Ancient wisdom

Germaine Cousin-Zermatten is 95 years old but as fit as a youngster a fraction of her age. Her secret: using natural remedies to ward off illness.
At the end of our conversation, Germaine Cousin-Zermatten says something striking: it’s hard to know whether to take it seriously or laugh out loud. “It’s better to die in the evening than in the morning. That way we have the chance to add to our knowledge, because we learn new things every day.”

We have met up with Germaine and her son, Raymond, in a small chalet just below their house in Saint-Martin. They have set up their office here, on a mountainside overlooking the Val d’Hérens. For some years, Raymond Cousin has been helping his mother with her work, which he intends to continue. Germaine has been interested in plants, their uses and the ways of extracting the active ingredients for decades. “My mother and grandmother had a vast amount of knowledge about the use of natural remedies. One day, I realised that this knowledge was in danger of being lost for ever.”

Germaine decided to travel from village to village in order to speak with the older women and gather recipes, advice and tips from them. Midwives proved another valuable source of information, as they were often the only people in their region with medical knowledge. She also read up about recent scientific discoveries, and did not hesitate to learn from other traditions of alternative medicine; she even followed a course of Ayurvedic therapy in India. “I talked a lot with the doctor there and we realised that much of what we do is based on the same principles. We have to take care of our overall health in order to protect ourselves from illness.” For several years, Germaine took part in many television programmes; she continues to teach regularly to this day.

Over the years, she has gathered a vast collection of recipes and treatments for preventive healthcare and has published a book to share her knowledge. “It’s an illusion to think you can cure an illness without paying attention to what you eat and to your lifestyle.” Raymond puts this principle in practice, for example fasting for a day every week. “This offers the body a welcome break and also helps us choose what we eat with greater awareness.” For her part, Germaine follows a course of treatment every spring and autumn. “First of all, it detoxifies the organs, and then it strengthens the body as a whole. The change of seasons is an ideal time to do this, because the body has to adapt to new conditions.”

Germaine knows that she enjoys a privileged situation. Here in the mountains, the water and air are still clean, and she finds all she needs in the immediate surroundings. She gathers the plants she uses herself, and like all mountain people, she is constantly moving around – so it is easier for her to avoid illnesses associated with modern lifestyles.

Despite her advanced age, Germaine has no intention of dying anytime soon. “I’m not afraid of death and I know that when I finally go, I will be in perfect health,” the plant expert says, with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. Let’s hope, then, that she leaves this world as late as possible – and certainly in the evening, so that she can use her last day to expand her knowledge even further.

Vier Natur-rezepte

Dried apricots (for tiredness and high cholesterol level)
Ingredients | Dried apricots, water
Recipe | Before going to bed, put 3 to 6 dried apricot halves in a large glass of water. Leave to soak overnight. In the morning, before eating or drinking anything else, eat the soaked fruit and drink all the water. Follow the treatment for 3 weeks; if necessary, continue without a break.

Onion tea (for flu and colds)
Ingredients | 1.5 l water, 6 onions, 1 handful of juniper berries, 2 pinches of grated nutmeg, 4 bay leaves, 10 cloves, 5 sticks of cinnamon, honey, 6 lemons
Recipe | Cut the onions into 4 or 6 pieces, add to the water with the spices, bring to the boil and simmer for 25 minutes. Strain, add the lemon juice, pour into a thermos and drink during the course of the day. Sweeten each cup with 1 tsp of honey.

Inhalation (for colds)
Ingredients | 1 pinch of sage, masterwort or thuya, a bowl of hot water, medicinal turpentine
Recipe | Make an infusion with one of the herbs and add a few drops of medicinal turpentine. Lean over the bowl, drape a cloth over the head and bowl, and breathe the vapour deeply for 5 minutes.

Gargling infusion (for sore throat)
Ingredients | 1 pinch of agrimony or herb robert, 1 tsp honey, 1 lemon, 1 cup of water
Recipe | Make the infusion with the chosen herb, infuse for 10 minutes, add the lemon juice and honey. Gargle several times a day, and swallow 1 tablespoon (children: 1 teaspoon) several times a day.

Text: Monique Ryser
Photographer: Sedrik Nemeth

Published: May 2021

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