Alexander Graf / translated by Max HathawayJulian Beekmann

The green pharmacy

Modern society has lost touch with the healing powers of the plant world, and Astrid Eichelroth has plans to change this. For 25 years she has been showing visitors of the Weinheim castles herb garden, her colorful and wonderfully scented library, containing centuries of medicinal products.

 

It may only be a few steps, but once you reach the bottom of the old stone stairs, it is like stepping into a whole new world. It is a peaceful place, full of color, scents and aromas, and the air buzzes with a dazzle of tiny creatures. In the background the lush green hillsides of the Forest of Odes ascend, while the old fortified tower, called “Blauer Hut” solemnly stands watch. “This garden is a healing environment”, says Astrid Eichelroth, as she takes in the scene. “You can almost feel the connection between us humans and the plants.” 

Always felt a special connection with nature: Weinheims “herb fairy” Astrid Eichelroth.

It’s easy to spot this “herb fairy”, even without having ever met her before. She wears a large bright straw hat, her eyes alert and full of wisdom, her skin that of a woman, that has spent most of her life outdoors. Every few steps she pauses to softly graze some leaves, or to gently drag her fingers through the soil. 

69-year-old Astrid Eichelroth is responsible for creating this green haven of naturopathy, in a formerly uncared-for corner of the herb garden. Where before mostly dogs would “do their business”, we now see hawthorn, lady’s mantle, viper’s bugloss, lavender, echinacea and balloon flower. A tireless volunteer, Eichelroth began work on the garden in 1995, and has developed and cultivated it ever since – merely supported by donations and a small team of helpers. “I’ve always felt a special connection with nature,” she says.

Today, the former Waldorf school teacher spends three to four hours daily, between the bushes and herbs, taking care of her little fosterlings. Regularly she will give visitors information and advice regarding the healing properties of certain plants. The inhabitants of the twin-castle town along the Bergstrasse are thankful for her expertise. “If I had a cellphone, it would probably never stop ringing!” she says and laughs.

This growing interest in naturopathy is something that Astrid Eichelroth very much welcomes, but she says that she is also constantly reminded that most of the old knowledge has been lost. “Nowadays many people can’t tell a lily of the valley from wild garlic,” she says, and seems truly sorry, and not at all cynical. She has set off to change this state of affairs, regularly leading visitors through the garden, and by offering courses for producing ointments and herbal soaps.

“Remedies should be gifted, so they can really work.”

The garden consists of four terraced patches, which hold over 200 different medicinal and aromatic plants. Particularly interesting: just as in a pharmacy the plants are sorted according to their healing powers. Anyone who might have over-indulged with mealtime should visit the digestive-patch, where wormwood or tarragon offer a natural stimulation for the digestive system, with their bitter substances. The roots of wood avens, lavender flowers or cat’s-foot, are the experts recommendation, if one may desire the opposite effect.

The Weinheim castles medicinal herb garden is a treat for all senses. The chocolate flower smells of finest dark chocolate, while the leaves of the chervil taste of licorice when chewed. Though caution is also recommended, as there are quite a few highly poisonous plants in the garden, Eichelroth warns. “Not even I will work with some of these plants,” she says. Two leaves of the red foxglove, which grows in the cardiovascular-patch, for example, can be fatal when ingested. 

“This is a really great specimen!”, Eichelroth exclaims and stops before a patch, a small yellow sign reads: “skin and bone injuries”. Comfrey, a plant which grows to be around three feet in height, with cup-shaped flowers and long pointy leaves, is one of her favorites. “This plant can help with any symptoms of the musculoskeletal system. In the past it was used to treat broken bones,” Eichelroth explains.

Not only the Weinheim expert is convinced of this plants healing powers, which have also been proven through clinical trials. Also British physician Nicholas Culpeper wrote in 17th century: “Comfrey has such remarkable healing and re-joining properties, that pieces of meat cooked with Comfrey in a pot, will grow back together!”

Eichelroth wouldn’t go to such lengths, but she is very aware of natures healing powers. She would never call the ointments and tinctures she offers miracle drugs. And she never takes money for the things she produces in her garden. “Remedies should be gifted, so they can really work,” she says and smiles. “I might be a bit outlandish in this regard, but I feel you always get something back in return.”


Heilpflanzengarten im Schlosspark Weinheim