Herbal traditions of Thuringia
Oberweißbach and the Tradition of Herbal Oils Trade from the pamphlet "Herb Seminars in the Froebel City, Oberweißbach"
Oberweissbach is known well beyond its borders because of Friedrich Fröbel, the great pre-school paedagogue and founder of Kindergarten who was born here 21 April 1782. With pride our community, mentioned in documents as early as 1370 A.D., was elevated to the status of City, "The Froebel City, Oberweissbach", by the Gemeinderat of the Provincial Government of Thuringia in 1932.
Commercial importance was attained by Oberweissbach in the past through its essential oils industry, which reached its peak in the 18th century. The forest dwellers used the treasures of the "Thuringian Herb Garden" a region which borders on both sides of the middle section of the Schwarza River with much finesse.
Because of its typical mountain climate, excellent soil rich in mineral nutrients, the flora of the Thuringian Herb Garden is rich in curative plants, forest and meadow herbs. The mountain meadows still bloom in their original colourful brilliance. Every year, around the time of the Feast of St. John, arnica colours the fields with its rich yellow and wafts its pleasant fragrance.
Pussy willows, Wild Camomile, dandelions et al and other medicinal herbs were in rich abundance. The forest was also rich in berries, roots, barks, the raw materials used by the forest dwellers in the production of their medicinals, called essential oils. Long before the production of these oils and ointments were governmentally regulated activities, the herbalists made "burned water" from berries and forest herbs. They cooked sauce from juniper berries, then used the tar from the carbonized wood as an ointment for rashes; they used the resin and pitch as cure-alls and produced the highly regarded "Mountain Oil" by a process of dry distillation of juniper twigs, and pieces of fir, pine, oak and birch trees. Thus they laid the groundwork for the oils trade which would have its base in the Thuringian Herb Garden for centuries.
In smoky laboratories, spirits, colognes, balms, pills, polstices, tinctures and extracts were created in mysterious ways, as the recipes were handed down father to son. In producing these herbal products, aromatic oils played an important role; in them were concentrated the healing properties of aromatic plants. With the help of steam vapor distillation and with the addition of fatty oils and spirits, they were turned into curative medicinals. They had such quaint names as "Praise Tincture," "Life Balm," "Life Oil," "Angel Balm," "Mold - and Stink Balm," "Kaiser Pills," "Wonder Balm," and many more.
Many tasty spirits were produced too "Pomeranzen," carroway, cinnamon, and peppermint liqueurs. Myriad uses were found for fir needles and juniper berries.
The herbal dealers, called Ruck- Sack pharmacists, or "Balm Carriers," transported these preparations in packs on their backs throughout the world. Hence they were called "Rucksackers (English)" or "Raanzer/Ranzerte (German)." They walked about 60-70 km per day and stayed away for months; many disappeared completely. Each had his own stretch or route. They went to Holland, Denmark, Bohemia, Poland, Austria, France and Switzerland.
With their full money pouches they returned home with many impressions from their travels. We see that in the stately homes of the herbalists, the Apothecary from whose laboratory millions of vials of oils flowed out to the world, and the LARGEST village church in Thuringia, whose reconstruction from 1767-1779 [overseen by Ev-Lutheran Pastor Johann Jakob Fröbel, father of Friedrich] was necessary for the ever-growing population.
Full of pride the Oberweissbacher look back to that time. (Note: herbal products are still a prized item of Oberweissbach and region). The centuries old tradition of herbal production was a family undertaking; and the marketing of curative oils, balms, etc., and the "rucksack" pharmacies was very typical of Oberweissbach and region, but unique in all of Germany.
On 20 April 1994, the Room of Traditions in Friedrich Fröbels childhood home and birthplace, (the parish parsonage), was christened "Herbal Oils Trade" Room. This permanent exhibition honours the tradition of herbal medicinals, its genesis and development of the industry.
many thanks to Winfried Mueller of Jena for the original text, Oberweißbach und die Tradition des Ölitätenhandels, from the Kräuterseminare in der Fröbelstadt Oberweißbach which was translated by J. Froebel-Parker, Albany, New York USA
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