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GÖtz Harnischfeger


Götz Harnischfeger, PhD, died on April 26, 2016, at the age of 77. Harnischfeger was a botanist, chemist, and pharmacist who expanded the fields of plant biochemistry and medicinal plant research as both an educator and a member of the German phytomedicine industry. He spent most of his career at Schaper & Brümmer, a German company that developed the world’s leading clinically studied black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae) extract.

Harnischfeger studied pharmacy at the University of Frankfurt in Germany before earning his PhD in the United States at Florida State University. He returned to Germany to complete his post-doctorate studies at the University of Göttingen in 1976, after which he served as a professor of botany for the university. In 1982, he was appointed as a professor of plant biochemistry.

After leaving academia, Harnischfeger joined the phytopharmaceutical industry in a variety of management and research positions, focusing his efforts on improving standardization of phytomedicines and embracing the challenge of staying ahead of rapidly evolving analytical methods. His reputation as an expert on natural product research grew, and he co-authored and assisted in the development of several landmark publications on the subject, including Stabilitätsprüfung in der Pharmazie (“Stability Testing in Pharmaceutics”) and an updated edition of Hermann Hager’s Handbook of Pharmaceutical Practice.

“I met Professor Harnischfeger in 1991 when I joined the natural product research-oriented pharmaceutical company Schaper & Brümmer, where he was manufacturing/production manager,” wrote Eckehard Liske, PhD, who was the head of the international medical department at Schaper & Brümmer (email to M. Blumenthal, June 27, 2016). “In the following years we had numerous discussions on central issues of rational phytotherapy regarding plant extraction, whole extract versus single marker substances, active ingredients, and quality control. Pretty soon I realized that Professor Harnischfeger was a world-renowned expert in this research field. Looking back, I must say that he made me familiar with the philosophy of rational phytotherapy resulting in evidence-based herbal medicine. I am very grateful to him for these discussions.”

Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, recalled the first time he met Harnischfeger. “I met Dr. Harnischfeger through the late Professor Varro E. Tyler, with whom he had formed a professional relationship and friendship over the years,” he said. “As a key scientist at Schaper & Brümmer, he made an excellent (and entertaining) presentation at one conference on his company’s production of black cohosh extract. He was instrumental in developing a unique program in which the company grew its own black cohosh in Germany — probably the first commercial-scale cultivation of this indigenous wild eastern North American medicinal plant outside of the United States — thereby reducing pressure on wild populations.”

Harnischfeger’s commitment to the safety and quality of herbal medicinal products drew him to a number of professional committees. He was a member of Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (German Chemical Society), Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft (German Botanical Society), and Gesellschaft für Arzneipflanzen- und Naturstoff-Forschung (GA; Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research). He also served as an elected member of the Deutscher Arzneibuch Ausschuss Pharmazeutische Biologie (German Pharmacopeia Committee on Pharmacognosy) from 1992 to 2005, and a member of the expert group on phytochemistry for the European Pharmacopoeia for 15 years. In recognition for his work relating to public health, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1999.

“The internationalization of GA is … due [in part] to his never-ending activities to promote this society to a global acceptance and impact,” noted Gerhard Franz in his remembrance of Harnischfeger for the July 2016 GA newsletter. “He attended all the annual member meetings and his criticism was feared by many members and even some presidents of the GA.”

In his personal life, Harnischfeger was a deeply devout Catholic and served as an archivist and church historian for his parish. He was also a member of the German Association of the Holy Land and was awarded the Star of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1996. He is survived by his wife Jeanne.

—Hannah Bauman