Background story

Kirsten Hartvig was born in Jutland, near the lakeside town of Silkeborg. Her country farm childhood involved many hours exploring the natural wilderness around her home, sparking a lifelong love of wild foods, herbs and flowers as well as a deep relationship with horses.

Kirsten Hartvig was born in Jutland, near the lakeside town of Silkeborg. Her country farm childhood involved many hours exploring the natural wilderness around her home, sparking a lifelong love of wild foods, herbs and flowers as well as a deep relationship with horses.

Her grandmother, mother and aunts – all old-school country women with wonderful chaotic, self-sufficient kitchen gardens – taught her much about natural food husbandry, growing and preserving, and provided a wonderful example of robust good health based on homegrown food and outdoor living.

Determined to pursue her deep interest in herbs and natural health, she left the security of regular employment to study and learn, supporting herself by working a s a carer in residential homes, and by running kitchens in course centres. As well as teaching how much there is to learn from old people - and about the practicalities of cooking for large numbers – these jobs lead to the publication of her first recipe book, and enabled her to save up enough to travel, arriving eventually (via the Greek mountains, Findhorn and a course in esoteric astrology) at the College of Spiritual Psychotherapeutics in Kent, where she gained a diploma in psychotherapy.

Seeking to put her knowledge of plants and nature to use in a professional context, the School of Herbal Medicine in Kent (now the College of Phytotherapy) provided her with the opportunity she was looking for. The school offered an in-depth four year full time medical training with rigorous courses in material medica, anatomy, physiology, pathology, diagnostics, botany, biochemistry, pharmacology, pharmacognosy and pharmacy, taught by recognized experts. Still supporting herself by kitchen work, freelance layout and design commissions, and making a selling floral art, she managed to gain a Diploma in Phytotherapy (reserved for students with the highest grade averages) as well as Membership of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (the world’s oldest professional body of herbal practitioners), and went into practice as a herbalist.

Convinced by her work with patients of the importance of diet and lifestyle in the maintenance of health and the prevention of disease, she embarked on the two year post-graduate course at the British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy in London, where she added knowledge of hydrotherapy, manipulation, nutrition and dietetics to her therapeutic repertoire, and learned that food, water, air and exercise could be powerful agents of healing, as her grandmother and mother had known so well. In many ways, the naturopathic training and qualification as an ND brought all Kirsten’s previous experience into focus, and confirmed her conviction that to be healthy is to be in tune with both the inner and outer world, and that healing is the process by which this balance is regained. Though orthodox medical treatment is powerful, useful and effective, it is the whole life context that ensures long-term wellbeing, and all therapeutic interventions rely on the fact that there is an inherent self-healing capacity within all living things.

Whilst still seeing patients privately, teaching dietetics at the European School of Osteopathy in Maidstone, and developing a nutrition course for the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine in Glasgow, Kirsten started to have patients suffering from chronic or intractable illness staying in her home for 24 hour care. She was so struck by the results of this holistic approach - and the fact that it seemed possible to achieve much more with much less therapeutic intervention in this way – that she decided to change entirely to this way of working.

After a year of offering holistic health retreats in Denmark, and much searching, she and her composer husband Nic eventually found a small hill farm in the French Pyrenees where they ran a retreat centre for 10 years. Powered by solar panels and blessed with pure spring water, La Bergerie became a place of healing, creativity, music, mountain walking, horse trekking, wild crafting, art, eagles, wild boar, bird song, chopping wood and carrying water. 

La Bergerie in winter

La Bergerie in winter

Though based in the south of France, Kirsten continued to give courses and lectures on the art of living and healing naturally both in Denmark and the UK, and started a parallel career as an author on health and nutrition writing articles and features in newspapers and magazines, and 14 books to date, published all over the world and in many languages. She has made media appearances as a health expert and advisor, and has also been active in promoting environmental awareness and animal welfare, and has been a trustee of the Arid Lands Initiative, an international environmental NGO working in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, and has worked for Compassion in World Farming.