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  The Solanaceae - III
  

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By: Wilhelm Pelikan

Hyoscyamus niger, henbane, stinking nightshade
There are a dozen species of Hyoscya­mus. Like gypsies, they have settled here and there throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The most important and characteristic among them is the henbane, a very strange variation indeed on the basic type, and yet entirely a solanaceous plant. Shaggy and defiant, something belonging to the forces of darkness rises up in the midst of summer light and warmth, absorbing from those elements forces which nevertheless cannot liberate, cannot resolve, the crouching, cramped form. Into softly swelling form it puts some­thing that is rigid and bony. To the untutored eye, it is immediately obvious that this must be a very poisonous plant. It has a threatening look, witch-like and yet somehow beautiful, elegant in a bizarre way. One can understand why in older times, in ancient Egypt, men would grow pale when they saw it, for the image of the plant would not merely strike the eye, but touch men deep down, in their very blood (this is how Rudolf Steiner put it).

The plant is an annual, living on waste-land and in dust-dry ditches. One year, the plant collector will find it among the stony rubble in a river bed, the next, miles away among the broken ruins of an old castle; there are always just a few plants, inconstant like gypsies. The henbane does not show gratitude for loving care, and in the herb garden it will grow in a place of its own choosing rather than one assigned to it. --Fairly late in the year, and not until the soil is broody with summer warmth, the small grey seed germinates. Small cotyledons are followed by the first long-stemmed leaves which are soft and full of sap, spreading out over the ground. Then the shaggy, wild-looking herb comes up rapidly, the main shoot holding the leaf stems shackled to it, allowing only the lamina with its ear-shaped lobes to unfold, slowly and hesitantly, until finally the leaves spread out­ward, incised and with pointed ends, reminding of bats' wings. A leaf form like that might be expected in a thistle, with its hardening tendencies, but hardly in a herb as tender as this. Glandular hairs grow in thick confusion, covering every part of the plant. --A strong stem rises up, promising tall growth.

But this upward growth soon ceases. Foliage piles up and congests, and further growth seems not just held up, but indeed crippled. Suspect­ing a fungus or an animal pest, one steps closer to discover what it is that has so effectively put a stop to the growth of the shoot--and behold, it is the first blossom. Yet the herb may be only two weeks old! Now the side shoots curve away sideways, growth is diverted into them, and is at first very much compressed. The side shoots form rolled-up spirals which in spite of their dusty green color are in fact already inflorescences. Thus early and deeply is the flowering process embedded, impressed into a leaf element which is only just developing. In "normal" plants a tendency to spiral brings about the rhythmical sequence of leaves around the shoot, so that the leaf shoot may find full expression before it goes on to form the flower. In the henbane, this spiral tendency is taken hold of by the flow­ering process from the beginning, and deformed.

In his Astronomy Course, Rudolf Steiner pointed out how certain plane­tary rhythms are imprinted upon the leaf spirals of the plant. In the hen­bane, however, such planetary influences as have been taken up have not been properly transformed; it is this which makes the plant so poisonous. The henbane does indeed show distortion of the spiral tendency.

The side shoots now begin to unroll from their spiral coils, starting from the inside. From the growing point which is shrouded in darkness there emerges bud after bud; always one leaf and one flower, with leaf, shoot and flower stem strangely intergrown. Each bud travels along a spiral line: first it points inwards and upwards, like the hour-hand of a clock at 2 o'clock; it wanders on, always pointing outward from the center of the spiral, down to the 6 o'clock position; it then rises up on the outside, reaching the horizontal in the 9 o'clock position. There the flower opens, a gloomy, violet throat from which dark veins branch outwards into the sulphur-yellow marginal zone of the calyx, an impressive image of dark­ness acting into light. The attendant leaf has its plane in the vertical, how­ever, a most unusual sight in the plant world. The structure continues to turn until it has reached the 12 o'clock position and the flower stands verti­cally and the leaf horizontally, as is "proper" for a plant. But by that time the flower has faded and the leaf is beginning to wither. The turning movement ceases for the first pair of leaf and flower, and the next pair starts along the same root, as do all that follow. This succession produces a linear shoot standing obliquely outwards, with the spiral like a crosier at the end as it continues to unroll. The staff shows the rhythmical sequence, like a spinal column, stiffly bearing the upward-pointing, prickly-tipped, drying capsules and slowly withering leaves. All the "staffs" together form three to seven rays of a funnel, open at the top and with its point at the place where the first branching took place and the first flower unfolded down below. Into the center of the funnel drop the seeds discharged from the dry capsules. What an "egocentric" gesture, compared to the outward-reaching, giving gesture of a fruit tree or bush.

If one looks down on the plant from above it will be seen that the leaf-­and-flower pairs emerging from the spiral center, point to the right, then to the left in rhythmical alternation. Like all horizontal flowers, the flower shows bilateral symmetry. The calyx does not drop off when the flower withers, but forms a sphere enveloping the ripening fruit and opening into a five-pointed funnel at the top. The fruit is green at first, and similar to that of Belladonna. But it then turns into a dry capsule with a little lid which finally opens, and discharges the seed. And still new flowers with their leaves burst forth from the spiral, pointed left and right in turn, emerging from darkness into the light of day, on and on until the first frost puts an end to it.

The flower has an aromatic, musty, scent; the herb and stems are also scented and one notices this particularly if one strips off the shaggy glan­dular hairs with one's hand. The scent is similar to that brought into the house by long-haired dogs when they are wet.

The active principles of the plant (which can be explained only if one sees them as the result of activity, as produced by the henbane process) are: l-hyoscyamine, d,l-hyoscyamine (atropine), l-scopolamine, d,l-scopolamine; the latter alkaloids predominantly in the seed. Also choline, some volatile oil, bitter principles, and tannin. In terms of chemical analysis, this means great similarity to the deadly nightshade. But at the same time the hen­bane is quite different, as a medicinal plant, from Belladonna.

If one considers that "active principles" are preceded by the "active forces" which produce them and which have created the plant form as their image, their living image, one will find more significant information on the medicinal action in the signature and language of the plant than in what the chemist has to tell. The results of chemical analysis are not with­out significance, but they are only part of the total information provided by the plant.

In the henbane, the focal point of the whole structure is obviously the spiral interweaving of leaf and flower, rather than the thick tap-root. This root offers itself up, wholly to the flowering process, it dies off when flower and fruit are formed. (The deadly nightshade on the other hand withdraws its vital powers into the root in autumn, it has a much stronger root life.) The focal point of the medicinal action will therefore lie in regions where the processes of metabolism and limbs meet with processes of the rhythmic system; in these regions the action of the astral element upon the physical and etheric principles will be influenced. Depending on the dose, an astral body which is not coming in strongly enough will be stimulated to act more strongly, or an astral body which is pressing in too strongly, and is held as in a spasm, will be pushed out. The form-giving impulses of the rhythmic region, of the "middle man", interact with the metabolic organization to give rise to the muscle organization in the limbs of man. The astral organization, providing the impulses for movement, needs to act particularly upon this muscle organization, as on a tool, building up as well as breaking down. It is here that the henbane has a particular sphere of action, because of its "astrality-filled synthesis of the rhythmical leaf process and the flower process". Suitable remedies pre­pared from the henbane will effect spasmolysis, better nutrition, and anabolism in this region. Nutrition of heart muscle and of the musculature of the limbs is promoted when suitable preparations of henbane are com­bined with other indicated remedies.

According to Rudolf Steiner, Hyoscyamus stimulates the solar plexus: the astral body (and ego organization) act upon it more strongly. Steiner put it like this: "If we use Hyoscyamus to transmit the astral principle, we transmit . . . that which lives in the mantle of warmth around the earth and forms the outer part of the atmosphere; we transmit this to the solar plexus of man . . ." In the introductory chapters, it was described how spheres and processes of being which for the plant lie outside, at the near or distant periphery, are interiorized in man, as internal processes, internal organs. The astral spheres belonging to the henbane have a special relation to the regions of warmth mantling the earth. (A "mantle of warmth" forming the outer limit, at a very great height, of the atmosphere, was predicted by Rudolf Steiner in the early twenties. Years later, this was confirmed by meteorologists.) The solar plexus, and the associated autonomic system with its interplay of sympathetic and parasympathetic, enables part of the astral body to act on the etheric and physical functions; this part of the astral body is the one which must work unconsciously. Indeed, the very role of this nervous system is to keep the astral body unconscious in this region, to extinguish the powers of consciousness. If spirit and soul quali­ties do become free in this region, the results — as described earlier for Mandragora — are a somnambulant pictorial consciousness, visions, and hallucinations. Because of these effects, the henbane was used for evil purposes in the Middle Ages, in form of an ointment. The herb, once dedicated to Apollo, was finally restored to its rightful place through homeopathy. In that field, it is used for a wide range of muscular spasms, states of excitement, epileptic seizures, and also disorders which indicate that the brain no longer forms the healthy physical base, the "mirroring unit", for daytime conscious awareness, so that there is confusion of ideas, and manic (and also depressive) states. According to Rudolf Steiner, "mental" disorders always have physical causes. In the medicine based on anthroposophical spiritual science, Hyoscyamus also plans an impor­tant role in the treatment of twilight states based on a state where "the brain is not properly maintained in its structure", so that its astral organi­zation does not come in to act firmly enough in the physical brain. If a remedy prepared from henbane is introduced into the human organism, metabolic activity has to make intensive efforts to overcome the constitu­tion of this very poisonous plant. This gives rise to a particularly intensive power-form in the etheric body of the metabolic region, a form that is hard to dissolve, much harder than that arising through a food plant (which resolves in about 24 hours). As a counter process to this activity in the lower organization there arises in the upper organization a better cohesion between the organizing forces of the brain and the astral organization. While at the lower pole a plant element is being overcome which had astral forces impressed into it too deeply, the upper pole can properly draw close to itself an astral element which had loosened its connections.

Datura stramonium, thorn-apple, stramony, apple Peru, Jamestown weed
Most relatives of the Stramonium genus grow in Central and South America. They have hanging flowers and berries, and may reach the height of small trees, though with rather soft stems. Our thorn-apple — with flowers and capsule fruits firmly upright — lives in Central and Southern Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.

If one has a feeling for how the growth of a plant from seed is an exhalation into the physical, then the thorn-apple is the image of "exhala­tion tightened in spasm". A strong shoot grows upwards, with soft leaves of a faded blue-green spread­ing all round, though their stems do not get away from the main shoot, they are fused with it. A spindly, branching root pushes downwards.

The leaf is basically ovoid, with triangular points and lappets giving it a thistle-like appearance. This seems somehow in contradiction to the soft consistency of the leaf. Growth, intended for a plant of man's height, again ends suddenly and prematurely, just as in the deadly nightshade and the henbane. The first flower causes a standstill. Before it, the stem branches, and each side shoot in turn is brought to a stop by a flower, and forks. The bract leaves belonging to the flowers are taken along, to the left and the right, by the forked shoots, their stems fused with them, and only the laminae allowed to unfold at the next fork, to become the bract of what in fact is the next higher flower. The plane of the next fork is rotated by 90° in relation to the preceding gone, so that the plant as it grows reaches out all round into space, resembling a funnel standing on its point, this point being the first fork. What we have before us is a branching structure similar to the bronchial tree. None of the other Solanaceae bring out the principle of pseudo-dichotomous branching as clearly as this. The final, uppermost shoot ends in a fan of leaves, and from the green-yellow plane there rises, boldly and rather bizarre, the topmost flower, and with it the others from lateral peaks grown to the same height. By this time, the lowermost flower has already developed into a prickly seed capsule.

In the thorn-apple, the whole flowering process is premature, fun­nelling much too deeply into the sphere of the leaf. Each individual flower shows even more clearly the pattern of deep invagination. The calyx widens a little first, then closes up tightly; from the narrow funnel thus produced the slim throat of the flower breaks forth, a trumpet shape of beaten metal. This compression of etheric swelling forces through astral flowering forces causes water to exude from the fluid organization of the plant, and this fills the space between calyx and corona in the bud. Such a "water" calyx is a great rarity in the plant world. The flower terminates in five sharp points. These are initially twisted in a spiral; as the flower opens, the spiral unfolds, in arcs which always, no matter what the posi­tion of the flower on the plant, sweep from east to south, west, and north, following the course of the sun in the sky. Yet this actually happens at night, when the sun is below the horizon. In the morning, the gleaming white flower closes up, in a movement going in the opposite direction. Thus the gestures of the flower affirm the movement of the sun at night, but deny it by day. Here the thorn-apple is showing a new variant of the left-motif of the Solanaceae. It is not only that the flowers open at night; the whole plant seems to freshen up, it stands up straight, with leaves raised. The scent coming from the plant at night is of an evocative sweet­ness, like a cunningly composed perfume rather than a plant scent, and attracts night-flying moths with probosces long enough to fit the deep funnel of the flower. In the morning the flower closes up, with its anti-sun gesture, and drops down from the horizontal; the leaves, too, are lowered, and the whole plant seems to sag. Once the flower is pollinated, calyx and corona drop off as though cut off with a knife. The fruit grows into a prickly ball, and finally the browny black seeds are shaken from the opening capsule by the wind. --The leaves have a repulsively sweetish, animal-like smell. Like the henbane; the thorn-apple loves rubble and wasteland.

Chemical analysis has demonstrated the presence of l-hyoscyamine, and small quantities of atropine and l-scopolamine in the plant, so that in this respect it is similar to the other Solanaceae we have discussed. How­ever, in its more subtle aspects, the medicinal action differs from that of the deadly nightshade and the henbane. The leaves of the thorn-apple help to free the astral body of the asthmatic when its grip is too tightly clenched in the process of exhalation. Stramonium poisoning unleashes the forces of the will, at the same time separating them from the guiding, purposive ego sphere, from the faculty of cognition. Senseless actions are performed and continued with manic insistence. Consciousness is taken over by halluci­natory, visionary states, which may also be filled with erotic images arising from the lower, metabolic region, etc.

Rudolf Steiner gave a new indication: the unripe fruit of the thorn-apple suitably prepared may be used as a remedy for biliary colic with gall stones. The rationale of this is apparent if one considers the spamolytic properties of the plant (and of the other Solanaceae we have discussed), and also notes how the interplay between swelling tendencies and the form-giving principle which goes on all through the plant, culminates in the fruit, a prickly, radiant sphere. This fruit is very much formed out and hardened; when it has rotted away, a delicate fibrous skeleton is left behind. This form, like a spiked club, is also impressed upon the crystal druses of calcium oxalate which are secreted from the living sap, a reflec­tion of centrifugal processes. These dynamics, of something inner being pushed outwards, are activated in the remedy. The "prickles" are in fact mainly vessels belonging to the fluid organization. In this case, something which normally is rounded, forming drops and spheres, is radiated outwards.

Scopolia carniolica, scopola, Japanese Belladonna
This small plant from the moun­tain forests of the upper Sava in Yugoslavia and the eastern Car­pathians, is somewhere between Belladonna and Hyoscyamus in appearance. It is a spring plant, flowering in April and May. In this and certain other respects it is like Mandragora, and in Romania used to take the place of the latter as a magic herb (known as man­traguna) in popular use. The rhy­zome is perennial (like those of Belladonna and Mandragora), more than a hand's length, and the thickness of a thumb. From it, the somewhat fleshy stem, still bearing some tower scale leaves, rises to a height of two spans. It ends in a thick shock of petiolate leaves, with the flowers hanging on long stems from the axils; these are tubular bells, earth-brown in colour, and faintly browny green inside, hiding in the shade of the thick, wide umbrella of leaves. This shock of leaves is, of course, nothing but the leaf­shoot-flower structure of the deadly nightshade, with the small leaf and the large one, and between them the flower, budding upwards, but mov­ing downwards into the shelter of darkness as it opens (with Scopolia, the flower is more pendant). Imagine the Belladonna funnel of leaves and flowers pushed together to form a rosette, and there you have Scopolia carniolica; indeed, the whole structure might be called a 'little Bel­ladonna", were it not for the fruit which develops in quite a different direction, forming a dry capsule similar to that of the henbane.

The underside of the plant bears a dark tinge (violet or bluish). This is obviously in every respect a member of the nightshade family. Its action combines those of Mandragora and Belladonna. As a "narcotic", it has played a role similar to that of the mandrake root; as a remedy it has been used to treat gout, rheumatism, and also paralysis agitans, the shaking palsy.

Nicotiana tabacum tobacco
The Solanaceae theme comes up in quite a different key when we consider the genus Nicotiana. This comprises annu­als from the tropics and subtropics, with strong, undivided leaves, some a metre long, surrounding the shoot as it strives energetically upwards. With their stems fused into the shoot, these leaves follow one another rhythmically in great abun­dance, gradually contracting until they enter the floral region as small bracts, penetrating right to the top of the shoot. For we have already come to the inflo­rescence (a terminal panicle or cymose cluster), the aim and purpose of the growing process. With many beauti­fully colored, well-formed, deep funnel-shaped blossoms, the inflores­cence stands out clearly against the luxuriant foliage, and we see a free, unfettered plant form, with no sign of spasm. Quite obviously, the incoming flowering impulse has not led to the deformation of the rhythmic system which we have seen in the other Solanaceae.

Our esthetic sense permits us to call the tobacco species beautiful; some have won a place in our gardens as ornamental plants, particularly the graceful, sweet-scented nightflowering species with their white flowers resembling narcissi, and slim horizontal trumpet shapes reminding of Datura.

However, in this genus, too, astral impulses normal to the floral region have strayed beyond their limits of space and time, and permeated the whole plant from the root upwards. This is apparent from the strongly aromatic and resinous scent of leaf and stem, and from the fact that these plants develop one of the most powerful poisons in the plant kingdom, nicotine, and related substances. But just as the form of the Nicotiana species is of a different type to that of the deadly nightshade, the henbane, the thorn-apple, etc., so the alkaloid nicotine is quite different from sub­stances such as hyoscyamine, atropine and scopolamine. Its chief charac­teristic is that it is a fluid, very volatile, like a volatile oil; it is all the time subtly exhaled into the atmosphere from the leaves. A fine poisonous mist floats above any tobacco field, with its aromatic, musty scent. The plant creates an air-form for itself, beyond the form that is visible to the eye, and this air-form is filled with its specific nature. In the tobacco plant as in the other Solanaceae, the astral is impressed into the physical too early and too deeply, drawing part of the plant processes into the element of astrality, into the sphere of the air; it does not, however, deform the rhythmic sys­tem in Nicotiana. An astral principle, something cosmic, is caught up in the plant like the genie in the bottle; but — in contrast to the Solanaceae we discussed earlier — here the stopper is taken out, the incarcerated becomes free, surrounds the plant as a vaporous form and no longer makes its impression upon the form of the plant (i.e., upon that which is formed out of solid and fluid elements).

In one of his lectures (January 13, 1923), Rudolf Steiner described the action of tobacco poison. It affects chiefly the circulation, speeding it up and making the heart beat faster. The respiratory rate does not increase, so that the healthy ratio of pulse to breath which is so very important for man (72 pulse beats to 18 breaths on average, i.e., 4:1), is upset. The blood receives inadequate amounts of oxygen, resulting in a dyspnoea which the subject is not aware of, and in connection with this an anxiety which also goes unnoticed. The heart beats fast; its healthy relation to other organs such as the kidney, is dislocated. The rhythm of life becomes too fast, and so does thinking activity. Man wears himself out too quickly, damaging the heart through unconscious anxiety states. According to Steiner, nico­tine addiction is in the final instance due to the fact that for the last three or four centuries man has not been sufficiently active in his spirit. Present-day aims do not lead to a true interest in life; the sense organs are stimulated, and so is the rational mind that is connected with them, but the blood is not stirred. Tobacco poison is given the task of rousing the blood.

Nicotine does not, however, have any visionary or hallucinatory "narcotic" effects. Modern scientists are completely mystified by the fact that smokers cannot do without tobacco, that tobacco has conquered the whole of the world as no other substance has done, and has become a poi­son to which all mankind is addicted. The Red Indians used it chiefly in their cults. People whose psyche had been suitably prepared were given tobacco water to drink and this brought them to a state close to death; by loosening the spiritual members of man's being this made it possible for those people to see the spheres of the spiritual world which open to man after death. It was then possible to get in touch with the spirits of ances­tors, etc. Tobacco was an "initiation poison". It could only have this effect in races where the constitution of the members of man's being was very specific, where the force "holding together" the physical, the spiritual and the psychic aspects was of a very specific type. At the same time it was necessary to make the soul "transparent" for spiritual actions, so that it would not allow any of its subjective spiritual and psychic contents to color its perceptions when in such a state. Those states are not what smokers all over the world are after today. They merely want relief from the discomfort of emptiness, and from the consequences, extending right into the very blood, of the non-spiritual life which developed when man turned exclusively to the material world. Occupation with this world led to three things: firstly the investigation of its physical forces and laws; secondly, discovery and conquest of the physical earth; and thirdly, atro­phy and desolation of the psychic and spiritual aspects of man's nature. In this "move to the West", which in the final instance is a taking hold of the forces of death, tobacco was discovered and appropriated; a poison which for a time obligingly hides with its smoke the consequences of the path taken by mankind. Man will overcome the need for tobacco when he con­sciously grasps his own spirituality.

The actions of the tobacco plant on man, and its medicinal potential, derive from the specific processes which have been outlined above. Part of the astrality which has taken hold of the whole plant is driven out again by the strong forces of the rhythmic organization so that it forms an airy prin­ciple around the plant, in the form of a vaporous sphere. The poison of tobacco has been made volatile. Remedies prepared from tobacco leaves influence the action of the astral body on the rhythmic organization of man; the blood process is accelerated, the process of exhalation is intensi­fied, and the musculature of the blood vessels and of the respiratory appa­ratus in influenced. Asthma and vasospasm are thus among the indica­tions. "Tobacco regulates the activity of the astral body" is a general indication given by Rudolf Steiner. In the digestive system, the astral body is helped to permeate the air organization. Tobacco may be used to treat the severe flatulence and even inhibition of intestinal action which result when the astral body is not properly incorporated in this region. --According to Rudolf Steiner, tobacco as a remedy not only regulates astral activity, but even compensates for "atrophied" astral activity, for "deformations" of the astral body which might become transferred to the etheric and finally also to the physical processes in the human organization.

Tobacco thus is a powerful remedy. Its effectiveness is, however, impaired by the considerable use and abuse of tobacco by smokers. Habituation leads to a dulling of response. At this point I should like to conclude the discussion of Tabacum the main object of this book being to describe the essential nature of the plant. Details as to medicinal uses may be found in the anthroposophical medical literature.

There is a further statement by Rudolf Steiner on the action of nicotine which is little known and which I should like to quote (a lecture given in Munich, on January 8, 1909). In reply to a question as to the action of nicotine, the reply was: "I cannot give you an opinion on this, I shall only base myself on that which I have stated here from the standpoint of spiritual science. --With regard to nicotine, this may on occasion be a highly dangerous stimulant, and we must be aware that something which is highly dangerous for one person need not be so for another. All one can say is that the action of nicotine upon the organism is such that it splits up the activity of the organism, that it splits up a certain group of activities, those performed by the astral body in serving the physical body. Part of the activities normally performed by the whole astral body are then per­formed by only part of it, so that the astral body is, in a sense, partly relieved. This may be harmless, but it may also have serious conse­quences, depending on the individual case."

Solanum dulcamara, bitter-sweet, woody nightshade, felonwort
From among the shade-giving herbs by the forest brooks, from the shrubs on the river bank, rises the slim semi-shrub of the bitter-sweet, rapidly striving upwards from a creeping ground axis. It lets itself be borne upwards by stronger shrubs, its own powers of getting upright being rather poor. What it lacks in the vertical it makes up for with increased branching power. With the main axis failing to impose the law of above and below, there results a chaotic confusion of branches growing on and on, developing independently of each other. Each side shoot goes on gaily, as though it were a wholly independent plant. Thus borne up into the light, not rising by its own power, the plant develops a rich foliage, though this, too, very much lacks the proper order which would make it a harmonious whole. The bitter-sweet does not make an ornamental plant, for it holds too much confusion. The same prin­ciple which lets the slim branches shoot into length, but not grow upright, also shapes the leaves. Lower down on the shoot, these are still slightly rounded, but higher up they form a narrow triangle on a heart-shaped base, finally sharpening into arrow points as they approach the inflo­rescence. The leaf form is not rigidly laid down, there is an inward curve here, a rounding-out there, two or three little ears emerging, or even division into a twin pair of leaves. The foliage is fresh and green, though there is a note of darkness in it; in the autumn it turns a blackish violet. This same color is shown all the time by the young leaf stems, the veins, calyces and flower stems, and indeed flows from the very ground, up into the shoots and branches.

The furled cluster of beautiful flowers develops clearly and distinctly separate from the leaf region (reminding of the spiral of flowers in the henbane, but free from leaves; flowering time is in midsummer). True to the character which has already emerged, the cluster of flowers turns downward and becomes pendant. The flower resembles that of the tomato in form; it is a small work of art in color and shape, and indeed seems wholly made of color. The anthers, an active, bright yellow, thrust forward, while the violet petals are reflexed; between those two colors, green holds the balance, with five small-scale leaves surrounding the corolla. The backward flexion of the petals reminds somewhat of the flower of the cyclamen, and the scent, too, is similar. The interplay between light and dark in the Solanaceae is given a charming variation here, and although it occurs throughout the plant, this interplay is partic­ularly obvious in the flower. In keeping with the elongated twigs, and the narrow shape of the leaf, the scarlet, pendant berry is oval in shape, looking like a tiny tomato that has been greatly elongated. Its taste is watery and sweet, then burning, and it contains many small seeds.

This plant surely cannot be very poisonous, even if it is a nightshade. With its cheerful green, the beautiful harmony of colors in the flower between restless violet and bright yellow, and the strong scarlet of the berry, it appears friendly, and indeed pleasing. Shy and yet importunate, it presents itself — but still, there is the blackish-violet hue giving a touch of darkness to the plant, though not as threateningly as in the deadly night­shade, the henbane, the thorn-apple, etc. The flowers are open, they do not hide their inner parts the way those relatives we have just mentioned do, they are not deeply invaginated. As in all other species of the genus Solanum (and this is one of the largest in the plant kingdom), the "spastic principle" is relaxed, almost completely cancelled out. The vegetative part of the plant, the green leaf and shoot, is left more free to develop, and the flowers have their own development, clearly separate from the rest. This indicates that the astral lets the etheric have its rights, and does not press into the plant form prematurely or to any excessive degree. It fits in with this that Solanum species do not form alkaloids like hyoscyamine, nicotine, etc., but a peculiar class of substances known as "glyco-alkaloids", com­pounds somewhere between the glycosides and the alkaloids. The chief among these are solanin–found in the fruit–and solacein and solanein in the stem and leaf.

The plant also contains mucins and tannins (about 10 per cent) and the ash contains a high proportion of silicic acid, about 18 per cent.

The high silicic acid content relates the bitter-sweet to the sphere of the senses, the ectoderm and its invaginations. Inflammations of the skin, with itching, heat, urticaria, and weeping eczema are indications on the one hand, catarrhal inflammation of the mucosa of the respiratory passages and bronchi on the other, particularly if linked with a clenching of the astral body in these organic regions. These are the spheres where a plant which combines being a silicic acid plant with the Solanaceae pattern of astralization may be effective. It may also be helpful in cases of whooping cough. On the other hand the action extends to catarrhal conditions of the mucosa of the intestines and bladder. Rudolf Steiner suggested that the flowers of the, bitter-sweet might be used together with flowering money-wort (Creeping Jenny) to treat eczematous conditions. A very subdued Belladonna note is added to those main actions.

Solanum lycopersicum, tomato
Here we have another of the Solanaceae which lacks the proper power to come upright. Heavily it pushes its way upwards along the stake pro­vided, quite different from the elegant manner in which beans or hops wind upwards. The tomato is greatly overburdened with sheer matter, the trend towards substance overrides the trend towards form. The plant is hypercharged with tendencies towards swelling growth. The leaves are very herbaceous, and yet there is something undefined in their shape. The river of proliferating, burgeoning life may be said to break its dams all the time, letting a leaf debouch here, a lappet there. The stems are tumid, and swollen at the joints. Yet the floral structures develop clearly apart from the herbaceous parts of the plant; there is no evidence here of the spastic compaction seen in the highly poisonous Solanaceae. The coiled floral shoot does faintly recall the spirals of the henbane. The leaves also show a tendency to curl on occasion. The flower is small, pale yellow, and opens into a flat disk; the anthers emerge into the open, as in the bitter-sweet. The calyx normally has five points, but quite often there are six, or seven. Again the given order is not adhered to. Similarly, strict formative laws are exceeded by the fruit in its exuberant growth; it may be the shape of an apple, a pear or an egg, smooth or ribbed, and finger-like forms may pro­liferate from it.

As in the other Solanaceae we have discussed, the herb of the tomato has a strong scent. This is musty and aromatic, like parsley but also like petrol, and at the same time reminding of meat-broth. So again we have processes normally confined to the floral region entering into the region below the flower. Cosmic elements become excessively earthly.

An egotistical trait comes out in the tomato in its habit of being com­patible with itself, preferring to grow in its own dung. It shares this habit with tobacco. Immature, "wild" compost is what it likes best.

The proliferating forces hidden in the wild tomato plant make it possi­ble to develop from it the cultured forms, with their abundance of fruit. As a food, it should be used with circumspection; if there is a tendency towards proliferative and hardening disease, with the form-giving forces "running wild", tomatoes should be avoided, e.g., in cancer, gout rheuma­tism. On the other hand tomatoes agree well with the liver, which is a proliferative plastic organ. Rudolf Steiner recommended an extract of the fruit in high potency for the treament of osteomyelitis.

Capsicum annuum, paprika
Difficulty in coming upright, proliferation of the herb, and a strong flowering process, pendant flowers and elongated fruits — these are also features of the paprika plant. The abundant foliage is a glossy dark green, and the leaves are happiest in the hot sun. The light-colored, shallow flowers shelter from the light, nodding, and the fruits, their color ranging from yellow to red and purple and even almost black, are half hidden in the shade of the leaves. These fruits are not just swelling like those of the tomato; they are bloa­ted, blown up, not juicy but downright airy fruits. They have taken hold of the airy element and made it part of themselves. More than that, they also incor­porate the fire-qualities of high summer, qualities of vital impor­tance to a child of the tropics. The forces of astralization which have by now become familiar to us in our study of the Solanaceae, take hold of the etheric, vegetative ele­ment with air and fire. It is not surprising, then, to find a specific substance containing nitrogen in this plant. This substance, capsai­cin, makes the fruit hot to the taste and gives it its vesicant properties, producing blisters similar to burns. It will energetically fire metabolism, and produce inflammation. Being one of the Solanaceae, Capsicum also acts on the astral body in muscular rheumatism, when it is gripping the muscle as in spasm; Capsicum annuum will relax this grip and thereby relieve pain.

The fruit contains much vitamin C and provitamin A (carotene), so that it is of particular dietary value if eaten raw.

Physalis alkekengi, winter cherry, ground cherry, bladder herb
This member of the Solanaceae family is again one whose form is liber­ated, "free from spasm". From the perennial root-stock rise the shoots, a meter high, with elongated, pointed leaves of a cheerful green growing on free stems. Higher up, the flowers arise, from the leaf axils. They are simi­lar to potato flowers, wide open, and immediately turn downwards, developing into red berries the size of small cherries. The structure most characteristic of the winter cherry is the calyx, however, which turns a fiery red, moving out around the fruit in a wide-reaching gesture and closing up in front, thus forming an aerial balloon around it. This is a gesture of wanting to take hold of the airy region, an organizing sphere normally closed to the plant, and to attempt something of an air organization.

Plants with air-filled calyces of this type — we find them in many familes — became important in medicine during the Middle Ages, at a time when note was taken of the signature rerum. They were used to treat con­ditions of the kidney and bladder. According to Rudolf Steiner, the kidney has not only eliminating functions, but also a highly constructive task: to incorporate the astral body in the air organization of man. The life of the kidney and bladder is particularly influenced by the nature of the air in the environment. The Solanaceae have each in its own way the property of attracting astral processes from the environment and holding them. From these aspects arise the medicinal possibilities of the winter cherry. 

Physalis contains only a low proportion of alkaloids, but the fruit has a strong bitter principle, much vitamin C, and a carotinoid. The plant is barely poisonous and a relative, the Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana), is eaten as a fruit, though it cannot deny kinship with the tomato.



* Translation from the German of the third part of the ninth chapter in the author's Heilpflanzenkunde (Botany of Medicinal Plants), Vol. 1 published with the kind permis­sion of the author and of the publisher, Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag am Goetheanum/Dornach, Switzerland, whose permission should be sought for reproduc­tion. Translator: R.E.K. Meuss, F.I.L., illustrations by Walter Roggenkamp. Reprinted with permission from B.H.J., January 1976.





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