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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe

“Nature Is My Herb Garden”

Updated on 13.06.2016 in Nature

Comfrey Ointment, Spirit of Wild Thyme, and Birch Leaf Tea: While some people are finally starting to discover the amazing powers in healing herbs, others have been using herbs to heal for hundreds of years, handed down from generation to generation. Elisabeth Maaß, a farmer’s wife from Ried in Tirol’s Upper Inntal Valley, is one of them. She has extensive herbal knowledge—and she loves to share her wisdom.

“There are healing plants to be found in almost anyone’s yard. If people just recognized them, they would be a lot healthier and happier.” Elisabeth Maaß is convinced that many ailments can be treated by remedies and simple measures based on experience and knowledge handed down from generation to generation. The herbalist and host at Sagenscheinder’s Herb Farm in Ried in Oberinntal Valley talks with great passion and excitement, bringing her wealth of herbal knowledge to those interested in an engaging and vibrant manner. She is in constant search for medicinal herbs, in particular wild herbs—and she loves to share her wisdom. She knows that herbs provide natural, safer remedies to dozens of common ailments. Widely recognized as herb expert in the westernmost part of Tirol, the 61-year old woman is dedicated to keep her family, friends and farmstay guests healthy and nourished.

Elisabeth Maaß, who also leads herb walks and conducts lectures, welcomes her farmstay guests with wild herb smoothies and homemade teas in the morning. “First I assess the people and then I create a formula for them,” she explains. Birch leaves, for example, are beneficial for sensitive people. Moreover, birch leaf tea is mildly diuretic. Young leaves can be added to salad, too. Thyme is good for people under stress, adds Elisabeth. “It brings balance and strength to body and soul and warms the heart.” Wild Thyme, called ‘Quendel’ in Tirol, grows close to the ground on the sunny side of rocks. Elisabeth is convinced that Wild Thyme absorbs the warmth that the stones receive from the sun and that the herb passes this warmth on to man.

Dandelion, Ground Ivy, Daisy – Elisabeth Maaß finds and picks her herbs in a multitude of habitats, everywhere from around her home and along the bank of creeks to deep in the woods of Upper Inntal Valley. Working with plants is her life. It is important to treat them well. She believes that, “because plants are sensitive and aware beings, we are obliged to treat them with respect. They have so much to offer and are so willing to teach, heal and nourish.” Elisabeth Maaß works with herbs every day, literally every day, harvesting wild herbs, formulating herbal remedies and herbal teas, cooking with herbs and using her herbals to keep everyone healthy. Most of the herbs she uses grow wild; just a few selected varieties like Coneflower, Lovage, Marjoram and Parsley grow in her kitchen garden. “Strictly speaking, nature is my herb garden,” she adds. “I go where they grow, that’s way better than planting herbs in the kitchen garden.”

                   Der Wildbach ist ihr Kraftplatz – auch, weil hier die Engelwurz wächst, die Schwester der Meisterwurz
                Der Wildbach ist ihr Kraftplatz – auch, weil hier die Engelwurz wächst, die Schwester der Meisterwurz

                   Das große Blatt des Breitwegerich, gern als Naturpflaster bei Schürfwunden oder Stichen verwendet
                Das große Blatt des Breitwegerich, gern als Naturpflaster bei Schürfwunden oder Stichen verwendet

Does she have a favourite herb? “Of course,” she answers. “Masterwort. It’s a magic plant. Masterwort has been a medicinal staple since the Middle Ages referred to as “the divine remedy” by the Romans, “the Queen of the plants” by the Swiss, and “the Gingko of the Alps” by Tiroleans. It’s no wonder this plant has such flattering monikers—over the past few centuries, it has been used to restore vigour, to help with cardiovascular problems, for headaches and migraines, and for the treatment of dementia. Masterwort grows wild in the mountains at elevations of 1,300 meters and more. “In the spring, the young leaves taste delicious. They can be used to make tea, pesto sauce or soup,” explains Elisabeth Maaß. In autumn, she harvests its root to make a liqueur. “It’s simple: Cover one part of root with two parts of alcohol and leave to stand for three to four weeks before use.” In earlier times, local farmers used Masterwort to treat foot-and-mouth disease. “We still put Masterwort powder into our animal fodder each day,” she declares.

‘Quendel’ in Oil: Wild Thyme brings balance and strength to body and soul and warms the heart, says Elisabeth Maaß.‘Quendel’ in Oil: Wild Thyme brings balance and strength to body and soul and warms the heart, says Elisabeth Maaß.

Another true wonder of nature is the Stinging Nettle. “If people knew about the healing properties of Nettle, soon the yards would be completely harvested,” remarks Elisabeth Maaß. Nettles are extremely rich in vital nutrients, including vitamins A, C and E; and minerals, including iron, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Nettle is amazing for people who are seriously exhausted and drained of energy. “It can be a bit uplifting, but it’s not dangerous. Stinging Nettle is a very safe herb,” she adds, laughing. Perhaps its most popular use is turning the leaves into Stinging Nettle tea. However, nettle seeds can also be used to make a very special herbal salt:

Nettle Salt

Wearing gloves, remove the seeds from the leaves in July and August. After washing and drying, spread them out on a baking sheet and let dry. Add good-quality salt (one part nettle seed to two parts salt) and mix briefly, just enough to combine. Spread out and let dry again. Then bray the mixture in a mortar or using a spoon until it’s powdery—and sprinkle it wherever you like! It tastes great with eggs, salad and on bread and butter.

Elisabeth’s passion for herbs started when she was a little girl. Her mother shared her passion for plants with her daughter and taught her how to cook and heal with herbs. Growing up, Elisabeth lost interest in herbal knowledge for a while. She returned to her roots when her husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bones, 40 years ago, shortly after their marriage. “The doctors gave him just six months to live,” remembers Elisabeth Maaß. They began to change their diet to healthful wholefoods, following the nutritional rules of Hildegard von Bingen, pioneer of naturopathy and herbal medicine. “We had nothing to lose,” she says. Elisabeth’s husband outlived that prognosis and is still alive today. “This experience helped me to reconnect with nature and the natural world. It gave me hope and confidence.”

Seeing Tirol through the eyes of a visitor - and through the lens of his camera - Berlin journalist and photographer Sebastian Höhn answers the call of the mountains. Hiking through the high country makes him feel like he is on top of the world. And, it’s a great way to get a break from the busy bustle of the city.

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