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Adolf Nahrstedt

Professor Adolf Nahrstedt, Dr. rer. nat., Dres. h.c.*, of the University of Muenster, passed away at age 75 at the St. Franziskus Hospital in Muenster, Germany, on January 7, 2016, after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Nahrstedt was born in Northeim/Harz, Lower Saxony, Germany, on August 9, 1940. He studied pharmacy and food chemistry at the University of Freiburg and received his PhD in 1971. Shortly after his habilitation (the highest academic qualification conferred after earning a research doctorate) in 1976, he was appointed as an associate professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig. He was made a full professor at the University of Muenster in 1986.

Beyond his activities as a professor, Nahrstedt accepted various appointments within the University of Muenster administration, as well as duties outside of academia. He served as vice-dean and was elected dean of the College of Chemistry and Pharmacy. He was a long-serving member of the Pharmacopoeia Commission of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte, BfArM), and a board member of the German Society of Phytotherapy (GPhyt). He was also an honorary member of the European Academy of Natural Medicine, and a recipient of the Rudolf Fritz Weiss Award from the German Society of Phytotherapy and the Varro E. Tyler Prize from the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP). He holds honorary doctorates from Ovidius University of Constanta in Romania and the University of Mahasarakham in Thailand.

Nahrstedt’s research interests included the biochemistry of secondary metabolites in plants and insects (especially the cyanogenic glycosides), as well as the phytochemistry of traditional herbal drugs and plant physiology. His work resulted in a significant increase in the scientific knowledge pertaining to these subjects. He discovered many new structures of cyanogenic and non-cyanogenic nitrile glycosides from all over the plant kingdom, and thoroughly investigated cyanogenic compounds in moths and butterflies.

Nahrstedt is probably best known for his major contributions to the study of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, Hypericaceae) and its active constituents. His research provided further evidence that the accompanying substances in a plant extract contribute to the effects of an herbal medicinal product through their interactions with active agents. There have been several examples in the literature showing that such co-effectors improve not only the solubility but also the bioavailability of single compounds. Unfortunately, most investigations on this topic give little, if any, information, or just speculative information, about the mechanisms of interaction and the compounds involved. Perhaps Nahrstedt’s biggest achievement is that he could identify potential co-effectors in St. John’s wort extracts. He demonstrated that procyanidin B2 and hyperoside can influence the biopharmaceutical properties of hypericin, one of the compounds that contributes to the antidepressant activities of St. John’s wort.

However, St. John’s wort is just one of the many botanicals on which Nahrstedt focused during his career. He also studied kava (Piper methysticum, Piperaceae), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae), Cistus species (Cistaceae), hawthorn (Crataegus spp., Rosaceae), devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens, Pedaliaceae), English ivy (Hedera helix, Araliaceae), willow (Salix spp., Salicaceae), artichoke (Cynara scolymus, Asteraceae), ginger (Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae), English walnut (Juglans regia, Juglandaceae), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum, Sapindaceae), witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana, Hamamelidaceae), celandine (Chelidonium majus, Papaveraceae), and rue (Ruta graveolens, Rutaceae). He published more than 200 research and review articles, and numerous book chapters. Fifty PhD theses and two habilitation theses were finalized under his supervision.

Nahrstedt was a longtime member of the ASP, as well as the Society of Medicinal Plant and Natural Products Research (GA). The GA in particular paid high tribute to Nahrstedt because of his valuable advice and substantial contributions to the GA advisory board. He also contributed to many important scientific discussions in nearly all fields of phytotherapy and phytochemistry. His most notable service to the GA, however, was undeniably his editorial activities for its official journal, Planta Medica. Nahrstedt was associated with the journal for more than 30 years, first as co-editor (1983-1992), later as editor-in-chief (1993-2004), and, until his death, as senior editor (2005-2015). In recognition of his outstanding service, the GA bestowed him with an honorary membership in 2005.

Those who were fortunate enough to know Nahrstedt professionally will always respect and admire him for his incredible knowledge of and ability to teach pharmacognosy. Those who knew him personally have appreciated his direct, gently teasing, but sympathetic personality. Science and teaching were his major interests, and many scientists all over the world learned about pharmacognosy from his lectures, books, and many reprints. Nahrstedt will be deeply missed in the scientific community, not only as a great colleague, but also as a true friend.

—Veronika Butterweck, PhD Professor, School of Life Sciences Institute for Pharma Technology University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland Muttenz, Switzerland

* Doctor rerum naturalium and Doctor honoris causa, respectively. Both of these designations are used frequently in European countries, including Germany and Austria. Dr. rer. nat. is a post-graduate degree comparable to a PhD, while the latter is an honorary degree.