Herb and natural products supplier Juergen Ambrosius passed away on November 23, 2015, following complications from surgery. A lifelong purveyor of herbs, spices, gums, and extracts, Ambrosius was highly involved in the European herbal industry and a major proponent of the growing US industry in the 1970s, supporting the American Herb Trade Association, the herb industry association that preceded the formation of the American Herbal Products Association.
Born on April 1, 1945, Ambrosius went to school in Lübeck, Germany, and began his professional career with an apprenticeship as a merchant at Villeroy & Boch, a ceramics manufacturer. In 1965, he joined his family’s business, Heinrich Ambrosius GmbH, in the Hamburg office. The company, later called Ambro GmbH, was founded in 1929 by Ambrosius’s grandfather and sold botanical flavorings for pipe tobacco. The scope of the business quickly grew to include a wide assortment of spices and medicinal botanicals imported from eastern Europe and Asia.
“Our two families had a long history of business cooperation, mutual personal admiration, and friendship,” wrote Peter Landes, president of KHL Flavors, whose family business extends back several generations, emigrating from Hungary to New York after World War II (email to M. Blumenthal, December 8, 2015). “My father, Joseph Landes, did a good deal of business with Juergen’s grandfather during his many trips to Hamburg from Budapest. I always found Juergen to be honest, reliable, and helpful in all matters. His reputation was impeccable and closely guarded by him as the scion of an old and honorable trading company with strong contacts throughout the world.”
Ambrosius’s reputation as a skilled businessman soon became known by members of the US herb industry. “Juergen Ambrosius was one of the first persons from the European group of suppliers I had the privilege to meet during the embryonic phase of the botanical business in America in the early 1970s,” wrote Ben Zaricor, founder of Good Earth Teas and the Fmali Herb Company, a major supplier of domestic and imported botanicals to the US herb trade in the 1970s and 1980s (email to M. Blumenthal, November 27, 2015). “He was not only a businessman but an expert who knew the technical side of the commerce for beverages, supplements, and cosmetics products that represent a significant market share amounting in the billions of turnover annually.”
US herb companies often turned to European suppliers to acquire products, which could be expensive and required navigating the tangled legal web of the international import/export business. One of those companies was founded by Jim Adelson. “I met Juergen in 1972,” wrote Adelson, founder of the herb and spice importer and wholesaler Aphrodisia in New York (email to M. Blumenthal, December 7, 2015). Adelson worked in partnership with Ambrosius for more than 30 years. “This was a time when the herb industry…was in real infancy. There were perhaps a dozen other companies that were beginning to sell herbs or herbal products to the growing numbers of post-Woodstock people who were looking for natural products.”
Ambrosius took a personal approach to his work, often traveling overseas to meet with his clients and partners, and his generosity was boundless. “I will always remember the fine friend, partner, and mentor that Juergen was to me,” Adelson added. “Juergen was important to the fabric and growth of the US herb industry. His passing is a loss to all of us.”
Caroline MacDougall, founder and CEO of Teeccino and an employee of Celestial Seasonings in the early 1970s, also recalled Ambrosius’s unwavering support for and deep knowledge of the fledgling botanical industry. “He realized that young entrepreneurs were the soul of innovation that propelled the growth of the herb industry from its early beginnings, when only pharmaceutical companies imported herbs in the US, to the heights we know now of a multi-billion dollar industry that encompasses teas, supplements, body care products, and much more,” MacDougall wrote (email, December 9, 2015). “Juergen was a key player in the success of our industry.”
Ambrosius assumed control of Ambro GmbH with his partner, Uwe Schmanns, in 1991 and continued in the business even after selling the company to the Martin Bauer Group, the world’s largest supplier of botanicals. Upon leaving Ambro in 2000, he took his natural products expertise to Worlée, another old family-owned supplier of botanicals in Hamburg, where he served as sales director for herbs for 10 years before retiring.
Described as a person with “keen insight and appreciation” by Zaricor, Ambrosius dedicated his almost 50-year career to the acquisition and sale of quality raw materials and natural products in Europe and beyond. “He was very passionate about his job, and made many friends in the herb industry,” wrote his son, Hendrik (email to M. Blumenthal, November 27, 2015).
“Juergen Ambrosius was a true gentleman and, so far as I know, was admired and respected by everyone who knew him,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council (ABC) and editor-in-chief of HerbalGram. “I will always remember his hosting me in Lübeck, the ancient Baltic Sea port city, during my first trip to Germany in the 1980s.”
A devoted and beloved husband and father, Ambrosius is survived by his wife, Karin; his son, Hendrik; his daughter, Birte; and his granddaughter, Kim.
“It is [a] great sadness to lose such a person who was as much a pioneer in the re-emergence of the use of herbs in America as anyone I know,” said Zaricor. “He was honest, forthright, and a straight thinker in the burgeoning American herb trade…. He saw the potential and understood the promise it held for those willing to invest the money and the time in finding allies who would support and grow the herb trade. He will be missed.”