research concentrated into herbs and phyto-medicines while the study of herbal medicine, phyto-pharmaceuticals, is a compulsory element of the curriculum for all medical and pharmaceutical students.

Herbal medicine has a long tradition of using plant seeds, flowers, leaves, bark and roots and its dominance in medicine cabinets throughout Germany, in addition to the advances in clinical research in proving its value in the treatment and prevention of disease, began some time ago to attract the attention of major European pharmaceutical companies.  The use of ‘herbs’ in this case also covers what are commonly known as ‘weeds’ to those who have gardens in which they would rather that they did not grow.

Regular herbal medicine and plant remedy courses, taking the form of walking through meadows and woods or up hills and mountain sides, and before noon because this is the optimum herb harvesting time, are well attended and regularly run for those who want to find out more about nature’s plants and herbs, be given tips on what can or can not be used, and learn the lotions and potions which can aid or perhaps cure a problem.

In keeping with a country which believes as far as possible in a Green way of life, there are also many experts who dispense eagerly followed wisdom and advice on the age-old medicinal recipes for every month and each season’s herbs and plants.  Including a famous Bavarian Kraeuterfee, Herb Fairy, now an active mid eighty year old and an inspiring and youthful advertisement for her way of thinking. Her recipes are followed faithfully and cover everything from various nettle mixtures, including juices to combat stress, anemia and tiredness, red onion juice with honey and schnapps for building up immunity, apple vinegar poultices for tired, swollen legs, to nettle, dandelion and wild garlic paste which, when added to salad sauce or cream cheese, chases away all traces of spring tiredness or anemia.

There are many popular and well used natural medicine alternatives to the pill box or medicine bottle, including the centuries old cure for almost everything, homemade chicken soup made with herbs and vegetables. Or the instant and permanent relief that comes when fruit schnapps, or vodka, is dabbed onto a burn first cooled in cold water.  A complementary alternative remedy for headaches is a few drops of peppermint oil gently rubbed into the forehead, temples and back of jaw, any excess allowed to seep into the skin giving an immediate cooling feeling, followed after about 30 minutes by relief from the headache.

Of course although in former years garlic traditionally offered protection from vampires, now amongst other things it is a popular natural health remedy to give relief from bronchitis and clear sinuses, by way of a tea made from three crushed garlic cloves simmered in water for 20 minutes together with chopped parsley leaves, which can then be sipped without fear of leaving a tell tale odor.

Despite its increasing popularity, natural medicine and the use of herbs will not be replacing conventional medicine in Germany. However it will continue to run in combination as modern science has made it possible to prove that, for many ailments, herbs and methods handed down from generation to generation and quoted for centuries in German ‘folklore’, including Horse Chestnut for varicose vein treatment, Chili Pepper for pain relief, Valerian for insomnia as well as the healing power of water, make viable and effective treatments while causing less side effects, and are more relevant today than ever before.


Source: Bella Online
Photos by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via flickr

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Francine McKenna