Medicinal plants – biodynamic seed line maintenance and breeding

Ruth Richter

The widely publicised problems of cultivating hybrid varieties and genetically modified food plants shows that in plant breeding scientific knowledge flows directly into practice. Here we are referring to a knowledge transfer interface at which the scientific attitude to knowledge actually contributes towards shaping our environment and living conditions. Therefore it is very important that the picture of the plant developed in Goethean and anthroposophically extended science also flows into breeding practice. Decades long work on grain and vegetable seeds has already led to welcome results in the form of marketing permits for varieties bred biodynamically.

However, at the moment there is only limited availability of seeds from biodynamic medicinal plants that have been cultivated over the long term. At the same time, in recent years the quality requirements for plant raw materials by the pharmaceutical companies who process them have greatly increased. The species and variety purity and exact traceability of seed origin have to be recorded. This even applies if, in the traditional way, plants are taken into cultivation after being collected in the wild.

Even with medicinal plants, conventional breeders are increasingly propagating hybrids and varieties that have been bred solely for their content of a particular active ingredient. This is not only undesirable in organic cultivation but also could risk displacing the traditional conventionally bred seed.

In a project initiated by the association Hortus Officinarum, we are carrying out the maintenance, selection and documentation of seed from selected medicinal plants raised in biodynamic cultivation.

The project is supported by Hortus Officinarum and the Swiss Kommission zur Erhaltung von Kulturpflanzen (SKEK, Commision for the Conservation of Cultivated Plants).


Ruth Richter and Andreas Ellenberger   

More Information on the Website of Hortus officinarum association


Rhythmic changes in shape of mistletoe berries connected with moon-zodiacal constellations

Renatus Derbidge

In a modest cottage in the village of Strontian (the element Strontium was discovered nearby and named after the place) in the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by wonderful countryside, lived Lawrence Edwards (1913-2004) who, in addition to his job as a biology and mathematics teacher in Edinburgh for 40 years, was engaged in painstaking research on the buds of trees and many other plant species. As part of his work on projective geometry, which he studied with George Adams at the Goetheanum, he was interested in the geometry of the living world. His most important research results are presented in his book The Vortex of Life. He made the fascinating discovery that plant buds undergo rhythmic shape changes in winter, a time when formerly they were assumed to be resting. In all the plants he investigated, these shape changes showed a clear connection with positions of the moon and  planets, and for each plant species a specific planet.

He was also able to demonstrate that each tree (or wood), assigned by Rudolf Steiner to a specific planet for the seven columns of the first Goetheanum, had a relationship with their corresponding planets as regards their bud shape rhythms.

People at the Hiscia Institute for Cancer Research in Arlesheim were able to show by means of Edwards' method that mistletoe berries undergo shape changes corresponding to positions of the moon in the zodiac.

This work by S. Baumgartner and H. Flückiger is now taken up, extended and deepened in the context of a research project at the Goetheanum Research Institute (Glashaus) as a co-operation between the Science Section and the Hiscia Institute, supervised by Prof. Dr. H. P. Heusser at the University of Witten/Herdecke.

The aim is to develop Edwards' work, which hitherto has been largely ignored by the scientific world, in order to make it accessible in wider circles, and secondly, to corroborate the evidence of the moon-zodiac effect on mistletoe, and analyse it in detail. The results enable us to determine the divisions in the sky between the zodiacal constellations. By means of the exact shape change in the mistletoe berry correlated with a particular constellation, it is possible empirically to map the spheres of influence onto the sky, allowing us to re-establish our present divisions of the zodiac in a modern way. 


The anthroposophical rationale of medicinal plants and of plants used in cosmetics

Torsten Arncken

Rudolf Steiner developed "Cinis capsella comp" an alchemical preparation for treating wounds which contains three plant species. We have studied it in a workgroup with the physician Andreas Arendt and the pharmacist Richard Söll. Our aim was to try to understand the importance of three species in the efficacy of the preparation.

The project was concluded in spring 2012 with a report which will be published in "Merkurstab". The results were presented to the Substance Workgroup of the medical Section of the Goetheanum and in an annual training on understanding medicinal plants.

One special result of this work was that the quality of form, smell and taste of the plants can be traced with the senses even into the ashes of the plants. Ribwort plantain produces the most ash. The ash structure is coarse and it tastes very salty. On the other hand, wormwood, which is completely permeated by aroma, and is thus very cosmic, produces little ash. This tastes very sweet and is subtly aromatic. There is an immediately obvious connection between the qualities of both plant and its ash.


In this YouTube video, Torsten Arncken explain his work on healing plants (German)


completed projects:

Anagallis arvensis and the subsolar metals sodium and potassium

Torsten Arncken

The first plant described in the book Fundamentals of Therapy by Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman is Anagallis arvensis. They present this plant in connection with the substances, sodium, potassium and sulphur.

The aim of this project is to deepen our understanding of the connections that Wegman and Steiner have shown, by starting on a strictly phenomenological basis and by observing Anagallis plants as well as fertilising them with sodium and potassium salts. The primary interest here is an investigation of sodium and potassium. Sulphur will only be touched on in the study.

The basic questions of the project are: can the plants be considered according to their specific responses to the fertilising substances, and, from that, can we say something about the relation of the plant to the substances and ultimately about its effect on the human being?


The plant as a picture of a one-sideness in the human being

The plant form was observed and vividly grasped as a disturbed interconnection between the bodily members. In Anagallis the flowering on the main stem is not achieved at the top but there instead a vegetative process builds up with fleshy dark green leaves. Flowering is shifted downwards to the sides. In relation to the human being, the flowering process is a picture of metabolic activity and thus Anagallis is a picture of congestion in metabolism.

The congestion is based on an imbalance, because the forces of flowing and of turgescence, which are connected with potassium and sodium, operate in Anagallis with sodium dominating.


Experiment – analysis and relation to sodium

In a trial cultivation in 2008, the plants were fertilised with sodium and potassium salts of various concentrations. The plants were observed, smelled and tasted, as well as analysed for their sodium and potassium contents.

The effect of the fertilisers could be demonstrated through changes in the availability of the substances in the soil and changes in the content of the substances in the plants. The experiments showed a dose-dependent increase in the plants of each substance applied as fertiliser, and antagonistic reactions for the two different substances.

Whereas plants usually take up potassium in preference to sodium, Anagallis preferentially took up sodium. Anagallisarvensis is therefore a halophilic plant, or, to put it more accurately, a sodium chloride loving plant. In the course of its development, its content of sodium and potassium decline. The calcium content during development of the plant increases only a little, and remains somewhat low. Anagallis is a plant with strong sodium activity, and a comparably low potassium and calcium activity.


The effect of the astral in a plant experiment

Torsten Arncken

With a contract from Weleda AG I worked on reading the curative effect of various plant substances from the forms and environmental circumstances of corresponding plants. In doing this one goes beyond the level of reality for normal consciousness. This is possible in a modern and scientific way through the anthroposophical path of training. In this the colour "red", because of its strong "signal effect", was for me over many years the perfect example of expressiveness and thus of the astral. But this meant I was in contradiction of the following indication by Rudolf Steiner: "Wherever red occurs in natural processes there is a strong anti-astral counter-effect".

I investigated the apparent paradox using the example of flower colours and leaf metamorphosis in subspecies of Malva sylvestris. The subspecies with markedly formed, more pronounced and thus more strongly astralised leaves produced blueish, delicate flowers. The plants with more simply formed leaves formed dark red flowers with intense colours. These observations made the above citation from Steiner understandable: the red colour of the flowers is such a strong signal because here the vitality has streamed into the realm of colour. Only when the vitality retreats (e.g. in drought) does the colour become blueish.

Three varieties (sources) of Malva sylvestris sylvestris and three breeder varieties of the subspecies Malva sylvestris mauritiana were cultivated in root chambers and tubs. It was clear that the leaves of the strongly astralised plants were quicker to appear. They are advanced in the vegetative phase at the beginning of development and thus show a richer growth. Although the plants with a vegetative emphasis produce a lot more leaves, their development at the beginning is slower. Surprisingly it is the earlier ripening, more strongly astralised plants that produce the most leaves at the beginning! According to Steiner, in the plant world the repetition of leaf forms is an effect of the active etheric body. The experiment showed that the frequency with which the leaves appear is an expression of astralising, of the influence of the astral on the vegetative part.

To summarise, we may say that in the case of Malva sylvestris "protecting itself from astralising" means:

  • Production of simpler leaf forms
  • Retarding the form sequence
  • Prolonging the form sequence
  • Increasing the formation of mass
  • Holding back the refining of the saps
  • Shifting the flower colour into the reds

Compared with the more vegetative subspecies, the more strongly astralised subspecies is a picture of a somewhat elderly person or someone inwardly hardened and is therefore, in my view, the treatment of choice for this type of constitution. I have also worked with the genera Aloe, Chamomilla, Hyoscyamus, Euphrasia, Primula, Solanum and Colchicum.


Understanding medicinal plants

Jochen Bockemühl

The work on understanding medicinal plants has been taken further and, among other things, discussed in monthly seminars with pharmacists and physicians of Weleda AG. The third volume of "Understanding Medicinal Plants" in which some 100 species of the families Umbelliferae, Cruciferae and Ranunculaceae were discussed and compared has been completed and was published in 2003.


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