Arnica (Arnica Montana) has been used for centuries for the treatment of muscle injuries, bruises and sprains. So far almost 150 pharmaceutically active ingredients have been identified in the natural chemistry of the plant. For Weleda, arnica extract is important to many of our pharmaceutical products, especially in medical ointments and we also use arnica in natural cosmetics.

A healing balm for tired muscles and bruises

Fresh-processed arnica plants are principally sourced from partner companies in Germany, growing the plant organically, while dried arnica flowers come from certified wild collections in Romania. Together with partners in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, Weleda plays a pioneering role in sustainable procurement of medicinal plants from the wild.

Collected from the wild

Medicinal plants have adapted to their natural habitats over long periods of time. Even man-made pastoral and agricultural landscapes can, in time, become a natural habitat for the arnica plant. But strong human intervention disturbs the plant’s delicate balance and arnica is very sensitive to sudden intensive use of pasture land. Fertiliser alters the nutrient balance greatly and intensive harvesting also disturbs arnica’s peaceful growing conditions, with the result that the arnica no longer flourishes and can even disappear altogether from a place where it once grew strongly.

We’ve been proactive in addressing this increased risk of extinction through our own experiences of a similar project in the French Vosges. We worked with the World Wildlife Fund and landscape ecologists to develop a reliable collection environment which ensures sustainable medicinal plant crops.

For this carefully controlled wild collection, only a certain number of flowers are picked, all by hand, and meanwhile the pasture land is used exclusively by livestock – there are no additional fertilisers.

To make sure our high standards are maintained the farmers that harvest the arnica, mostly livestock farmers or timber growers, are trained regularly by the local cooperative. By working together during the flowering period they receive an extra fixed income. Since 2010 Weleda has worked hard to expand sustainable wild collection to other parts of the Carpathians, spreading the idea of sustainable use and protecting more pastureland with its precious biodiversity.

Locally sourced, sustainable energy

The newly constructed drying facility we commissioned in 2007 is also of great importance for the arnica project in the Carpathian Mountains. The building itself was constructed from locally abundant wood resources and sustainable energy sources are also used for heating. Crucially, this means farmers and members of the cooperative are more independent and can improve their own position to become a self-employed Weleda partner. We benefit from high quality arnica flowers through constant exchange with the cooperative and their experience in the drying of medicinal plants. To ensure the whole project is working well, we support scientific monitoring of plant populations through detailed observation of arnica stocks on survey plots. This research gives early indications of any changes and provides valuable data for long-term collection and harvest management.