Speik: true wealth of the Nockberge
Coveted, exclusive and well-traveled: the mountain plant Speik
From July to September, the tangy, spicy scent of the Speik on the backs and slopes of the Nockberge mountains is so intense that truly every hiker can detect it. But what is it about this plant, which is so inconspicuous and grows to a height of just five to fifteen centimetres, that even the Egyptian queen Cleopatra longed for it?
If you've encountered the name Speik before, it's probably in the form of Speik soap, though its name is spelled with -ck. That's because the world's only company allowed to make Speik natural cosmetics has chosen to spell it as it appears in old herbal books. But first things first: Valeriana celtica, commonly called Noric Valerian or simply Speik, is a medicinal plant found only in the Nockberge and parts of the Niedere Tauern on soils free of lime above an altitude of 1,800 meters. Inconspicuous in appearance, its fragrance, which to this day cannot be produced synthetically, is however unbeatable.
The news of the healing mountain plant spread rapidly to the Orient and Africa.
Speik was used for baths, perfumes, and body oils, as well as to relieve numerous ailments. The great Egyptian queen Cleopatra nursed her skin, which according to legend was delicate, with spikenard, and the brides of North African tribes were anointed with spikenard oil for their weddings. The trade with the Carinthian natural product flourished for many centuries, until nature conservation put a stop to it in 1936. Today, only the company Speick, based near Frankfurt, is authorised to process Carinthian Speikroot: More than 100 different natural cosmetic products are offered.
The time has come again in mid-August: the Speik harvest begins. Only selected farmers are entitled to harvest the valuable roots of the valerian plant. And on September 8, it's already over again. A short time, if you consider that for one kilogram of dried speik roots six kilograms have to be harvested! The roots are carefully loosened with a spade and then divided. The division ensures that a rich harvest awaits you again next year. The sustainable approach is especially important because the earliest the roots can be harvested is from a four-year-old sprouting plant.
All over the Alps, special importance is attached to certain winter nights, the Rauhnächte. Dried herbs are placed on glowing coals, house and stable are smoked praying and thus protected from mischief and disease. In the Nockberge mountains, along with juniper and palm catkins, the speik is part of the incense bundle, which is supposed to call down blessings on house and farm. Today, the dried speik plant can even be ordered on the internet for home incense. The importance of the speik to the region can also be seen in the fact that it has its own speik ambassador!
While hiking over the Nockberge mountains you will definitely make the acquaintance of the fragrant beauty with the great history. Dedicated Speik walks will lead you on the trail of the coveted medicinal plant. But here's the best part: you'll notice for yourself how beneficial the little plant's power is during an extensive footbath in the wooden troughs at one of the eleven Speik huts.
From the beginning of July to the end of September, when the Speik is in bloom, you can join a trained ranger on the trail of the medicinal plant, enjoy a Speik footbath and consume a freshly caught trout at the end! The Brunnach National Park Railway takes you from St. Oswald up to the mountain station, where you start your hike. Dates and prices can be found in the summer active program, registration the day before is required - the staff at the reception in the Hotel Almrausch will be happy to take care of this for you.