Described as one of the herbal industry’s early pioneers, Horst Mueggenburg passed away on April 30, 2016, at the age of 88. Following in his father Paul’s footsteps as a botanical merchant, Mueggenburg’s career took him all over the world, including to Argentina and the United States, and he played a crucial role in the development of the fledgling US herb market in the '70s and '80s.
“Our families go back at least three generations,” said Peter Landes, co-owner of KHL Flavors and, along with Mueggenburg, one of the co-founders of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), “and I know that my father did business with Horst’s father in Hamburg, Germany in the 1930s. He always spoke well of the Mueggenburgs” (email to M. Blumenthal, May 6, 2016).
Ben Zaricor, who partnered with Mueggenburg to found Botanicals International, a major US importer, processor, and distributor of botanicals and extracts, recalled Mueggenburg's impact on the herb industry. “He influenced the capabilities of the industry to meet the growing demand and the direction and level of development here in [the US],” Zaricor said (email to M. Blumenthal, May 7, 2016). “Without him in the very initial period, the blossoming of the industry would have been much slower and quite different. The other German suppliers were five to seven years behind Horst. ... He was willing to take risks.”
Mueggenburg certainly did not shy away from risk in his life, personally and professionally. Born in Hamburg, he enlisted in the German army during World War II at the age of sixteen and was detained as a prisoner of war until the end of the conflict. Following the post-war depression in Germany, he made the decision to leave the continent entirely and formed a botanical import and export company, Plantadroga S.A., in Argentina. Friends and colleagues recalled his quick adoption of the Argentinian “gaucho” lifestyle. He often invited guests to his ranch, where he cultivated chamomile (Matricaria recutita, Asteraceae), milk thistle (Silybum marianum, Asteraceae), and rose (Rosa spp., Rosaceae) hips.
The concept of a US market for high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade herbal ingredients drove Mueggenburg’s business interactions. Susan Patterson and Caroline MacDougall, both of whom worked for Celestial Seasonings tea company during the 1970s, remember Mueggenburg as a strategic thinker with energy and vision, as well as, according to Patterson, an “admirably wry sense of humor” (email to M. Blumenthal, June 14, 2016).
His insistence upon quality and integrity became his legacy. After forming Botanicals International with Zaricor, Kenneth Wilcox, Jay Hughes, and Jimmy Chan, Mueggenburg established an analytical laboratory in Hamburg, the trading company Addipharma, and Mueggenburg Extract, which he sold in 1998. In 2000, he founded the Horst Mueggenburg Foundation, which funds and encourages scientific research of the use of botanical materials in medicine. The Foundation is currently working with the Hamburg University Hospital to dedicate the child therapy and rehabilitation center in his honor and name.
“During my tenure running Celestial Seasonings herb purchasing department in the 70s, as well as serving on the Board of Directors of the Herb Trade Association, I had many occasions to work with Horst Mueggenburg,” said Patterson. “Horst was an urbane, sophisticated thinker, and our discussions often took on a challenging, if not philosophical, tone, made all the more interesting by our sometimes very different points of view. I came to think of him as a Renaissance man and always looked forward to our time together.”
“Horst loved his work and he was a force in the herb trade business, as he held a global vision [that] included establishing a company here in the US with other [US] partners,” said MacDougall (email to M. Blumenthal, June 13, 2016). “He is remembered by many of us for both the fun and the serious moments we shared with him. We are thankful for all his energy and vision that propelled the herbal tea business forward.”
Horst Mueggenburg is survived his wife Lieselotte, brother Gerhard, three sons, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. His son Dirk continues his family’s legacy as the third generation at Mueggenburg Botanicals, the company founded by Horst’s father.