The Labiatae

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By: Wilhelm Pelikan

Reprinted from The British Homeopathic Journal, Vol. LX, No. 1, January 1971

The Labiatae Plants of warmth 

With three thousand species, the Labiatae are very much a family of medicinal plants. Where another plant family may show this or that medicinal variation as something special and unusual among an abundance of species, every single one of the Labiatae is a medicinal plant. If the medicinal plant generally strikes us as a one-sided development of the family type, then the Labiatae as a family must be regarded as a particularly one-sided variation of archetypal plant nature.

This one-sidedness is due to the extraordinary extent to which this plant family permits the cosmic forces of warmth to influence it. That is its essential nature. Warmth takes hold of the Labiatae and organizes their development to a far greater degree than any other plant family. Of course, other plant families, and in fact every plant family, do also have their share of the action of warmth, but none to the extent as the Labiatae. The centre of the impulses for such warmth activity lies, as with all plants, outside the plant body, in the cosmos, in the sun. Only man, the being who has an ego, bears such an impulse-centre as part of his being, within himself; he is a being with his own warmth. A particular reaction between man and the Labiatae arises through the warmth in the make-up of those plants.

This warmth-element finds physical expression in the production of special, fiery, aromatic substances, etheric oils. These are substances which may be said to want to become warmth themselves. In them, warmth has taken substance, as far as this is possible, towards its own essential nature. These substances are extremely volatile, with rapid expansion from the fluid to the gaseous state, easily inflammable, and burning with a bright flame. The vapour is invisible and colourless, it allows light to pass through it, but at the same time robs it of radiant heat, letting the light emerge bright but cool. This is called adiathermancy by the physicists. The etheric oils have no relation to the watery element, nor to the earth. They do not dissolve in water, nor do they dissolve minerals or salts. They do dissolve substances which also owe their existence to the action of warmth: waxes, resins, fats. The etheric oils contain a great amount of hydrogen; etheric oil of rosemary, for instance, is the plant substance containing the most hydrogen; and hydrogen is the substance most closely related to warmth in the whole earth sphere.

Cosmic warmth-activity is differentiated into different temperature zones over the earth; parallel to this differentiation the various species of Labiatae develop from the main type. This type unfolds its possibilities parallel to those differentiations in warmth activity as follows:

The Labiatae prefer the Mediterranean, avoid the tropical jungle, and in fact the tropics altogether, but also the cold regions. They love wide, open fields, dry - even stony - slopes, wild scrub land, sunny hill tops. Here they develop their most characteristic and noble species. Lesser varieties are found in damp meadows, near brooks, in the shade of woods; these species have rough, coarse, sweat-like scents. One can smell how the element of warmth does not gain ascendancy as it does in the purer species, but must fight against the obstructive forces of damp and darkness. In the tropics, the cosmic sphere, and particularly cosmic warmth, is drawn too strongly into the earthly sphere; this is not the place for the Labiatae. In the colder regions, the cosmic forces do not get hold of the earth strongly enough, and here, too, the Labiatae are absent. In the mountain ranges of the Mediterranean, with their short rainy periods in spring, the long, dry, bright summers, where cosmic forces continue to rule for a long time, the type develops to its greatest perfection. Here grow the noblest, the wonderfully aromatic species of lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage and others.

With regard to warmth activity, therefore, the Labiatae prefer the middle one of the climatic zones, the rhythmic middle of the earth body; and out of this warmth activity they develop their etheric oils, preferably in their own rhythmic region, in the leaf region.

Having visualized the distribution of the Labiatae over the climatic zones of the earth, we must next picture the distribution of their life cycles within the cycles of the seasons. They are above all summer-flowering.

The root process of the labiate plant comes to grips with the mineral element in the soil. It does not like the half- mineral, half-living consistency of swamp soil, nor does it take hold on a living substrate as the parasite does. But nevertheless this root process does not really make the mineral nature of the earth part of itself. That which we might term "turned-up earth," namely a tree, develops only as a rare exception among the Labiatae. For them, it is enough to have enlivened the mineral; and the plant then immediately strives towards the opposite pole. A watery congestion of growth, like that seen in the succulent plants, is equally foreign to the Labiatae. A simple pair of coltyledons is followed by the other leaves of the shoot; no trouble is taken to form or arrange them with loving care; simple, undivided and decussate, further leaves follow. In the "normal" plant, say a Ranunculus, the single pair of cotyledons is followed by the rising spiral of alternate leaves, showing a rich variety of forms, and only in the end again contracted into a simple leaf, the little sepal in the circle of the calyx: similar to the early form and leading to the higher beginning of floral development. This whole range of leaf development is limited to very simple forms in the labiate plant - evidence of a strong, rapid striving towards the flowering process. The leaves, the stems, already begin to give off fragrance; in this, too, they anticipate the flowering process, are already warmed through and

inflamed like flowers, whilst a "normal" plant first mercurially weaves the airy light element into those of water and earth. To this "mercurial" process belonging to the leaf, a "sulphuric" and "phosphoric" are added in the Labiatae. In the circumstances it will be no surprise that the form of the calyx already resembles that of the corolla. If a sage blossom is plucked from its calyx, it will be seen that the latter has the same form as the flower. The flowers themselves appear in such abundance, in such a great variety of peculiar forms and strange conformations, that they obviously are a key to the essential nature of the labiate plants. The axis of the flower changes from the vertical direction of the shoot to the horizontal, and with this the labiate flower moves away from plant nature, towards animal nature. For the hori/.ontal is the direction of formation and movement of the animal. Upper lips arch up, lower lips are pushed outwards; throats and gullets open up, forms to match the insect linked with these flowers. If blossoms like that are filled with wax, the impression resembles the head of a bee with its proboscis extended. Stamens and stigma become organs moved by a touch. The insect flying to the flower is received, enveloped, its movement even elicits a movement in response, like an echoed movement. The juices of the plant also surge towards the animal, in the formation of nectar; this is all the more abundant the more often the flower is visited. If a bee visits thyme, sage or other labiates, this is an encounter between warmth-animal and warmth-plant. The animal maintains a temperature level similar to that of the human blood in its hive. It gathers the sugary warmth-spiced nectar to transform it into honey, raising it to a higher sphere of life, that of the animal, permeated with warmth.

The fruits arising from such a flowering process are dry little nuts containing seeds with a high fat or oil content. These, too, are very much saturated with warmth. (Volatile and fatty oils are related through their connection with warmth, but at the same time also polar opposites. In volatile oils, substance separates out into the warmth element, a centrifugal process. In fatty oils, substance absorbs the warmth element, a centripetal process. In volatile oils, material substance strives towards the sphere of warmth; in fatty oils, warmth moves into the substance. Volatility is the essence of the one; envelopment, concentration, that of the other.) Juicy fruits produced by the watery element are lacking.

Having looked at the labiate life as a whole, let us return once more to the formation of the leaves. It strikes one that the meagre amount of play permitted in the shaping out of the labiate leaf - from the broad leaf of melissa or woundwort to the needle-like leaf of rosemary or thyme - faithfully reflects the extent to which cosmic warmth actually takes hold of the species. And this is also reflected in the taste of the leaf, from the mildly aromatic one of melissa to the fiery, peppery taste of summer savory and thyme with their narrow leaves, and finally the burning, caustic flavour of the small leaf of Teucrium marum.


As flowering is so strong in this family, being pushed right down into the leaf region, one may expect stimulating and warming activity, firing the metabolism, anywhere between metabolism and rhythmic system. And the sphere of action of the Labiatae does indeed cover an area from digestion to respiration. The processes of warmth and the intensive sugar process (the formation of nectar) establish a relation to the member of man's being which is active in processes of warmth, basing itself on the sugar process in the blood: the ego. The activity of the ego, in the metabolism, in the formation of the blood and in the respiratory processes, is quite generally influenced by medicinal plants from among the Labiatae. These plants do not intensively concern themselves with the mineral, earth element, and because of this their medicinal action also does not noticeably extend to the system of nerves and senses. Nor do powerful astral impulses press in to any abnormal extent anywhere in the Labiatae, breaking through the region of the formative processes, the etheric, right into the physical sphere (this is characteristic of the formation of alkaloids in poisonous plants). As a result the Labiatae also do not have any particularly immediate effect on man's astrality, such as narcotic, anaesthestic actions, dimming consciousness. The accent is on the activity of the ego organization in the metabolic sphere, with an inclination towards the rhythmic system. Depending on the specific form developed by the individual species of this family, this or that organic sphere will be specifically addressed: either the blood, or the gastrointestinal region, the heart, the lung, the uterus. Over and above this, the Labiatae will assist quite generally to control any unrestrained astral activity, and place the astral body under the rule of the ego. Weakness of the ego in many different forms can be treated with these plants, right down to that organic failure of the ego organization resulting in diabetes mellitus.

In the form of herbs and spices, too - this family includes a great many herbs - the Labiatae stimulate the ego to conscious participation in the processes of digestion, by making it aware of taste, of savour. The scents of the family all have that stimulating, awakening, harsh and fiery note which strengthens the ego. There is nothing sweet, cloying, indulgent or benumbing about them.


As the Labiatae get their key-note from the element of warmth, let us first of all consider the most typical species, those where the warmth-principle is fully dominant. These are headed by rosemary. They are followed by those where the element of warmth has to assert itself by fighting against opposing formative principles, or where it is muted.

Rosmarinus offidnalis, wild rosemary This looks like a small, spiky pine tree; the dark green leaves are contracted into needles, and the shape of the shrub, which may be up to man's height, is compact, forceful and composed; only during the flowering time, briefly as it comes and goes, something more volatile passes over it: the delicate violet floral haze of the small pseudo-spicules on their brief shoots. But that is just a short moment in spring. The sunshine of the long, hot, dry Mediterranean summer finds the plant composed within itself, almost rigid. The aroma produced within it is fiery, but severe, strong, strengthening consciousness, rousing. The scent might well be called fiery-salty, and at the same time there is something of the solemnity of incense about it. The coastal mountain regions of Spain, Italy, the Riviera, Dalmatia, Greece, Asia minor and the islands of those regions are "rosemary country." The almost impenetrable thorny scrub, the maquis, covering those stony slopes is its favourite landscape, especially close to the sea. The rosemary bushes are cut every three years and the oil distilled from them varies from place to place, and also from year to year; it is determined by the climate and the soil; that is, the way in which warmth-cosmos and earth combine in the plants concerned. The flowers give excellent honey. '

The ancients valued rosemary more for their rites than as a medicinal herb, using it as a consecrated ornament for both gods and men. Its medicinal virtues were discovered in the Middle Ages; at that time it became very closely linked with man, as evidenced by many popular traditions; for christenings, weddings and the burial of the dead a sprig of rosemary was chosen; as a pot and garden plant it crossed the Alps and "grew close to the heart of man." This was the era when the egoic force struggled to emerge in the evolution of man; the human being was becoming an individual, the forces of individual responsibility were wakening in the soul as it was permeated with ego, a new member of the soul was born, the "spiritual soul." Strangely enough, it was at this time that various Labiatae took on particular meaning for human beings - as plants to be used in popular rites, to have around one, having made them acclimatize to one's own environment, and also as cooking herbs.

Rudolf Steiner has characterized the essential nature of the different medicinal actions of rosemary in that this plant strengthens the ego and its effects on the other members of man's being. This explains its action on fainting attacks, states of exhaustion due to intellectual overstrain; also the action on the blood organ, as this is the physical foundation on which the ego can unfold its activity. The blood process is activated. Chlorosis, inadequate menstruation, circulatory disorders are favourably influenced. Parallel to blood activity, the proper permeation with warmth is also promoted. Once the organs are given a better blood supply and warmth, ego organization and astral body can come in more effectively. This plant promotes digestion, "firing the metabolism," and acts as a sudorific. Where the higher members of being have a cramped hold on muscle tissue this relaxes; it also is of service in the treatment of epilepsy. A nervous system worn down by excessive intellectual demands is permeated more strongly by anabolic processes. But above all rosemary is a remedy for the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Rudolf Steiner was the first to draw attention to this, and in his lecture cycle Spiritual Science and Medicine, he describes, in the fifteenth lecture, how a weakened ego organization unable to control the process of sugar formation lies at the back of diabetes mellitus. (The ego organization is specifically active in the sugar metabolism, and the special need for sugar in human beings is indicative of this.) The ego, being too weak, withdraws to the periphery and develops a strong intellectualism through the brain; one of its main spheres of action, on digestion, production of blood and respiration, it leaves to the astral body. The way in which the ego works in that main sphere of action has a counter process in the plant world, where forces from outside the earth induce the plant-bearing earth to produce etheric oils. Using such etheric oils in baths is one method of treating weakness of the ego.

By developing "spiritual sense organs" capable of doing so, it is possible to perceive the interplay of astrality and egoity around the plant (which consists of a physical and an etheric body). In one of his lectures (3 May 1918), Rudolf Steiner described how the astral aspect of the plant flows, circles and whirls around the flower. It strives to combine with the purest element, the "soul of the sun's ray." The ray of the sun is permeated with the same force as that contained in our astral body. Physical light is the external body of astral light coming from the sun, and the element which glows around the body of the plant is intimately bound up with the astral radiated by the sun. "You have a wish, a will, an emotion, because you have an astral body - here wish, will, emotion is what swirls around the flower up there. What does it want then, as it swirls around the flower? It wants to absorb, to take up the soul of the sun's ray, and with the soul the purest part, the ego, and it is a continuation of the sun's ray that passes through the plant to the centre of the earth. In this activity of the spiritual content of the sun's ray, passing through the plant down to the centre of the earth, the activity of the plant's ego finds expression. And so spirit, plant and sun act together."

Chemical analysis has shown that apart from the etheric oil (in which alpha-pinene, i-camphene, cineol, d- and 1-camphor and d- and 1-borneol have been found), rosemary also contains resins, bitters and tannins. That is how they "come apart in one's hand" - but where is the spiritual bond between them; i.e., the essential nature of rosemary? It is difficult to find the word rosemary again by just looking at the letters a e o y m r s. It is equally difficult to see anything of the essential nature of the plant in the various substances which are the end-product of analysis. But this essential nature, with its own peculiar features, will become apparent again if the etheric oils, tannins, bitters, etc., are seen as the outcome of activity on the part of the members of the plant's being. According to Rudolf Steiner,

1. the cosmic plant-ego finds expression in the production of etheric oils;

2. the cosmic astrality of the plant manifests among other things in the formation of tannins; these are, so to speak, the organ which conveys the astral impulses to the etheric body of the plant. If the astrality of the plant acts too intensively into the physical sphere, breaking through the region of etheric formative forces, plant poisons, alkaloids, develop;

3. the development of forces in the etheric body which attract the astral finds expression in the production of bitter substances.

The medicinal action of etheric oils, and particularly that of rosemary, therefore consists in stimulation of the ego. Tannins make the astral body inclined to combine with the etheric body. Bitter substances stimulate the etheric body to take the astral body into itself.(1)

Lavandula offinialis, lavender Something fiery and forceful emanates from the rosemary shrub. Lavender is gentle, pure restfulness. Its foliage is scanty; almost contracted into needles, but still soft are the leaves. The shoot branches near the ground like a candelabra, with leaf spirals tending to contract into rosettes. From these the flower spicules rise, thin and upright. In them, the leaf element has been overcome. Quite different from rosemary, the influorescence with its pure, sweet "lavender blue" is one of the chief organs in the life of this plant. It unfolds in summer, with the plant striving strongly into this revelation of flowers, leaving the less perfect organs, the herb, behind and below. An organ borne so nobly must then also form one of the noblest scents we know in the plant kingdom. Something clean, soothing, comes to us from it.

The plant loves dry, warm slopes in the western Mediterranean, liking warmth and also much light. It develops most perfectly in the mountain meadows of the maritime Alps, where it covers the ground like heather. As it descends to lower regions, the aroma grows less delicate.

As a remedy, lavender also stimulates the ego-organization, but more in the direction of calming, controlling the astral body. In this sense lavender "strengthens the nerves," calms, brings sleep, and also relaxes spasm, counteracts faintness, revivifies. It makes the blood rushing to the head remember its proper course, stimulates metabolic activity; in paralysis it helps the ego organization to relax its tight grip on the paralysed limb. Added to baths, lavender is helpful in sciatica, gout, rheumatic disease: conditions partly due to the fact that the metabolism is not under the ego's control and therefore has become subject to the irregular katabolic activity of the astral body.

Thymus vulgaris, thyme This plant, contracted into the form of heather, or of a minute cypress, grows on stony ground in the full sun of Spain, central and southern Italy, Dalmatia, Greece. It requires little from the soil, needs hardly any water, but all the more of the cosmic light and warmth. The small fleshy leaves, almost contracted into needles, strive upwards strongly, together with the shoot; every summer the inflorescence, in clusters the colour of purple heather, pushes its way above them. Bees love those tiny blossoms. The herb has an aromatic, fiery flavour; the scent is strong, peppery, warming, slightly musty.

When the warmth organization - and with it the ego - does not fully permeate the stomach and lungs, when there is a tendency to develop colds, or any organic region holds "too much water, and too little warmth,” thyme can be helpful. Children with rickets, an exudative diathesis will benefit from thyme baths, and the plant is a remedy for persistent bronchial catarrh and even whooping cough. It is also useful in gastritis, gastric spasms, colics - if the organic region lacks warmth. With an overactive thyroid on the other hand, the metabolic stimulation given by this fiery herb may go too far; thyme must be used with caution.

Thymus serpyllum, wild thyme, mother of thyme A "softened" thyme. It, too, loves dry, sunny meadows in the mountains, though also the dampness of dew, and rises up to the snow line. Its habitat is not only south but also north of the Alps. Its scent is part of the aromatic fragrance of summery alpine meadows. Bees find rich pasture in the whorls of purplish flowers rising from a foliage that clings to the ground (small leaves, linear or curved). In popular medicine, wild thyme was regarded as "lady's herb" (Our Lady's bedstraw), dedicated first to Freya and later to Mary. It was thought to promote menstruation, but also confer chastity; i.e., getting the sexual functions into a healthy rhythm, ruled by the ego. Otherwise its medicinal use is similar to that of "true" thyme: for whooping cough, cough; to "strengthen the nerves,” for spasmolysis (gastric spasms, asthma, epilepsy), and added to the bath for weak and scrofulous children.

Teucrium marum, germander, cat thyme The leaves of this graceful shrub are very small and greatly contracted. The shoots strive upwards and end in the inflamed crimson of the flower spikes. Fiery and caustic, stinging, is the scent of the leaves if they are rubbed; burning and as hot as the hottest pepper is their taste. This plant, with the accent much on the flowery, volatile element, has an action similar to that of thyme, but more directed at metabolism. It fires the liver process, promotes the flow of bile, fights the tendency to stone formation. It also has emmenagogic properties, and the plant has been used to treat paralysis of the limbs; further for inflammations of the upper respiratory tract and proliferations in the nasal region.

Salvia officinalis, sage, red sage, white sage As the preceding examples have shown, the characteristic of the labiate process is that the "warmth ether" enters deeply into the region of the "life ether." This interaction finds expression on the one hand in aromatic processes involving volatilization (action of the warmth ether), and on the other hand in the compact form of the plant, always gathered in closely around the stem element (action of the life ether). Such a polarity can also be seen in Salvia. The sages are the largest genus in the family of Labiatae; there are 500 species of them. This means that the type has been able to remain very flexible in them. Sage is as "particularly true" labiate, and Salvia officinalis is one of the most impressive representatives of the genus, so that it deserves more detailed treatment.

"Sage country" are the bare chalk rocks of the Dalmatian coast, the barren slopes of the Balkans, Greece and Spain. On such slopes, sage is like incense on an altar of nature; its scent is severe and solemn, similar to rosemary, but rougher, closer to the earth. It is a real summer plant, with sturdy, woody stems, strong, thick, wrinkled leaves, strong ribs and veins, not contracted into needles, but into narrow lancets. From the leafy half-shrub rises the imposing inflorescence, determinedly separating itself from the leaf region; the flowers are large and aromatic, full of nectar and particularly shaped to fit the body of a bee. And so in the current of warmth-filled development the sage plant rises up quickly to an upper region, there revealing itself in the exhalation of scent, the production of etheric oils and a rich flowering; but in contradistinction to this it also takes up into itself solidifying, formative elements, also apparent in physical form, in the abundant development of tannins as well as resins, and considerable deposits of salts (calcium oxalates). The dried leaves contain 2 per cent of etheric oil, 5 to 6 per cent of resins, and 5 per cent of tannin.

The action of etheric oils born in warmth on the ego organization which works in warmth processes has now been sufficiently described. Resins are like etheric oils condensed to the solid state, formed through warmth activities, but mummified. They stimulate ego activity in the system of nerves and senses. Tannins, arising from astral impulses (this is particularly obvious from the fact that much tannin is formed around animal-plant galls), act on the astral body. Rudolf Steiner(2) drew particular attention to the importance of the tannin from sage in the treatment of asthma. According to him, the "inner appetite" of the organism is lacking in the case of asthma. "The whole organism is something of a subtle organ of taste. Only later this tasting function is localized ... in the area of the palate and tongue .... In subconscious spheres, then, the human being savours and produces the inner experience of appetite throughout the whole of the organism .... There is such a thing as lack of appetite on the part of the organism.. . (the asthmatic) has no desire whatever to take the ingested food substances particularly in the direction of those parts which enter into the whole of the circulation. Now it is a good thing to know how one can get at an organism ... which has no appetite, which means that the proper connection between etheric organism and astral organism has been broken, for that is what it means to lose the appetite. In a case like this it is always good to give the organism the right dose of the tannic acid obtainable from sage leaves, for instance . . . or from oak leaves. This is a substance of particular importance to the astral body, stimulating it to extend its activity to the etheric body." It is interesting in this context that a species of sage growing in Crete, Salvia pomifera, frequently produces cherry- sized galls at the end of its shoots, very sweet and edible when young. (In the formation of galls, etheric plant nature and astral animal nature combine particularly closely.)

To the healing process of warmth which is a key-note of the labiate species we have so far discussed, sage adds the tannic processes to give firmness. The resulting formative processes tauten tissues, give form to bloated tissue. An overflowing fluid organism is held in check, warmed through; glandular activity in particular is placed under the rule of ego impulses. Excessive lactation, abnormal perspiration are therefore held in check by sage. It has anti- inflammatory and also tissue-forming, wound-healing properties if used in compresses, washes, gargles, etc., for inflammations of the throat, etc. Like the other labiates we have been discussing, sage also stimulates egoic activity in digestion, metabolism and blood formation, of course.

Satureia hortensis, summer savory As a wild plant, the summer savory has its habitat along the eastern Mediterranean and on the shores of the Black Sea. It holds a place between rosemary and sage, and shall be mentioned briefly. Its growth is woody and bristly, needing a lot of warmth, with the leaves once again contracted almost into needles. The plant loves rocky slopes, covered with boulders. It is not surprising to find that it stimulates the appetite, has antispasmodic and sudorific actions, fills the digestive organs with warmth, but also has emmenagogic and indeed slightly aphrodisiac prop- erties. The plant contains etheric oils and also some tannin.

Hyssopus officinalis, hyssop The shoot is slender but tall, closely covered with narrow lancet leaves. It bears aloft the blue or reddish-violet blossoms held together in a pseudo-spicule, with their stamens spilling out. Its home is in southern Europe and the dry regions of western Asia (Turkey, Caspian Sea, Aral Sea), where it may be found on rocky, stony hills and mountains. The scent of the crushed leaves is warming, camphor-like, and a bit animal-like, as of a badger. In addition to its warming properties it has those due to the camphor it contains - relaxing and antispasmodic; the rhythmic region of the plant is abundantly developed, and correspondingly the medicinal action is aimed more at the rhythmic system, with chronic bronchial catarrh, asthma, but also the regulation of perspiration, as the indications. The oil will also ameliorate severe pain from wounds.

Origanum marjorana, sweet marjoram, knotted marjoram Another plant coming from the warm south of Europe, though marjoram does not like the rocky mountain slopes so much, but rather warm, light golden soils and the cultivating hand of man. The germinating seed is grateful for shade; it develops into a graceful, beautifully formed plant, even its lower parts permeated with the mild aroma, striving upwards irresistibly, with gently rounded leaves drawn close to the stem, and soon it is crowned by the flower spicules. Each spicule looks like a small bee-hive, with numerous small white blossoms half concealed in it when they come out in high summer. It requires the long period of southern sunshine to ripen seeds capable of germination; they are full of fatty oil. The mild scent of the leaves gives a beneficent, warming sensation - like the dark warmth of the baker's oven. The etheric oil, produced through cosmic warmth, but in more gentle fashion than in the Labiatae we have discussed so far, also contains camphorous substances. From the same cosmic forces derives the fatty oil surrounding the seed to shut off the influence of earthly forces, so that the seed may remain fully open for the cosmic formative powers which impress upon it the germ of the formative law of future growth. Rudolf Steiner specifically mentioned marjoram seed as a medicinal agent (in a remedy to regulate the menstrual cycle). Marjoram has powers to fill the metabolism, and particularly the sex organs, with warmth. It strengthens the stomach and intestines, cures colics and diarrhoea, promotes conception and menstruation. Its sphere of action also includes antispasmodic properties useful in asthma, vertigo and paralysis. In combination with Melissa, it is an excellent remedy for inflammations and weakness of the child-bearing organs.

Some points regarding the formation of seeds As the seeds develop, part of the plant is first of all separated off from the whole, subjected to partly paralyzed processes of growth and decreasing vitality, and finally tied off completely from the whole. This part would have to deteriorate into chaos had it not been permeated with new formative forces after pollination. These - and this is a finding of spiritual scientific research - stream into it from the cosmic periphery. We have already described how the higher aspects of being of the plant are linked with that cosmic periphery. The specific constitution of the seed protein of the species concerned serves as a "filter" to separate out from the abundance of cosmic influences those relevant to the plant. Because of pollination, the seed protein becomes chaotic at first, and this removes it from the sphere of influence of earthly forces, forces radiating outwards from a physical centre which find their most perfect expression in dead, mineral existence. The seed protein now comes under the influence of the universal forces which radiate inwards. The chaos is penetrated by the cosmos, and can again become a microcosmos, something that is alive and developing. The process of oil formation always linked with seed development serves to isolate the seed from the forces of the earth. It disappears during germination, when the plant once again looks for, and makes contact with, the forces of the earth.

Origanum vulgare, common or wild marjoram This plant might strike one as a more robust variation of marjoram. It grows wild in Europe and right down into Asia, crossing the Alps. It is taller than marjoram, and the inflorescence with its reddish flowers rises more strongly above the leaf sphere. Poor, mountainous positions, or warm places at the edge of forests are favoured by the plant, whilst cultured ground repels it. The wild marjoram, too, has a warming, stimulating effect on the sexual sphere; it has been used in uterine disorders, dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea; the restraining, mastering forces of the ego are brought to bear again (action against erotomania, nymphomania, onanism). After what has been said so far it will not surprise us that colds and catarrhs affecting the respiratory organs and weakness of the metabolic organism are also helped by it. Wild marjoram has diuretic properties, relieves congestion in the hepatic and portal regions.

Like sweet marjoram, Teucrium marum and other labiates acting on the sexual sphere, wild marjoram also has an effect on the nasal region which is related to it: against inflammation, chronic coryza, polyps.

Ocymum basilicum, sweet basil This plant, with broad, fleshy leaves stressing very much the herbal aspect, comes from a warmer but also damper climate than the labiates we have been discussing so far, from Hindustan. To the warming note of marjoram is added a fiery, clove-like nuance. The leaf shoots end in slim, spiculate inflorescences consisting of pseudo-whorls one piled on top of the other; the flowers are white and full of nectar. This plant, sacred to the ancients, was used for the stimulating warmth it gave to the digestive organs, for its action of cleansing the uterus, promoting birth and lactation, and an aphrodisiac effect. It was also used in catarrhal disorders and inflammations of the mucosa in the urogenital tract. Once again a calming effect is present, and the plant relieves the pain of spasms.

Melissa officinalis, balm, lemon balm I should like to point out briefly how many of the Labiatae bear the specific name officinalis, an indication that they have been well known in medicine, and to chemists, for centuries.

This graceful perennial herb, nettle-like in its growth, expresses its essential nature particularly in the foliage. Instead of the needle-like, contracted leaves of the "fiery labiates," we now have broad, well-formed leaves, pair following pair in rhythmic sequence with no particular change in form as they pile up. The fiery scent of the labiates we have been considering so far is now moderated into a mild, refreshing lemon scent. Pseudo-whorls of a few white flowers rich in nectar arise in the leaf axils of the upper nodes. This is another important bee-plant, its Greek name being the same as that of the bee (melissa). Corresponding to its external form this plant loves a milder warmth, more moisture, and even some shade - especially in its native region of the Mediterranean and the Orient. Warming, refreshing, enlivening is the action of Melissa, directed less at metabolic and more at rhythmic processes, as one would expect from its rhythmical, leafy nature. It promotes the menses and conception, subdues states of sexual excitation, and also has stimulating and calming effects on the digestive tract, antispasmodic and carminative, ameliorating nausea and vomiting; but on the whole its action extends more in the direction of the rhythmic system than that of the labiates discussed so far. Palpitations, cardiac neurosis, even pectanginous states are within its sphere. Sleeplessness, hysteria, melancholia, attacks of faintness often accompany those conditions and will also respond to Melissa. Carmelite Water has a distillation of balm as the chief ingredient.

Marrubium vulgare, white horehound, common hoarhound Even more than Melissa, the shoot with its rhythmical sequence of leaves, node following node, is the chief organ; from the leaf axils of each node arise the almost spherical small white pseudo-whorls with their tiny flowers. The plant is found throughout Europe, right down into Asia; it loves rubbish heaps, dry, bare but warm places. The egg shaped leaves are contracted into wrinkles, only slightly aromatic; but very bitter; they also contain tannin.

Even more so than Melissa, the medicinal action is directed at the rhythmic system. It is not so much a plant of warmth and more one of rhythm. Marrubium does also help in catarrhal gastritis and enteritis, stimulate hepatic function, promote menstruation, but what is much more important is its action in mucous congestion of the bronchi, chronic bronchitis, whooping cough, senile asthma; it stimulates the circulatory system and regulates the beating of the heart. It also reduces excessive salivation, especially in cases of mercury poisoning.

Leonorus cardiaca, motherwort, lion's tail This European and Asiatic plant which grows on waste land, in village lanes, dry pastures, along fences and hedges, also intermingles leaf and flower formation, drawing the inflorescence down into the region of leafy rhythm; the pseudo-whorls of pinkish labiate flowers sit in the leaf axils of the tall pile of nodes. Not only is the leaf rhythm more strongly emphasized in this plant, but the shape of the leaf itself is shaped out in more detail than in most of the Labiatae; it is divided and arranged in triangular lappets. The plant is only faintly aromatic, with a musty and slightly repellent scent, and the taste is very bitter. Corresponding to the nature thus expressed, the medicinal action has largely shifted from the metabolic to the rhythmic action. Amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, sterility and climacteric symptoms do also benefit, but the accent lies on the help this plant gives with palpitations, anxiety, dyspnoea, weak cardiac function with intermittent pulse, angina pectoris; oppression of the heart from the metabolism, Roemheld's syndrome.

Lycopus virginicus, bugleweed This slim, narrow perennial also shows an overdeveloped leaf rhythm in a numerous succession of leaf nodes, with circlets of tiny white flowers drawn into the axils. The inflorescence is dissolved up and distributed over this rhythmic leaf region. It is completely subjected to it. Like those of the last species, the leaves are deeply incised and feathery. Lycopus grows near slowly flowing waters in the Atlantic coastal regions of North America. In this species the labiate type must therefore come to terms with water. The power to form etheric oils is accordingly subdued, but the formation of tannin and bitter substances increased. Even more so than with Leonorus, the medicinal action has shifted from the metabolic to the rhythmic system. Here we have a good cardiac stimulant; it has been successfully prescribed for weakness of the heart after overexertion, with anxiety, dilatation of the heart, and tachycardia in conjunction with Basedow's disease. On the other hand Lycopus also acts on the blood process itself; it has been used to treat icterus, haemorrhoidal bleeding, and pulmonary haemorrhages in patients with diseases of the lung.

Mentha piperita, peppermint This species prefers the more temperate warmth of our latitudes, with much light, and damp peaty soil. The broad lanceolate leaves follow each other closely along a stem up to two feet high, and continue all the way up to the pointed pseudo-spicule of violet summer flowers. In this plant the warmth-principle of the Labiatae fights with the damp and cool element, and this makes it stimulating and warming, relieving congestion in the digestive system, spasms and flatulence, strengthening menses and potency, relaxing uterine spasms. On the other hand it also has the vitalizing and calming properties, refreshing, relieving palpitations and cardiac anxiety. And this plant of warmth and water particularly stimulates the organ in which fluid organization and warmth organization are interacting with each other, the liver.

Mentha pulegium, pennyroyal, run-by-the-ground This plant from the river valleys of Eurasia and the Mediterranean also lives intensively within the rhythmic leaf element. From the thin ground shoot branching off into runners rise the light green aromatic shoots, bearing small egg-shaped leaves, their nodes encircled by pseudo-whorls of small violet blossoms, layer upon layer. So once again the inflorescence is drawn down into the .rhythmic leaf and stem region and divided up. This plant belongs to very wet places; it even chooses salt marshes. Even more so than in the case of peppermint, the warmth-related labiate nature fights against the water principle foreign to it. Pennyroyal does not lack antispasmodic activity, stimulating digestion and filling this region of the body with warmth; its effect on the liver is even stronger than that of Mentha piperita. The emmenagogic effect becomes so powerful that it causes abortion; the circulation of blood is increased for the urinary organs, the colon and the genital organs - even to the extent of causing haemorrhage; diuresis is promoted. Diseases of the lung, asthma and whooping cough have also been among the indications for pennyroyal.

Hedeoma pulegioides, squaw mint, American pennyroyal This plant has its habitat in gravel pits and similar siliceous sites in the central regions of North America. It smells like mint and resembles the common hoarhound in its growth. Once again, small white flowers sit in the leaf axils at the nodes. As with species just described, the main action - emmenagogic, abortive, against dysmenorrhoea and leukorrhoea - is basically the promotion of warmth and blood circulation, but also in establishing order through- out the genetial sphere - particularly the female sexual organs, these being much more rhythmical in nature than the male. There is also stimulation of liver, gall and splenic activity.

Orthosiphon stamineus This herb, which provides the Indian kidney tea, grows in Indo-China, the Archipelagus and Australia. The leafy stems are similar to those of peppermint, ending in a pseudo-spicule built up from whorls. The pale blue flowers reach out a long way, with long thin tubes growing horizontally and long stamens pouring from the flower in the same direction. The tea prepared from the plant contains etheric oils, tannins, a glycoside and a high proportion of potassium salt; it acts against mineralizing processes in the metabolic sphere, against uric acid diathesis. Kidney and bladder stones, inflammatory rheumatism, gout, even arteriosclerosis and diseases of the liver and gall bladder are treated with it. But above all it supports the kidney process, and is considered a good remedy for disorders of the kidney and bladder, the early stages of contracted kidney, chronic inflammation of the kidney, the formation of gravel and stones in the kidney, haematuria and albuminuria. This labiate carries warmth processes with a solvent action, which like the ego organization hold the balance between inflammation and hardening, into the kidney region, the organ of Venus. It is interesting that this medicinal plant has its habitat in the region inhabited by a race which physically shows a particularly strongly developed kidney process, so that one might call it the "Venus race."(3)

Teucrium scorodonia, wood sage, sage-leaved germander In the damp, cool, shady element, the labiate type, so closely bound up with warmth, meets sphere foreign to itself; the warmth element within it is forced to come to grips with elements inimical to it. Musty, sweaty scents, harsh, bitter taste indicate this struggle. One such plant is the wood sage; it grows on siliceous soil on the edge of forests and in clearings, on the upper edges of granite ravines in the forest, and in cuttings in western Europe. From a ground shoot branching off into runners rises a tall, narrow, leafy shoot, with egg-shaped, lanceolate, hairy, pale green leaves, ending at the top in a slim spike of pale yellow labiate flowers; these grow all round the stem, but all face in one direction, towards the strongest light. Etiolated, rankÑthat is how the whole thing strikes one; pale and extended because of lack of light. In addition to the various characteristics already described for the Labiatae, there is now the silica process in Teucrium scorodonia. This makes the struggle for light easier for the plant. Silicic acid promotes the light metabolism, as experimental studies by L. Kolisko have demonstrated.

Rudolf Steiner has recommended the plant for supportive therapy in tuberculosis. Quite recently, plants rich in silicic acid have altogether become known for their activity in this direction. Tuberculosis is a disease due to lack of light. The organism's faculty for the "development of inner light" is weakened. Successes have also been reported in the treatment of tuberculosis of the testicles and of the bones. It has already been mentioned for several species that the labiate will benefit the sweats of phthisic patients, something which also applies to this plant.

Teucrium scordium, water germander This species of Teucrium loves the muddy soil on the banks of rivers and lakes, river meadows, ditches and water logged meadows. It is adapted to the element in which it lives by having ground runners with many roots. The leaves are more rounded. The plant creeps and yet produces an upright shoot striving towards flowering. The pale red flowers are fitted round the leaf axils in pseudo-whorls of just a few blossoms. The herb has been found to contain an etheric oil with a musty, garlic-like scent (indicative of a sulphur process), tannins, bitter substances. The action of this medicinal plant is directed at the fluid organism: it is diuretic and sudorific, effective against mucous obstruction in the digestive system, glandular inflammations (including orchitis); furthermore against chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis, empyema of the lung, also ozaena, purulent sinusitis of the maxillary sinuses. The labiate action, with the sulphur component added to it, is carried up into the rhythmic system. This plant, which draws the flowering element down into the rhythmic sphere of leaf and stem, is helped by the sulphur process to assert in the watery, earthy, cool sphere its own nature as a plant determined by warmth. These "combative processes" give it its medicinal action.

Glechoma hederacea, ground ivy, alehoof, gill When spring brings new life to the fields, the wintery hold-up of life is overcome, one of the first spring plants, the first of all the labiates to flower in dry and sunny places where no shade yet falls (hedges, walls, roadsides and under fruit trees), is the ground ivy. From its creeping runners, for ever taking root anew, it sends up flower shoots with blue-violet blossoms. It is the first plant of spring to transform the cosmic warmth given to the earth into warmth filled plant nature. The leaves are still rounded, with indentations round the margins, corresponding to the formative forces of the watery element, but they are permeated with a mild, aromatic warmth. The foliage withstands the cold of winter. After the flowering period, the plant creeps all over the ground with its runners; it belongs to the earth. The flower whorls which turn towards the light are drawn up into the leaf axils. Leaf and flower impulses intermingle. The plant belongs to central and northern Europe and neighbouring regions of Asia as far as Siberia. The taste, aromatic, earthy, and harshly bitter, reveals, the presence of etheric soil, tannin and bitters.

The plant has been used to stimulate metabolism quite generally, particularly in spring, for weakness of the bladder, congestion of liver and spleen, weakness of the digestive tract, insufficient blood formation; furthermore for diseases of the respiratory organs with a tubercular basis, bronchial asthma, scrofula, calculi and jaundice, application being both internal and external; all this is very similar to the actions of the other labiates we have been considering, especially those mentioned last. There is therefore no need for further details.

Galeopsis segetum (G. ochroleuca), downy hemp-nettle This plant belongs to the damp areas in western Europe and grows on siliceous sandy rubble; i.e., crumbled, broken primitive rock, a soil which on the one hand is completely mineral, and on the other is permeated with air and sufficient moisture. Spiky, and with elongated hemp-like leaves, even its hairy, bristly appearance shows that the siliceous element is not only the soil in which it takes root (it flees from chalk), but also plays a part internally in giving the plant its form. The "upper" stories of the leaf nodes bear pseudo-whorls of very striking large pale yellow flowers shaped like animal heads (gale-opsis = weasel's face). The ash of the downy hemp-nettle has a high silica content (18 per cent). Like the siliceous Teucrium, Galeopsis is a good remedy for diseases of the lung due to weakness of the light metabolism in the organism; it is one of the components of the "Silica Teas" so successful in the treatment of certain forms of phthisis. Its warming properties are gentle, the plant is only weakly aromatic.

Lamium album, white dead-nettle This labiate may be found almost anywhere in the cooler parts of Europe, very much like a weed, and shows only traces of the warmth character of the family. Having a strong upward growing trend in the leaf and stem region, it really does resemble the stinging nettle; only that the floral element combines with the leaf rhythm, node following node, with pseudo-whorls of many large white, wide-throated flowers. The flowering time is from April to October, and occasional flowers may be found even in winter. The sweet-scented, slimy-sweet, slightly harsh dried flowers are an old remedy; enveloping, dissolving mucus, relieving inflammation, its main sphere of action unfolding in the kidney and female genital organs. Leukorrhoea, hardening of the uterus, lack of tone in the uterus, premature menses belonging to the sphere of action of the dead-nettle flower; also strangury, retention of urine in old men, inflammatory processes involving the urinary passages. The dead-nettle is like a faint echo of the fiery labiate motif, in a cool, damp, earthy medium.


(1) Steiner, Rudolf. Besprechung mit praktizierenden Arzten. Drei Ansprachen. Dornach, 31 December 1923 to 2 January 1924.

(2) Steiner, Rudolf, ibid.

(3) Steiner, Rudolf (1910). Die Mission einzelner Volksseelen, Oslo. 6. Vortrag.

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