For as long as she can remember, her father cultivated herbs and herbal salts according to an old family recipe. She would never have guessed that his passion would one day become hers. “Quite the opposite in fact,” says Sonja Schwarzhans with a laugh. “As a child, I found gardening incredibly boring!” Unsurprisingly, Sonja’s career developed in an entirely different direction: for 13 years she worked as a secondary-school math and music teacher in Lauterach. Change, as it often does, came unexpectedly: After the births of her sons Luca and Timo, Sonja began assisting her father Reinhold Eberle in the garden. During this time spent together, she discovered her love for herbs. “Working outdoors grounds me and fills me with enormous satisfaction.”
Inheriting papa’s passion for herbs
Though her first love was teaching, Sonja Schwarzhans is now a passionate herb gardener. She grows her herbs in Hittisau and sells them in 15 different shops in Vorarlberg and Allgäu, Germany. These days, she teaches adults and children the joys of fragrant plants in workshops.
Due to increasing demand, father and daughter started to produce herbal salt in larger quantities in 2009. By 2017, the SONI herb garden was in need of a redesign and expansion. Today, there are twenty plant beds neatly framed with metal edges and a small, modern workshop. The wide, grassy landscape of the Hittisau plateau forms the backdrop. Growing herbs at an altitude of 800 metres above sea level has certain advantages. Because they grow slowly, their essential oils are particularly intense. In addition to well-known herbs such as lemon balm, oregano or parsley, rare varieties such as rose frankincense, aniseed hyssop or pepper sage also flourish. After harvesting, the herbs, which are grown according to strict ecological criteria, are cut and dried in wide wooden drawers in Sonja’s childhood bedroom. They are then stored in the attic for further processing in the workshop. Free from flavour enhancers, preservatives and anti-caking agents, Sonja and Reinhold produce about 3,000 jars of Bregenzerwald herbal salt every year. Cheerful and now in her forties, Sonja has a passion for both gardening and experimenting: “I developed our meat, pasta and cheese spices myself in addition to recipes for soup herbs, vinegar, liqueurs and teas.” SONI products are available for purchase in the small LONI shop, which her mother Annemarie and her sister Melanie operate just two houses away from the Spar super market in Hittisau. They are also available from about 15 other shops in the Bregenzerwald, Dornbirn, Feldkirch, Balderschwang, Immenstadt and Oberstdorf. For Sonja Schwarzhans, passing on her extensive knowledge to others is key and this goes beyond offering workshops for adults. Starting a “farm school” has allowed her to combine her old and her new professions. “Nothing is more wonderful than teaching young people about the journey of plants from the soil to the kitchen!”
Author: Babette Karner
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2020