Eight years after our memorable interview with Traute Ringwald we reconnected with her to learn what this fascinating person has been up to since we last talked.
Several years ago, Traute felt she had achieved her mission with her stores, Black Forest Acres in East Windsor and in Hamilton Square, New Jersey, and that it was time for her to move on. After her son Rudi bought out her share of the business, Traute opened an office offering health coaching, doing saliva testing, educating people about foods and sharing her herbal knowledge in a building she had purchased in Newtown.
Four years ago, at the age of 79, Traute made it her goal to keep her mind sharp by caring for herself and others. She credits herbs from Herbalist & Alchemist as helping, but she also credits her decision to become Reverend Traute. Now a licensed minister who gives sermons for the community in Quakertown, she has even officiated at a wedding.
“I have so many blessings, I want to go and give back what I have received. I only had three years of public schooling, so I’ve been lucky to have so many teachers come my way. I have been able to pick who I wanted to learn from.”
Traute Ringwald (2010)
Traute Ringwald has the most amazing stories. We get to hear some of them because her early childhood led her, many years later, to study herbal medicine under David Winston.
Traute (pronounced Trudy) was 9 years old when she was evacuated from her home in East Prussia by horse cart, fleeing from the approaching Russian army with many people of German descent. A caravan of 18 old army ships was organized to take the refugees to Denmark, but most of the ships were sunk when the Swedish navy fired upon them. Family members who did not flee were subject to horrible atrocities, and many of them were killed. Denmark, still run by German soldiers then, didn’t know what to do with all those ethnic German refugees so they put them in empty army camps. The refugees couldn’t leave for five years. In 1950 Traute’s family was resettled in the Black Forest, where she resumed school and at age 18 met her husband Wilhelm.
Traute’s uncle had been a homeopathic physician and wisdom healer in the Greek tradition. The Nazis sent him to Siberia in the 1930’s when he refused to stop practicing. There were few doctors, and certainly none near by, so herbal medicine was their healing modality. Traute’s mother had learned much about herbs from her brother, and would teach her children what she knew as they walked through the family farm and the woods. “My mother was my first teacher about herbs and herbal medicine,” she said.
When Traute, Wilhelm, and their two-year-old daughter immigrated to Long Island in 1960 she had $111 in her pocket and was pregnant with son Rudi, now her business partner. Wilhelm worked at the Rheingold Brewery in Brooklyn, while Traute sold real estate. When the brewery closed, they moved to Yardley PA, then to New Jersey.
Frustrated by the quality of foods available locally, Traute decided to open a natural foods store. Launched in 1983, Black Forest Acres first operated in a 600 sq. ft. space. Over the years the store grew, and now is 10,000 sq. ft. in a former movie theatre. In search of distraction from her grief when Wilhelm died in 1992, she and Rudi opened a second store, this one 5,000 sq. ft., in East Windsor, NJ. That was also the year she began formally studying herbal medicine with David, coming full circle with her experience as a child and the medicine her family used.
“I found David when I was in a very stressful period in my life,” Traute said. She had taken her husband around the world to practitioners trying to extend his life, but the one area she found lacking was a good herbalist. After Wilhelm died and she was trying to stay very busy, she decided to learn more about herbs. After checking out herbal colleges around the world, by chance she heard about David’s program, right there in New Jersey. “He interviewed me twice and accepted me to that year’s class. I was going to school and building a new store and was probably not the brightest bulb in class but after the two-year program, and then another six-month course, I found that I knew quite a lot. I have David to thank for that knowledge.”
Traute incorporates her herbal knowledge into the Black Forest Acres stores in several ways.
Black Forest Acres’ product offerings changed with her growing education. “Formal herb education has had a positive influence on our product choices,” she said. “With all the companies bought by big companies, product quality is impacted. I try to carry the best products, like David’s herbs. When products work, people know it. I do have to carry some products just because people are used to certain things, but I try to sell products from companies whose owners are dedicated too. Working together we can make a little difference.
Traute calls herself a ‘country herbalist.’ She no longer sits down with patients, because she feels she accomplishes more when she talks to people on the floor. She can get some background from them and find out what their physician said—which is always her first question. She goes cautiously. Some doctors in the area come into the store and don’t tell her who they are. “They maybe try to trip me up,” she says, “but they have gotten to know me and see that I do not over extend my position.” Now some doctors in the area refer people to her.
She has recommended David’s classes over and over and over again. “David’s classes are fun. He is not sitting there like a stiff teacher lecturing. He makes the subject fun. And his eclectic way of teaching western herbalism, Chinese and Cherokee medicine—the years fly by.”