For 80 percent of humanity, natural medicinal resources, i.e. medicinal herbs from nature, are the basis of their health care. Worldwide, between 36,000 and 50,000 plant species are used medicinally, depending on how they are defined and counted. A full 70 percent of these plants come from wild collection. There the calculation is relatively simple: These treasures of nature will be irretrievably lost.
Conservation organisations have been sounding the alarm for a long time: 15,000 of the world's known medicinal plant species are considered endangered. Even well-known species are on the verge of extinction in some places, such as the cowslip (contains substances against respiratory diseases) or the perennial pheasant's eye (supplies an active substance for heart medicines).
Is it possible to continue to process wild medicinal plants into extracts, juices, tablets and gels with a clear conscience?
Not from the meadows, but instead from the own fields
When Alfred Vogel was young, he collected wild plants from meadows and hills; at that time, this was a matter of course. However, with the worldwide forced use and demand for medicinal herbs, it quickly became clear to him, too, that it was necessary to protect nature from overly massive extraction. And so, since it was founded in 1963, the company A.Vogel has endeavoured to make very conscious use of natural resources.
The medicinal plants for the production of A.Vogel natural remedies therefore come exclusively from the following sources:
- own cultivation
- approved wild collection
- sustainable projects in the home country of the plant, taking into account the needs of the land and the local population
The share of own cultivation at A.Vogel is about 25 percent, contract cultivation 45 to 50 percent and wild collection 25 to 30 percent, depending on the annual demand. A total of around 200 tonnes of fresh plants are processed each year.
For example, echinacea and St. John's wort come from controlled organic cultivation and horse chestnuts from approved wild collection. If the cultivation of a plant in Switzerland is not possible due to climatic conditions, A.Vogel is committed to sustainable projects in the plant's home country. For example, there is a cultivation project for devil's claw in the Kalahari.
Of the approximately 70 different plants required for the production of A.Vogel remedies, more than two thirds originate from targeted cultivation. Only about 20 plant species, e.g. ivy (Hedera helix) or sap and leaves of birch (Betula pendula), originate from wild stands - and in terms of quantity, these make up only the smallest part.
The focus is on sustainable use, i.e. the protection and preservation of the plants. No threat whatsoever to the natural native flora results from the with 75 tonnes by far largest demand for wild-collected plants, horse chestnut seeds (Aesculus hippocastanum) and spruce shoots (Picea abies), from which vein remedies and cough syrup are produced. And these two plants are not "truly wild" because they have been cultivated in most cases.
Relying on certified contract farmers
A cornerstone of sustainability, in addition to crop rotation, is organic cultivation, emphasises Andreas Ryser, Cultivation Manager at A.Vogel until 2019. "The most important thing for me is to have long-term relationships with reputable suppliers," he says. Ryser appreciates cultivated plants, "they're more controllable, so our quality criteria are more applicable." Most of the plants cultivated at A.Vogel are close to the wild form anyway. "The best thing to do in terms of sustainability would be to get away from wild plant collection altogether," Ryser said.
Already at the beginning of his work at A.Vogel he had an idea in this direction. At the time, there were regulatory problems with the wild collection of spruce shoots due to unclear regulations, so Ryser lobbied for spruce hedges to be grown on the company's property. "It's worked out well." And it could be expanded in the future, because in Germany, where most of the spruce shoots for A.Vogel products have come from up to now, fewer and fewer spruces are being grown; moreover, there are fewer and fewer collectors there.
The cultivation of the medicinal plant Arnica montana (mountain arnica), the collection of which is prohibited in the Alpine region, has also proved successful. After numerous trials, A.Vogel, in cooperation with specialists, succeeded in cultivating Arnica montana organically in Germany. This way, there is less dependence on the approved wild collections in Romania.
The contract farmers who work with A.Vogel "have to produce organic," says Vanathy Erambamoorty, Head of Cultivation since August 2020. "You should at least have experience growing field vegetables. This is because the work process is similar to that of cultivating medicinal plants, for example in terms of weeding out weeds, cultivating the crop and the fact that only one particular plant is put into the field at a time. For reasons of fresh plant processing, A.Vogel prefers to look for contract farmers in the vicinity of the production site in Roggwil TG.
In the case of more distant contract farmers or wild collectors, a sophisticated transport system with appropriate cooling nevertheless ensures that the goods can be delivered fresh for processing.