«We must give the earth new forces.»
«Using preparations to enliven the soil.»
«Versatile remedies for the earth.»
New forces for the earth
Medicinal herbs have long been used to support human health, and herbal medicine is booming today. But there is scarcely any awareness of medicinal herbs for the earth, though biodynamic agriculture has been using them successfully for over 90 years.
At the beginning of the last century, when farmers and agronomists asked Rudolf Steiner, the founder of biodynamic agriculture, about how to regenerate the earth, its plants and our food, he replied, “We have to give the earth new forces.”
Six effective medicinal plants
His suggestions included specifically a configuration of six plant preparations made according to specific formulae, which are added in the tiniest quantities to organic fertilizer, whether this was plant compost, dung, liquid manure or other organic substances. These preparations are intended to enliven the soil and help crops to actively find the diverse important nutrients in the ground.
How can we discern and understand the specific forces and processes at work in these plants? One of the best ways is to observe them very carefully in their natural environment, and try to grasp the gesture or specific life form of each.
Every plant has distinctive qualities
The plants used to make the biodynamic preparations – dandelion, camomile, stinging nettle, valerian, yarrow and oak bark – are gathered over the course of the year. To illustrate this, we give below the two examples of dandelion and camomile and, drawing on a tangible experience of each in their natural surroundings, will attempt to outline their character and special properties.
Off to the dandelion harvest
In spring, when the weather is still cold and damp, biodynamic farmers set off for their fresh, well-manured meadows to pick dandelion blossoms. At this season, the meadows are radiant with the countless small flower heads of dandelion, as if the sun itself were reflected myriad times upon the earth.
As soon as the sky grows overcast the meadows appear green again, for all the blossoms close. Like a botanical eye, the dandelion shows its close affinity with sunlight, and this celestial affinity also comes to expression in the dandelion clock: with its very fine and always perfectly structured gossamer sphere, it looks like a kind of plant crystal.
Digestif for the soil
The more liquid manure is applied to fields, the more copiously do dandelions grow there; and this fact reveals a further ability of the plant: it can help the soil digest an excess of organic substance. Dandelion has a similar effect on us, as a blood-cleansing, digestive herb, especially supporting the liver and gall bladder. The long tap root is used for the remedy, and the bitter leaf rosette produces a spring salad with good regenerating properties.
Putting the soil in good order, creating connection with the cosmos
What are the qualities of dandelion that come to expression in these phenomena? On the one hand, dandelion helps restrain rampant growth caused by too much fresh, organic substance. On the other hand, as the meadow’s “eye”, it creates a connection between the soil and the cosmic light forces.
The camomile grows in places other plants shun
If we now consider the camomile preparation, the camomile blossoms are gathered in June, when days are longest, on an exposed site in full sunshine. The bright green camomile grows on firm, mineralized, compact soil, where no “sensible” plant would otherwise choose to grow: for instance on building sites where the humus soil layer has been removed and mechanical diggers have compacted the ground.
Closer observation shows that camomile develops a very broad network of thick, white roots underground. Rather than deep anchorage and digestion of organic substance, the emphasis here is on re-enlivening and loosening the solid, dead soil. Thanks to camomile, water and air can penetrate the earth again, so that it recovers its rhythm, and can breathe once more. Unlike the dandelion, whose leaves remain at ground level, camomile raises its bright green, slightly hydrous, fleshy, filigree leaves high above the ground.
Awakening dead soil to new life
Camomile grows in colonies which usually completely hide and protect the bare soil with their living plant cover. At the beginning of June, countless small yellowish-white flower heads blossom at the end of each stalk. They wither very quickly, producing seed which germinates immediately in the ground. The strong yet sweet and gentle fragrance of camomile is a kind of exhalation, an ethereal effusion of the plants in the light-pervaded summer atmosphere – a mood quite different from that of the flowering dandelion in spring. What comes to expression here?
As an annual whose seeds germinate very fast, camomile colonizes a “dead” patch of ground for three or four years, then vanishes once it has completed its healing task: that of transforming substances which are fixed and bound up in the compacted soil into air and warmth, bringing movement again into the soil as the living stratum between heaven and earth.
Camomile relieves “soil spasms”
To further intensify this healing potential of camomile in biodynamic agriculture, the flower heads of the plant are encased in a domestic animal’s intestine, as “camomile sausages”, and fermented in the winter earth. Camomile’s healing affinity with the gut is well known: it is used as a remedy for all kinds of stomach cramps, especially in young children. The finished preparation uses only the transformed blossom substance, the remains of the intestines being disposed of in line with regulations.
If we likewise describe the development and natural environments of the four other plants, it becomes clear that they are healing remedies, or “invigorating treatments” for the soil.
Jean-Michel Florin, ecologist and co-leader of the Section for Agriculture