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Some like it wild

Martin Kienzler is Wild Harvester for WALA Heilmittel GmbH.
Photo: Kerstin Braun

With snap hook and climbing harness – just how wild is Martin Kienzler’s job as a wild harvester? As he explains himself: “What is wild is above all the environment in which the plants grow. But as a wild harvester you have to love the outdoors – and you also have to be able to climb the occasional tree to cut mistletoe. Ultimately, I collect the wild herbs where they are originally found.” While some of these herbs can be harvested a stone’s throw away in the local woods, others are only to be found in high mountain locations. Before setting out, Martin Kienzler always sends a request to the relevant environmental protection authority or the local forestry office. This means that paperwork is part of his job – without it, that job would not be possible. He only sets to work after receiving clearance from the authorities and once it has been determined where and when he may harvest plants and herbs and what percentage of the stock he may take: “The correct official term for what I do is certified wild harvesting – and this is the only kind of harvesting that I do. Harvesting should never be at the expense of nature.”

As Martin Kienzler says: “As a wild harvester, working sustainably is the only option. After all, my livelihood depends on each plant being available the following year as well.”
Photo: Kerstin Braun
Martin Kienzler studied geography and trained as an arborist. Both of these skills are invaluable in his work as a wild harvester.
Photo: Kerstin Braun
“What fascinates me is the different locations, the moods, the sunrises in the mountain areas.” (Martin Kienzler)
Photo: Kerstin Braun
Martin Kienzlers work begins before sunrise in order to harvest the plants while they are rested after the night.
Photo: Kerstin Braun

Heading to the mountains at the crack of dawn

If you want to know what a typical working day for Martin Kienzler is, you need to get up very early indeed. After all, wild harvesting is a job that usually begins before the sun comes up. This is because, at that stage, the plants have not yet begun their photosynthesis and metabolic processes and can be harvested with all their energy and healing power still intact. Another advantage of getting up with the larks is that it is often possible to hand over freshly harvested plants and herbs directly to WALA’s plant laboratory so that they can be processed right away on the same day. This is why Martin Kienzler is usually to be found on the Swabian Alb, in the Bavarian Forest, on the Alpine uplands or in the Vosges.

Isn’t there an easier way?

It would certainly be less complicated to harvest these herbs in WALA’s medicinal herb garden or in the fields of its Sonnenhof farm. Many plants and herbs used in WALA Medicines or Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products are grown here. However, some of them are better suited to growing in the wild than in man-made beds. They need the harsh mountain climate or a particular type of ground that contains specific soils or rocks, or to be surrounded by familiar vegetation. Only in this way can they maximise their active substances. Wild plants are also more robust because they need to be able to survive in nature. This is why plants and herbs are harvested wild.

A glance at Kienzler’s to-do list

Martin Kienzler harvests what WALA’s plant laboratory orders: around 20 different plants and herbs, primarily flowering plants such as eyebright or arnica. However, he also plucks birch leaves, digs up gentian or butterbur roots, and cuts mistletoe at the summer or winter solstices. The volumes vary significantly: while WALA needs around a tonne of spruce shoot tips every year, its products only call for some 300 grams of stagshorn clubmoss – every four years. And not every order takes the same time to harvest: for instance, after several dry years, eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) grows somewhat smaller than usual. This means that the harvester needs to spend more time plucking eyebright to have enough for WALA Euphrasia Eye Drops or for Dr. Hauschka Mascara or Eye Revive. However, the size of a plant is no indication of the quality of its active substances. As Martin Kienzler attests: “I have immense respect for small eyebright – it might not look like much at first glance, but it is enormously potent.”

A wild harvester’s greatest asset

A key arrow in any wild harvester’s quiver is knowing the best places to harvest. These are passed on from generation to generation together with the wealth of experience in this area. “What I need to know can’t be found in any textbook”, says Martin Kienzler, who was instructed in the art of wild harvesting by his “master” Friedrich Reyeg. However, it is also a question of learning from nature and of adapting to the weather and climate changes. Martin Kienzler: “We have observed that, after several mild years, greater quantities of mistletoe and other warmth-loving plants are to be found in our latitudes and that alpine plants such as arnica retreat to higher altitudes. It remains to be seen whether these are merely short-term phenomena or the permanent effects of climate change. I will continue to keep a close eye on this.”