Ratanhia – the Root from the Andes
The bushy shrub that grows on the foothills of the Andes in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador is rather inconspicuous at first glance, and not at all beautiful to look at. Its inner qualities are what make it so valuable. The fact that ratanhia (Latin name: Krameria lappacea) is the only species of an entire plant family is another indication that this plant is truly something special.
Sustainable Wild Collection of Valuable Roots
In the indigenous language of South America, ratanhia means “plant that creeps over the ground”. The indigenous people of the Andes have prized its healing properties since time immemorial, but in Europe it was unknown until the start of the eighteenth century when the plant was first brought to Spain and then later to Germany. Since then it has become increasingly popular as a valuable medicinal plant, and the amounts processed have steadily grown to the point that its very existence is threatened. For this reason, in 2005 Weleda commissioned a multi-year study in the Andes, with the aim of developing a sustainable wild collection strategy.
The Essential Things are Invisible
Ratanhia bushes grow at altitudes of between 600 and 3,600 metres in barren soil and dry conditions, and have an extensive root system. Inconspicuous and randomly dispersed, the bushes grow to a maximum height of one metre in a generally hostile environment. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe so aptly wrote: “The essential features of the plant are invisible.” And with ratanhia too, the plant’s secret seems to be hidden, concealed in its roots.
The hemispherical bush is a semi-parasite: although it uses photosynthesis, it needs a host plant to obtain additional nutrient salts. An underground root system that can spread across an area of up to four metres enables the plant to dock onto the roots of other plants without actually harming the host plant. These root systems play a key role in preventing erosion in areas where the plants grow. The question of how to harvest the roots without harming nature was thus of great importance to Weleda.
Cultivating this wild plant was one strategy Weleda focused on, but already in the initial phase of the research it became clear that the results would not be worth the effort involved. So Weleda launched a study on sustainable wild collection and developed a gathering strategy that ensures that the plants are preserved, that the harvesters work under fair conditions and receive decent pay, and that nature doesn’t suffer.
Love of Nature Comes First in Wild Harvesting
Since then Weleda has a partnership with a family living in a small village in the Arequipa region that gathers the required amounts of this precious root exclusively for the company through certified wild collection. Acting out of deep conviction this family, a married couple with ten children, has accepted a life full of hardship, digging up the sought-after roots in a remote area high in the mountains and many days’ journey from their home village. Naturally conscientious and with a focus on sustainability, they want to preserve the plant in its natural environment for their children and for posterity. They normally gather the roots for ten days then travel back to the village with their harvest. They are driven by the love of their homeland, of nature, of the wind and peace and quiet, and they are deeply connected with their task. Nothing they do is left to chance; they harvest the plants according to the stringent guidelines drawn up by Weleda in cooperation with the nature conservation authority. This means that they make sure that enough plants are left after the harvest and that none of the rootstocks are dug up completely. Wherever they remove a root, they immediately sow seeds of the same plant. Nature richly rewards them for their efforts, not just with a secure and long-term income, but also with the gift of being at one with nature in their own natural living space and of feeling a real connection with what they do. It’s a wonderful gift that keeps the body, mind and soul healthy.
Every year, a team of biologists documents the number of ratanhia plants in the area and checks that they are growing healthily and sustainably. Only if they pass this test and have observed the limit set each year for the harvest do the harvesters receive a new harvesting permit, along with the agreed and fair wages. For Weleda this procedure ensures transparent, sustainable and secure supplies. Moreover, this pilot project is setting a precedent. The Peruvian nature conservation authorities are now working to ensure that the sustainable collection method developed by Weleda becomes compulsory for all companies that want to export ratanhia. This is an important step towards preserving biodiversity in the long term.
A Red Root with Powerful Effects
The red roots of the ratanhia plant are rich in tannins and have been used in this region for centuries as a traditional remedy for inflammation, especially of the mouth. The tannins form a protective layer that pathogens have difficulty penetrating, causing them to die off. Weleda uses the alcoholic extract of the root in its oral hygiene products to strengthen the tissues of the mouth and prevent irritation. The plant is therefore an ideal aid in oral hygiene, because a healthy mouth with strong teeth is more than just attractive and pleasing, but also an important factor for the health of the entire organism.
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Ratanhia Root Extract
The Krameria Triandra Root Extract contains many tannins that have an astringent (tanning) effect, e.g. to the oral mucosa. Therefore, the dark brown root extract is a particularly suitable ingredient for mouth and dental care products.