Interview with Jurgen Kerschbaumer – Flora Force
In an interview with Flora Force Director ,Jurgen Kerschbaumer, we gain insight into the family-run organisation and chat through herbal medicine and include some of the challenges of the industry, the company’s environmental outlook, recommend some natural remedies and look at their inspiration for working with with Greenpop.
Can you tell us about Flora Force?
Flora Force is a based family company that has been making pure herbal medicine in Cape Town since 1989. My mom, who had a B.Sc as background, had an epiphany about Homeopathy with my eldest brother, who had lots problems as a baby- eczema, asthma and so on, and had a great improvement thanks to classical homeopathic treatment. It set both my parents on a path of studying a bunch of different disciplines throughout their careers, despite raising 8 kids (yes, 8!). That is where Flora Force Health Products come in. We started off with a bunch of herbal teas and tinctures. Over the years the range has grown to a long list of common and obscure herbs in tablet, capsule and liquid forms, a few specialised creams for moms and babies (that are based on the formulas my mom used in her practice), some handmade baby accessories…even some partnerships like with Drasanvi from Spain that produces a lovely range of raw organic superfood ingredients.
But the Flora Force products have always been made right here in Cape Town. We are passionate about creating jobs locally and remaining close to the source. This way we have greater confidence that things are being done in a manner that makes us proud to do what we do.
Why did you choose to join the family business?
I was working in a hand painting factory in the mid ’90s. It was easy enough, but my heart was not in it. I knew my brothers needed some support and that business was growing. So, I pleaded for an opportunity, and have had to work my way up through the ranks over the years. I can say, with a bit of pride, that I have a really good idea of how each process works, and that I have performed pretty much every task, so I have a good idea of what it takes.
I did also have a “walkabout” between 1999 and 2002. I did some odd jobs and explored the world a little. Travel is a wonderfully enriching experience. I often say that I wish for everyone to have this privilege – it goes a long way to building tolerance and understanding. After my brother, Karl, passed away in a motorbike accident, I wanted to be closer to my family and support my other brothers in the business. I am really fortunate for the opportunities that I have been afforded. And I can honestly say that while working with family inevitably has its own, well-known challenges, it can also be really rewarding.
“Along with growth there is international pressure to conform to the reductionist scientific or conventional medicine mindset”
What do you find most challenging about the herbal health industry?
Much of it has to do with appropriate and effective oversight and management. The industry has also grown around us to become absolutely massive, with loads of new specialist retailers. Along with growth there is international pressure to conform to the reductionist scientific or conventional medicine mindset. But herbs are complex. They do not contain one chemical with a singular pharmacological action. Much has been learned and measured. But there is just so much more we do not yet fully grasp. Our current model of “drug development” is not adequately speaking to the challenges of interrogating natural medicines. It is easy to become despondent in the face of these challenges. We have to contend with all the other huge issues – social, spacial and economic inequity, environmental imperatives…at times it can be quite overwhelming. So, we take the view that we stop worrying about what others do. We focus on our responsibility to communicate in a responsible fashion, to remain close the source of the medicine we sell. To remain true to our principles. We do simple, true herbal medicine. No compromise. Let others bear the responsibility for themselves, and we do the best we can, every day.
How do you address environmental challenges?
In the modern context, pretty much all economic activity has an environmental footprint of some sort. It would be disingenuous to pretend that we have a halo to polish. One does what I would regard as the obvious:
- Source and choose raw and packaging materials with care.
- Localise manufacturing (i.e. don’t farm it out to China!)
- Ship efficiently.
- Use technology. Whether we are talking about resources splurged on printing or burning fuel rushing to and from meetings, technology, for all its pitfalls, gives us a million little ways to tread lightly.
If someone was interested in Flora Force Health Products, what would be a few things you would suggest?
- From a product perspective, I think our Turmerynne is uncomplicated, unassuming yet phenomenal.
Turmeric with a bit of cayenne and a delicate pinch of black pepper. Here’s why: research is increasingly showing how profound the impact of chronic inflammation is on a long list of diseases. And Turmeric, unusually, is a well researched herb that has been proved remarkably effective to reduce chronic inflammation. It is however generally poorly absorbed, and there are two ways to improve this situation. One is to consume Turmeric and dietary fats simultaneously. Think ghee in curries, coconut oil and so forth. The other is to include black pepper in the equation. Every now and again I hear from someone who has a whole bunch of unexpected benefits from taking Turmerynne. But underlying – that silent inflammation niggling away is generally the reason why so many people swear by it for so many different ailments.
The other two? They have almost nothing to do with products we sell. We may well make it easy and convenient to take a bunch of different herbs, but I strongly dislike people trying to hard sell (and I steer clear of hard selling). Not all answer come from bottles in pill form.
- Grow your own!
A wise lady once told me; “the making of the medicine IS the medicine.” I firmly believe that it is important to have direct contact with your food (this includes herbs). There is just about no excuse not to have a couple of plants, even if it is only a bit of rosemary in an old tin, grown from a cutting, on your kitchen windowsill. The time for letting someone else grow all your food outside of the city is over. Vast lawns are just uncool. There is something almost magical about cycling some of your own energy back into the soil, into plants and consuming them. It is, to me at least, an imperative. (And you always have to have some Bulbinella in your garden for cuts and burns. The best rocket you can ever have must never see a plastic packet or supermarket shelf. Anyone can grow some rocket, surely.)
- I also get really excited about all things fermented and pickled.
As a way to store things that we’ve produced in our awesome tiny urban farms, it is also the source of all-important bacteria that is the key to gut health. Fermented chilli sauce, sauerkraut, ginger beer, kombucha…every culture has some form of fermented food that provides diversity and re-innoculates our guts. As with inflammation, there is an ever-growing body of evidence for the importance of a healthy micro-biome. As a source of energy, the ability to digest efficiently, to fight off pathogens in the digestive tract. To increase resilience of the whole immune system.
Perhaps there is one other product worth mentioning in this regard. Consider that you need to feed the millions and millions of little guys that inhabit your digestive tract. To do this you need around 35g of soluble and insoluble fibre to keep them peachy. The average American diet is estimated at 15g. And increasingly we follow the American model that is full of sugars, processed foods like pasta and bread that has had its fibre removed (so you can buy it separately in Special K). Our Slippery elm tablets are a great source of fibre for this purpose, since we all sometimes have dietary indiscretions. It also acts as a bulking agent, relieves reflex and allows ulcers to heal by coating the digestive tract with a mucilaginous layer. The only time you won’t find this in my medicine cupboard is when I’ve handed it to someone in need.
How did you first get involved in with Greenpop?
In 1999 I went on holiday along the south coast and spent a few wonderful days in Tsitsikamma. One could be fooled into thinking that it sits in a vast indigenous forest. But peek over the hill, and you are confronted with many miles of more or less sterile pine plantation. I was inspired by the reforestation and carbon sink initiatives I saw where I worked in the English countryside. Back at home I was disappointed that there seemed to be little going on to combat climate change through reforestation. I resolved to do something personally, with a bunch of friends. I can point out a few patches around Cape Town where I have planted indigenous trees and started little succulent gardens. But I did not have the energy, dedication and determination to match my ideals.
By this time Greenpop had come into being and have just gone from strength to strength over the years. This is why I have such vast admiration for what Greenpop does. And why I love supporting the organisation. While I spend little of my own productive time doing this sort of work, I am in the position to provide support. And the world is not changed by us all doing the same thing, but by each of us doing our own bit, doing what we do best.
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