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One Health

An example of the ‘One Health’ concept can be seen in the kidney vetch plant, which also has a holistic effect: in cosmetic products, it promotes skin health, but it is also the exclusive habitat for a butterfly species and improves soil health.

Kidney vetch: uniquely versatile

Kidney vetch is not found everywhere, but in the right places it can be found almost all over Europe. From the plains to the mountains, from Iceland to northern Africa and West Asia, it grows in low-nutrient, dry and above all calcareous soils. ‘Anthyllis vulneraria’ is a widespread medicinal plant that was first described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. Its distinguishing features: an astonishingly varied appearance and unique adaptability.

The kidney vetch looks different depending on the location and climatic conditions in which it finds itself. Its leaves and stems are – sometimes more, sometimes less – feathery, leafy and covered in silky hairs. The white, fuzzy individual flowers of the capitate inflorescences also come in different shapes and colours. In low-nutrient meadows and pastures, extensively farmed grassland or the barren dry grassland of the Swabian Jura, kidney vetch remains rather inconspicuous; in the latter, it only grows a few centimetres high. It behaves quite differently in a well-nourished but not over-fertilised biodynamically cultivated field, where it grows lush and plentiful, forming a sea of yellow-orange flower heads.

The health of humans, animals and nature is closely linked – one cannot exist without the others.

Healthy nature: kidney vetch is never lonely

Sometimes less is more: biodiversity often flourishes in nutrient-poor soils. Meadow communities with particularly rich soil are home to more than a hundred species that connect and network with each other. These are true hotspots, comparable to the diverse biotopes of tropical rainforests. In these low-nutrient habitats, the kidney vetch demonstrates its variability through various forms of appearance and adapts to the grassland community in terms of its size, shape and regenerative capacity.

Kidney vetch develops a lifelong partnership with root nodule bacteria wherever it grows. These bacteria stimulate the formation of the typical root nodules of the plant. They absorb nitrogen from the air and make it accessible to the plant, ensuring that the medicinal plant is supplied with what it needs. In return, the bacteria receive vital carbon compounds. What a fascinating symbiosis.

The ability to fix nitrogen isn’t uncommon in the plant world; all papilionaceous plants, including legumes and lupins, can do this. The kidney vetch, however, has mastered the art of supplying just the right dose to the roots’ environment. This prevents an over-supply of nitrogen: the nutrient content of the soil remains low, but good for growth. In this way, the kidney vetch itself contributes to maintaining its preferred habitat. Nutrient-poor grasslands are increasingly being turned into nutrient-rich meadows* due to excessive fertilisation. In many locations, the presence of kidney vetch therefore almost gives rise to the hope of healing this.

Kidney vetch is regarded as an indicator of biodiverse plant and animal communities and habitats both in the wild and on cultivated land.

Healthy animals: kidney vetch habitat

Kidney vetch is extremely valuable not only for the diversity of the land, but also for wildlife: many bumblebee and wild bee species use it as a source of nectar and pollen. Some insects are even entirely dependent on it, such as the small blue, a species of butterfly. It lays its eggs on the kidney vetch, and the hatched caterpillar larvae feed exclusively on its flowers and seeds. Because the individual flowers along the head mature at different times, the small blue finds the right food at every stage of its life – and its very own ecological niche. In addition to the small blue, kidney vetch also feeds countless other insects and species throughout the food chain. In the past, it was even used as feed in animal husbandry or as a pasture for bees.

Kidney vetch is regarded as an indicator of biodiverse plant and animal communities and habitats both in the wild and on cultivated land. In times of species loss and climate stress, its balancing properties promote a modern approach to biodiversity and thus healthy cycles in nature. This is because a high level of biodiversity keeps overarching ecosystems as stable as a tightly woven net. Influences of any kind can be intercepted and absorbed.

Many bumblebee and wild bee species use kidney vetch as a source of nectar and pollen.

Healthy People: universal balance for the skin

Kidney vetch not only creates healthy meadows and a biodiverse environment; extracts of the plant are also used in cosmetic products to keep the skin healthy. The balancing effect it has in the field is also passed on to the skin in cosmetic formulations. And because it is so good for every skin type, kidney vetch has been a key plant used in Dr. Hauschka cosmetics since 1967.

In order to draw out the full potential of medicinal plants, the kidney vetch is slowly and gently extracted using a specially developed process and high-quality oil. In this way, the valuable ingredients are maximally preserved. The kidney vetch is then processed into different formulations for individual skin needs and can develop its optimal effect in each product.

Kidney vetch is emblematic of the One Health principles as an interface between humans, animals, plants and ecosystems and seems to have a healing effect when viewed holistically.

Kidney vetch is emblematic of the One Health principles as an interface between humans, animals, plants and ecosystems.

*How do meadows become nutrient-rich?

Intensive use such as multi-cuts, more agricultural fertilisation than a site can tolerate due to its character, nutrient input from the atmosphere, sharp cutting techniques and soil compaction by heavier machinery lead to higher yields and, unfortunately, more and more often to decreasing soil health. Nutrient-rich meadows arise on ‘richer’ soils that are home to and promote plant species that can handle a lot of nutrients and thus simply overgrow and crowd out the hungry flowers. Whole plant communities change as a result. Nutrient-rich meadow communities, originally confined to natural nutrient-rich areas such as meadow floodplains, are now increasingly spreading, displacing the undemanding, biodiverse plants. Easily recognisable in a landscape increasingly dominated by dandelions and buttercups – an almost ‘yellowing’.