Healing with plants

From Anthroposophy

The study of botany for the use of medicinal plants is also called herbalism or herbal medicine, or photomedicine or phytotherapy. The scope includes, herbal teas (or tisanes), tinctures (alcoholic extracts of herbs), essential oils, or inhalation (aromatherapy).

The use of plants for healing is millenia old and shown to be part of most ancient cultures, incl. Egypt, Greek but also Chinese, Indian (eg ayurveda) but similarly native americans.

It is a huge field of ancient knowledge, against which contemporary mineral science opposes with the clinical systems set by the pharmaceutical industry that focuses on chemistry underlying chemical and biological compounds.


  • a spiritual scientific explanation of how to harness the spiritual forces of the various elementals of the plants is described at the end of the lecture extract of 1923-09-14-GA228 on Druidic and Trotten mysteries (in the context of sketching how the ancient druid priests did so). See also Elementals of nature. The relevant extract is also copied below.


Lecture coverage and references


link Bach blossoms: abdominal illnesses are best healed by the blossoms and leaves of plants, the head by plant roots



The Druid, then, lived with his Sun-Initiation within this activity of Nature, and he saw as the unity I have described the sun and moon mediated through the activity of the Earth, the growth of the plant, the growth of root, leaf and flower; and all this not in the form of abstract laws as today, but of living elemental beings. Different elemental beings of sun and moon were active in the root, in the leaf and in the flower. He could also pursue in the wider realms of Nature what is so beneficially differentiated in root, leaf and flower.

  • Through his imaginative gifts he could see the small elemental beings restricted to narrow limits in the root, and he knew that what lives in beneficial form in the root can free itself and expand to the gigantic. Thus he saw the large-scale activities of Nature as the small activities of the plant raise to a gigantic power. Just as he had spoken of the elemental beings in the root of the plant, he could also speak of these root-beings as having expanded in a cosmically irregular way and manifesting in the formation of frost, dew and hail. On the one hand he spoke of the root-beings who were beneficially active, and of the giants of frost and ice which are these root-beings grown to gigantic size.
  • Again, he spoke of the elemental activities in the leaf of the plant, which permeate themselves with the forces of the air; he traced them into the distant spaces of Nature, and he then saw that, if what lives in the leaf frees itself and strives beyond its proper limits into the distances of Nature, it manifests in the surging of winds. The giants of wind and storm are the elemental beings of the plant grown beyond their size. And the element which is distilled in the flower the etheric oils with their phosphoric quality — if that is freed, it manifests itself as the giants of fire, among whom, for instance, Loki belongs. In this science of sun and moon, therefore, the Druid saw as a unity both that which lives in the narrowly restricted space of the plant and that which frees itself and lives in wind and weather.

[Healing medicines]

But he went further. He said to himself: When that which lives in root, leaf and flower is contained within the desirable limits set by the good gods, normal plant-growth results. If it appears in hoar frost, that is the work of opposing beings: for the elemental beings growing into powers of opposition, create the harmful, devastating aspects of Nature.

Now as a human being I can make use of the devastating activities of the beings who are the opponents of the gods; I can gather the hoar frost in appropriate ways, and the products of the storm and whatever is caught up in the surging of wind and rain.

I can make use of the giant forces for my own purposes by burning the plant, for instance, and reducing it to ashes, to charcoal and so on.

I can take these forces, and by using frost, hail and rain and other such things, or what the giants of fire control — things which are the expression of forces that have grown to harmful vastness — I can protect the normal growth of the plant.

I can rob these giants of all this and can treat normal plants with it, and by applying these forces of the opposing powers I can make healing medicines out of the good elemental forces which have remained within their proper limits. And this was in fact one of the ways of making medicines out of plants, by employing frost and snow and ice and by the use of burning and calcinations.

The Druid felt it to be his work to take whatever was harmful from the opposing giant powers and restore it to the service of the good gods. We can trace these things in many different ways.


Essential oils


The modern development of aromatherapy is to be found in France, with the lineage of Dr. Chabènes, Gattefosse, Valnet, Maury, Ryman. Rene Maurice Gattefosse (1881-1950) coined the term 'aromatherapy' in a publication in 1937, after he studied essential oils (after a personal experience by curing burns with lavender in 1910). The French surgeon Jean Valnet pioneered the use of essential oils as antiseptics in the treatment of wounded soldiers during World War II. Marguerite Maury (1895-1968), a student of Gattefosse, furthered this by her own pioneering research into the therapeutic and cosmetic uses of essential oils. 

An example of a recent study is the Ethel Burns study at Oxford Brookes University (1999), the largest research initiative in the use of aromatherapy within a health-care setting, with an evaluative study in childbirth of over 8000 mothers between 1990 and 1998

Bach blossoms or flower therapy

Edward Bach (1886-1936) developing the Bach flower remedies intuitively in 1930 as a new healing technique based on the energy pattern of the flower (and not the rest of the plant). Mother tincture are a solution mix of water and brandy.

Related pages

References and Further reading

  • Wilhelm Pelikan (1893-1981) (three volumes Heilpflanzenkunde I, II, III)
  • Gerbert Grohmann (1897-1957): Heilpflanzen in Rudolf Steiners Geisteswissenschaft und Medizin (2014)
  • Werner Christian Simonis (1898-1984), ao Heilpflanzen (three volumes, Band I, II, III)
  • Jochen Bockemühl: A guide to understanding healing plants (two volumes I and II)
  • Markus Sommer: 'Healing Plants' (and others)


  • Dr. Chabènes: 'Les Grandes Possibilités par les Matières Odoriferantes' (1838)
  • Rene Maurice Gattefosse (1881-1950): Aromatherapy (1937, original in FR: 'Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Végétales')
  • Jean Valnet (1920-1995): 'The Practice of Aromatherapy' (1980 in EN, original in FR 1964 as 'Aromathérapie - Traitment des Maladies par les Essence de Plantes')
  • Robert Tisserand (1948) 'The Art of Aromatherapy' (1977)
  • Peter Holmes:
    • Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. Principles and Profiles (2016)
    • Aromatica Volume 2: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. Applications and Profiles (2019)