The Secret World of Herbs: In the Alps (Episode 1)

Epoch Cinema
Epoch Cinema
October 4, 2021Cinemashare00

Secluded for many centuries in inaccessible valleys, the inhabitants of the Alps had no alternative but to rely on the healing powers of nature. A knowledge of herbs was deeply rooted in these mountain-dwellers’ everyday lives – until the twentieth century, when this wisdom became eclipsed by modern academic medicine. Today, Alpine herbs are witnessing a revival, as public interest in regional natural treasures grows. The potential of Alpine herbs is far from exhausted.

In the Berchtesgaden Alps, the film shows Hubsi Ilsanker at work as a root-digger, a back-breaking job that has scarcely changed in four hundred years. Authorized by a special historic permit to supply the oldest gentian distillery in Germany, Hubsi digs for protected gentian roots in Berchtesgaden National Park. For yellow gentian is one of the most bitter medicinal herbs in the world, well suited for schnapps and as a general tonic.

In the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the audience encounters druggist Astrid Thurner, a pioneering edelweiss cultivator who has planted an entire field with the high-Alpine plant, for its anti-oxidative ingredients, which she utilizes in her own line of cosmetic products. At the Center for Biomedicine in Innsbruck we learn of a sensational finding. The researchers have discovered a new compound in edelweiss: leoligin, a substance that could revolutionize the treatment of vascular disease.

Alternative therapist Astrid Süßmuth invites us to tour the “outdoor pharmacy” of the Ötztal Alps. She introduces us to the most toxic herb in Europe, blue wolf’s bane – also known as the arsenic of medieval times. At Benedictine Admont Monastery, the film explores the largest abbey library in the world; and in the village of Heiligenblut, near the Großglockner, we look on as traditionally costumed local women celebrate the “blessing of the herbs”, a long forgotten custom from pre-Christian times.

In the Dolomite Mountains of South Tyrol, gourmet chef Franz Mulser puts the taste of alpine pastures on his guests’ plates. Meanwhile, down in Völs am Schlern, the same Seiser Pasture hay that just wound up in the cook’s soup is turned into a hay bath, where it releases its herbal essences. Our camera follows this wellness application, reputed to help with all varieties of gout, and to ease joint and back pain.

In the South Tyrolian valley Tauferer Ahrntal, the audience witnesses the herbal enthusiasm of Anneres Ebenkofler, as she gathers the secret recipes and healing methods of traditional locals. She runs her hotel according to a principle she calls “Alpine teachings”, in which her favorite herb plays a prominent role: St. John’s wort – a “fantastic light plant, in which you encounter the sun goddess herself”.

Bärbel Jacks’s film visits people committed to rescuing the ancient knowledge of herbs and to channelling it into modern applications suited to our contemporary needs. The audience experiences the herbs in impressive macro imagery. Aerial footage transports us to the four nations of the Alpine region: to Germany (Bavaria), Austria, Italy, and Switzerland.

a film by Bärbel Jacks

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2016     46 min.     PG     English, French, German    


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