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Where the wild herbs grow...

Where the wild herbs grow...

Where the wild herbs grow...

... find out on a guided hike with herbal expert Ingrid Simma-Isenberg, who explains the benefits of the many plants growing along the way and their healing properties.

Want to join Ingrid Simma-Isenberg for a hike via her home village of Au? Along the way, those who accompany her consciously search for special medicinal herbs. This makes the hike extra special as one learns more about local flora while also enjoying a meditative experience.

If you climb a mountain in the Bregenzerwald with Ingrid Simma-Isenberg, be warned: the trip won’t be quick. After all, the Au native cares little for reaching the summit or testing her personal limits. She prefers instead to slow things down and to concentrate on the details that become apparent along the way. As a trained herbal specialist, she can hardly take a step without discovering a herb, plant or a special butterfly, then observing it closely and explaining more about it to those who have joined her. At the end of a hike with her, one feels deeply relaxed and enriched having learned more about the local environment. One of her preferred routes leads past countless gathering places featuring diverse herbs. The journey starts in her home village of Au. To arrive at the first herb harvest site, we head from the church towards the tennis court and then continue through a copse of leaves. “It’s an especially beautiful area. For me, hiking here is an almost meditative experience.” Up high, after the first ascent towards the Ahornen mid-elevation pasture, we enjoy beautiful views over the villages of Au and Schoppernau as well as the Kanisfluh massif.

Ingrid points to a field full of stinging nettles. “They’re often referred to as a classic ‘men’s weed,’ but this plant has so many interesting properties beneficial to both sexes,” the herbal experts tells me as she plucks a few tips from the stinging plants and enumerates the plants many benefits for men and women. “Nettles, however, are a true all-rounder. In salts, tinctures, or as a tea, they can stimulate metabolism or promote circulation.” The dreaded itching or stinging sensation they cause can be avoided by touching the nettles not against, but with the grain of their fine prickles. If you are, nevertheless, affected by its sting, use ribwort, an elongated herb often found near nettle, and grind it so that juice comes out.Drizzle this over the affected area, which will help the itchy sting to go away. After harvesting some nettle, we continue our ascent up the slope of the Kanisfluh massif, past old, rustic shingle-covered huts. Halfway to the Ahornen Chapel, Ingrid takes a detour up the slope to a field of boulders where medicinal herbs grow.

As we approach, the buzz of insects is audible and the herb specialist points out the various butterflies fluttering about. Here amongst the scree, a lot of plants grow which are used to relieve aches and pains. Among them, Simma-Isenberg singles out the aromatic wild marjoram plant. Sprinkled on pizza or used in seasoning salt or as a substitute for oregano, wild marjoram not only helps against flatulence, but also serves as a stimulant. Stowing the wild marjoram in a paper sack, we continue uphill towards the chapel. The trained masseuse and mountain guide suggests that we pause for a cold arm bath before we continue our hike through the next copse to the Feursteinalpe mountain pasture. “On hot days, bathing the arms draws the heat out of your head and into your arms.” As I continue my hike, my mind actually seems a lot more alert. “Gathering herbs actually grounds me,” the herbal specialist explains. “And being intensely involved with the environment brings me closer to nature. As a result, I move more deliberately through the environment.” Ingrid has always been interested in herbs, but it was only when she trained as a herbal specialist ten years ago that her passion was fully ignited. Today, she collects herbs for her own use, i.e for cooking, tinctures and to support the healing processes.

“I should emphasise, however, that I don’t view herbs as a cure-all. First and foremost I seem them as a healthy preventative.” Behind the chapel, the trail leads us to the Feursteinalpe mountain pasture. On our right is the Kanisfluh massif, an iconic mountain in the Bregenzerwald. On our left, the small Leuebach stream meanders past. It rained the day before and now the damp meadows begin to steam in the sunshine. “The conditions are perfect for gathering herbs.” The vegetation has changed with the altitude. Up high, the herbs are smaller and more intense: “They have to withstand the extreme weather up here and become stronger as a consequence. Their robustness really shows in the tinctures!” Up here, along the edges of the path, one often finds Alchemilla, also called lady’s mantle. In addition to the stinging nettle, a plant beneficial to men in particular, the lady’s mantle is a classic female plant. It is used to relieve painful periods, and can also be used to prepare for childbirth. Chewed in the mouth, it has an antiseptic effect. When harvesting, as with all herbs, take care to only gather a small amount so that nature can quickly recover. In addition, Ingrid recommends collecting herbs on the way back down. The sooner the herbs are processed after harvesting, the better the valuable nutrients are preserved.

After visiting the Feursteinalpe mountain pasture, we pass the Alpengasthaus Edelweiss inn and join a trail to the Alpe Obere mountain pasture, the destination of our hike. This Alpine pasture hut is situated between the Kanisfluh massif on one side and the Klippern mountain on the other. The hut serves delicious cheese sandwiches. Since departing Au, we have ascended 800 metres in altitude. Along the way, we also found yellow St. John’s wort. It is a light-loving plant, Ingrid explains to me. It really harnesses the power of the sun and can help against depressive moods. From Au to the Alpe Obere pasture, we hiked through a veritable medicinal garden in nature. We collected the aphrodisiac stinging nettle, the tendon-strengthening lady’s mantle and the stimulating wild marjoram, which are just a sampling of the many medicinal herbs that grow here. Many of these plants are poisonous. As a result, Ingrid recommends thorough research in advance. One should only collect herbs that one really knows, and in small quantities for personal use.

Author: Hannah Greber
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2022