As fresh as a daisy – how the annual arnica harvest is brought to Weleda
Thirty years ago Weleda UK took the first delivery of Scottish-grown arnica from herb gardener Duncan Ross – still the only commercial grower of biodynamic herbs in the UK. Every year since, he’s made the ten-hour drive with a freshly-harvested crop. Arnica is not a fussy plant, but the conditions it needs are rare in Britain. It’s an alpine, preferring poor, well-drained soil and cool temperatures, thriving on frost and snow in winter. In Scotland it’s found a natural home in the Black Isle, on croftland which slopes gently sunwards. The UK arnica story starts with Duncan’s commitment to biodynamic growing, cultivated over 40 years at Poyntzfield Herb Garden. Duncan has made a life’s work following Rudolf Steiner’s ambition of healing the earth with biodynamic cultivation and the quality of his harvest proves the philosophy.
The day before we see our crop, he and four other gardeners are up early. Each arnica plant is carefully lifted, roots and all, the whole plant (planta tota) called for in homeopathic remedies. The roots are carefully washed and any discoloured or broken leaves removed, to leave what Duncan describes as ‘lovely clean plants’ to be placed upright in boxes, their roots in cool water. After the long day in the field, all the gardeners are grateful for arnica massage balm. “It really is effective for gardener’s back and we use it after a hard day picking the flowers” says Duncan.
This year he’ll bring 100 kilos of whole, fresh plants down to our Derbyshire base, setting off in the cool twilight hours and looking remarkably fresh when we find him waiting at our pharmacy the next morning. “Over the 30 years I’ve got to know the Weleda staff pretty well. It’s a great company to work with, where people understand what it means to grow herbs to create something of benefit to humanity.”
As well as celebrating 30 years of delivery to Weleda, Duncan Ross’s herb nursery, Poyntzfield, marks its own 40th anniversary this autumn. To celebrate there’ll be a series of workshops including on Goethean plant observation, biodynamic gardening, making pigments and inks from herbs and on herbal, homeopathic and anthroposophic medicine with Dr Judy Klahre-Parker, former Weleda pharmacist. For more information go to www.poyntzfieldherbs.co.uk