German pharmacognosy professor and medicinal plant researcher Heinz Schilcher, PhD, died in June at the age of 85.
Dr. Schilcher was born in 1930 in Burgheim, Germany, the first of three children of master miller Josef Schilcher and his wife Anna. Growing up surrounded by nature had a profound influence on him. Since there was no school the year after the Second World War began, he worked at his father’s mill in a type of internship. From 1952 to 1956, he studied pharmacy under the supervision of Ludwig Hörhammer at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he received his doctorate in 1959. During this time, he researched the constituents of bugleweeds (Lycopus europaeus and L. virginicus, Lamiaceae) and their effects on hyperthyroidism. He continued to work in Munich as an assistant to Dr. Hörhammer until 1963.1
Between 1963 and 1974, Dr. Schilcher worked as a control manager and as the head of the scientific department and production for the herbal drug manufacturer Salus, where he developed 75 herbal products and led pharmacological and clinical tests on more than 20 plant preparations. Notably, in 1964, he published the world’s first proposal for a standardized herbal product based on chromatographic fingerprints and physical parameter measurements. Dr. Schilcher has since been called the “father of a reproducible herbal drug quality.”1
From 1973 to 1977, Dr. Schilcher was a professor at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology at the University of Marburg, and then was appointed professor at the University of Tübingen. At the same time, he was a full-time member of the management at the herbal drug manufacturing company Fink. In 1983, Dr. Schilcher moved to Berlin to become a professor at the Free University of Berlin (FUB), and later served as dean of the faculty of pharmacy from 1986 to 1989 and as executive director of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology, a position that he held until his retirement in 1995.1,2
Dr. Schilcher had a prolific career as an author of more than 300 scientific papers and almost 20 books. Among his numerous publications, his textbook Leitfaden Phytotherapie (Phytotherapy Compendium; Elsevier, 2010) is considered a landmark text and is often referred to as the “bible of phytotherapy” in Germany. Dr. Schilcher also wrote a number of chapters in the outstanding book, Chamomile: Industrial Profiles (CRC Press, 2005), which he edited with Rolf Franke.
“He made enormous contributions in the field of phytotherapy,” said Elizabeth Stahl-Biskup, a colleague of Dr. Schilcher’s and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Hamburg.
Dr. Schilcher was the longest-serving member of the German Commission E, a special committee of medicinal plant experts founded in 1978 and convened by the German government’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) to review available safety and efficacy data on plant drugs sold in German pharmacies. The results were the renowned Commission E monographs, the English translations of which were published by the American Botanical Council (ABC) in 1998.
“Professor Schilcher was a wonderful man, full of life and energy — the embodiment of the German feeling of Gemütlichkeit,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC and senior editor of the English translations of the Commission E monographs. “He was extremely helpful and cooperative with us in ABC’s preparation of the publication of the monographs.”
In his personal life, Dr. Schilcher loved nature, sports, and spending time with his family, whom he brought along on many of his travels. He enjoyed canoeing and was a Bavarian and South German champion in whitewater racing. He also was an excellent skier and won numerous medals in the Physicians and Pharmacists Ski Cup, most notably the gold medal in slalom at age 77 in the senior category. He was particularly proud that he finished the course faster than some of the younger participants.
Dr. Schilcher was not only the “father of a reproducible herbal drug quality,” but also a father figure to his graduate students, as evidenced by the obituary written by four of his former students in the Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung: “He considered us [his doctoral students] as members of his ‘family,’ was always warm, open and without prejudice towards unorthodox partnerships and our better halves. He was excited about every offspring, his ‘doctor’s granddaughters and grandsons,’ and he looked forward, in turn, [to] how thrilled the grandchildren would be about his jokes and his nonsense. Heinz Schilcher was a great family man who flourished and recharged his batteries in family environments.”
“Professor Schilcher was able to convey enthusiasm, and he fully assumed his responsibilities as a supervisor,” said Uwe Kötter, PhD, who earned his doctorate in pharmaceutical biology from Dr. Schilcher at the FUB. “He gave his graduate students maximum freedom during their work, and ensured steadily that the chosen paths were as easy to follow as possible. He motivated students not to give up and to continue their work, and worried about his ‘children’ (as he called his students later), even after they graduated from the university. He gave his doctoral students many things to be thankful for: his supervision of their PhD theses, the support and help in starting their own careers, the energy he put into staying in touch after graduation, and especially his importance as a role model for accepting and completing tasks with heart and soul.”
Beatrice Gehrmann, PhD, a pharmacist in Husum, Germany, who is involved in a number of research projects with the FUB, said that Dr. Schilcher was known as someone who could go off on a rant, but had a big heart. She recalled a story from 2006, when she was on crutches at a conference in Grasse, France, after breaking a leg. While Dr. Gehrmann was relaxing next to a swimming pool, Dr. Schilcher asked what happened, and he spontaneously offered to drive her to the airport the next day. At the banquet in the evening, he brought food from the buffet to her table and made sure that she had all she needed. At the airport, noticing that Dr. Gehrmann was unable to carry her own bags, he carried her luggage to the check-in counter.
As Dr. Schilcher’s graduate students wrote: “In our personal memories of him, he has become immortal. He remains anchored in our hearts.”3 He is survived by his first wife, Renate, their son Stefan, and his second wife Barbara.
—Stefan Gafner, PhD
- Heinz Schilcher (Pharmakologe). In: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinz_Schilcher_(Pharmakologe). Accessed August 20, 2015.
- Scheffer JJC. Honorary membership for Prof. Dr. Heinz Schilcher. Society for Medicinal Plant Research Newsletter. 2000;1:4.
- Langner E, Bär B, Lapke C, Kötter U. Prof. Dr. Heinz Schilcher – farewell to a wonderful man. Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung. 2015;155(27):84-85. [In German]