Agriculture Lecture 5 – Stinging Nettle

Urtica Dioica – Stinging Nettle – Preparation 504

The nettle preparation is given the number 504. We can ask how can we look at this preparation from an anthropomorphic point of view. We considered calcium to be an earthly-mother substance, silica a cosmic-fatherly substance, and potassium, an incarnator-son substance. We have gone on to suggest that the calcium process connected with preparation 503 is a mothering substance in terms of plant activity. In the plant mother activity is important. The calcium process, unfolded by chamomile in the intestine furthers a potential mother birthing process within the domain of the plant. We might now suggest that the preparation 504, which is very much connected with iron and the iron process is linked with a male like fecundating – also a healing-balancing activity. Here I will at least try to approach this preparation from this point of view.

This is a rather unique preparation as its sheath is the earth itself. We have one other preparation that does not have an animal substance sheath. The valerian preparation is given the sheath of the atmosphere. These are two preparations that have to do with the lithosphere and the atmosphere as they relate to plant life and in turn to human and animal nutrition.

The nettle stems and leaves are laid in the earth. They are permitted to remain there for an entire year. It is suggested that the nettle be placed within peat so that it can be recovered. We can think that peat is a by-product of plant process that has become earthly (earth-like – editor). Peat is filled with oily substance, earth oily substance. Thus we can say that if we use peat, the stinging nettle is encased within plant and plant earth. However, I believe it is not necessary to think too much in this direction as the emphasis that Rudolf Steiner gives is far more using the peat to identify the transformed nettle. I gather that the preparation is not so much effected by the peat. Therefore, I would not want to read too much into the use of peat.

If we look to placing the nettle within the earth, it seems to me that we should ask something about an earth orientation. This can be done by looking at some indications given by Rudolf Steiner. He indicates that nettle is rich in iron radiations. Nettles radiate in the iron element in the region where it is present. Notable is that nettle grows in relationship to our gardens. It is always at the heels of man. It is not so much a plant that wants to grow in the field, in the pasture, in the woods. It is always at man’s side, where man works the earth. In a way it is not a plant of the wild. The field when cultivated and the garden is at man’s side. We are not talking about transforming mountains, swamps and the like. We are talking about working with the earth, tilling the earth where it is possible to bring forth plant substance for the sustenance of man or for the animal. Thus the iron radiations or the regulation of iron process, I take it, means the regulation of the earth iron in relationship to plant cultivation, animal husbandry, and animal care, as well as human nutrition. This means that we do not use urtica dioica as a plant to indicate a site for iron mining. Rather I take it, that this plant helps regulate the dynamics of the garden, field and pasture which the human being tills. This, then, restricts the iron regulating activity to a very small segment of the earth’s surface. By this means, we come to consider that iron plays a significant role in relationship to the way in which the plant finds its way to the earth. Iron in nettle is now placed in a context, in the context of the earth’s surface.

We know well that in the case of the higher animals, iron plays a very central role in respiratory activity, in respiratory physiology. The problem is how do we regulate earthly iron so that the plant can grow. The plant in turn can contain an iron activity that needs to be carried over to man. The respiratory-metabolic activities are an essential life process in man. A kind of iron impulse has to live in the plant to further man’s life processes. I gathered that it is this iron process that Rudolf Steiner is referring to in the nettle and is significant for preparation 504.

Iron is a fairly extensive element on our earth. It is accumulated in veins. It tends to follow the regions where coal is found. This makes sense. We are told from spiritual science that the iron of the earth is the result of the passage of Mars through the earth in the time of Lemuria. We can think of the earth as a very living plant, carbonaceous being at the beginning of Lemuria. The passage of Mars through the earth left iron behind. The over active-living earth had to be subdued by the iron – by Mars passing through the earth. The result was coal-formed from plant life. The over active-living earth of early Lemuria could not be inhabited by man. Lemurian earth was essentially a plant organism at that time. The iron brought a dampening of the living earth. It made the earth into an entity that could sustain the life of our present plants and animals, both of which are extrusions from the human being. By dampening the earth, Mars made it possible for the human being to come to live on earth. (Earth came to a point of dust in Lemuria, before the exit of the moon.) This is one view of the iron dampening impulse, cosmically viewed. This dampening brought about a state of life for warm-blooded animals and man. This iron working permitted chlorophyll ladened plants to unfold. As we know, chlorophyll is very much dependent on the working of iron for its unfolding.

There is another form of iron which is meteoric iron. We are told of its origin, from the cosmos. This is an ongoing activity. We are told that a spiritual cosmic activity penetrates into the sulphury atmospheric cosmic processes to bring about a dampening down of the sulphury processes of our atmosphere. This makes our atmosphere into such a condition that it is not too living, too metabolic-sulphury. It has to be somewhat deadened. The iron impulse here again imitates iron process. However, the life process here is sulphury – is cosmic – not earthly.

We therefore can look at two types of iron activity. One is earthly and one is cosmic. The latter predominates today in the meteor showers in the fall of the year. The former iron impulse takes us into the past, into very early earth history. In terms of time, the working is different. In terms of activity, we have to speak of life dampening from two different directions. The iron of the earth leads to an iron oxide. The iron of the cosmos results in a sulfide.

Iron makes it possible for a kind of dual soul life to come about. This is the soul life connected with earth and plant and one connected with animal and cosmos. The soul life is connected on the one hand with the solid earth, the lithosphere and the other the airy element, the atmosphere. Thus a two-fold iron working has to be discussed.

Now if we turn to the human being, we can also consider a two-fold working of iron within the human being that leads to a third. We can speak of a three-fold iron working in man. In this way I believe we can make our way to the preparation. If we look at the human being, we find that iron exists as a semi-free substance in the blood serum, the fluid of the blood. There are extremely small amounts of this iron freely existent in the fluid makeup of the blood. This form is quite toxic. In order for iron to have a proper life, it has to be linked and connected with a proteinaceous substance. In combination with protein, the poison quality is eliminated and the purely living quality of the albumen – protein is dampened. The poisonous makeup of iron in the blood dampens the life of the albuminous makeup of our blood. I would correspond this with the dampening of the life of the earth in the time of Lemuria.

We know further that this iron that is linked with the proteinaceous element of the blood, can also be stored in the human organs as ferritin. In both cases, iron is working to dampen life. I would see this form of iron as corresponding with the iron working in the earth, also working to support the unfolding of plant organ chlorophyll. We can look at a third form of iron working within man. This is the iron that is carried within the red blood cell. From spiritual scientific research, we find out more about the cosmic iron impulse. Rudolf Steiner in his lectures on meteoric processes, particularly in connection with the festival of Michaelmas, points to an important correspondence. Rudolf Steiner corresponds the meteoric iron process with the incorporation of iron into the evolving red blood cell. The meteoric showers correspond to the iron entering the evolving red blood cell. This is a correspondence. Iron enters the red blood cell in the evolving erythroblast of the bone marrow. This brings about an immense dampening of the life of that cell. Also noteworthy in regard to the red blood cell is that the iron is in a crystalline form. Iron is not only chemically carried by the red blood cell in hemoglobin. Iron is carried by the proteinaceous material of the red blood cell and at the same time it appears that it is the electro-magnetic field of the iron that is important. Thus a very definite iron earthly working is occurring in the red blood cell. However, the iron is cosmically derived.

Now that we have to evolve a fairly complicated line of thought I would suggest we continue to look at the cosmically derived iron working as a male activity. I would suggest that the earthly working of iron be considered as a more female directed process. Both irons are, in fact, somewhat male oriented – this means bringing about a dampening of the life. In general, we are considering the more pure life element as a mother process. In this case, the iron works to dampen the mother process of the cosmos bringing about meteoric iron. The Mars passage through the earth dampens the mother-living activity of the earth. Nonetheless, the iron working from the cosmos to dampen we can consider to be a more male process. In general, the cosmos is more father, the earth more mother. The iron at work in the earth is also male, but becomes female-like in the earth. The male and female element we might now carry into the dioecious urtica. The urtica is a plant that is either male or female. One plant carries the male impulse – male staminate flowers, the other carries female pistillate flowers. The plant as a whole is related to iron activity. Earth and cosmos-atmospheric iron is regulated by the urtica.

The urtica is used to regulate these two activities. We can think that the urtica mediates the iron element in the earth and the cosmos. The urtica regulates the iron working in the form of a male and a female impulse. This distinguishes mother and father in the life of the cosmos and earth (a kind of pure life activity) and leads this two-foldness over to female and male. The latter are needed to give rise to the siblings.

With this rather complicated view of the being of the plant of urtica dioica, we might progress to other aspects of the plant. As noted, we often discover that it is at the borders of a yard next to a house or a cultivated field. Urtica may border a garden. It is less likely to border a pasture. Urtica tends to be in the environment, the region where human beings live. Urtica seems more related to man than animals. It is easily spotted when it grows in early spring. Then it has a darkish green color. The leaves are heart shaped. The stems are angular often five to six sided. The stems are first soft and green. Gradually they become very brittle, fibrous and turn blue to purple. The plant grows fairly rapidly. It grows between light and darkness, between earth and cosmos. The flower appears from a little stalk that grows out of the axil, the region between the stem and the leaf. The flower then droops downward. As noted, the flowers are either male or female, thus dioecious. They are whitish-greenish in color, only slightly white. The flower dries up very rapidly and the seed is strewn by the air. The seed is pollinated by the air. As the plant wilts and dries, a kind of skeletal structure stands out. One then can see how structured, how fibrous the stem, branch and leaves are. For many centuries, this plant was used as a fiber for weaving. Paper was made from this plant. We can see how close the plant is to man.

The root is one of superficial, subsurface, reticulated, winding, intertwining nature. The roots form a mat. One can pull up the plant with root and a whole earth surface comes along. The earth that is made by the urtica is brownish-black in color and smells somewhat sweet. One can have the impression that the soil around this plant is through and through penetrated by the element of darkness in the best sense. The dark humus process is at work here. There is an active chemism. The density of the root growth is such that other plants are often eliminated and a bed of urtica establishes itself and stands with a kingly expression in midst of other plants. However, it does not grow rampantly and usually confines itself in a fairly distinct area. The environs of the urtica is a kingdom – a regal circumstance.

The heart-shaped leaves are covered with hairs. The hair is very fine and filamentous. At the base of each hair is a bulb. The bulb contains an ammonia compound, thought to be ammonia bicarbonate. When touched by man the little fibrous hair embeds itself in human skin. The ammonia is reflexly discharged and produces a burning sensation. Here man’s relationship to the stinging nettle is that of being burned or stung. Therefore, it is called stinging nettle. It is surprising how red welts surface on the skin – accompanied by a disagreeable burning sensation. The nettle sting leads to an awakening of our surface through burning, reddening, swelling and pain. Bee stings and ant stings can be distinguished. The sting of the urtica leads to surface consciousness and beyond the area of contact. The bee sting often leads one’s consciousness into one’s sinews. The ant sting often goes into the depths of one’s organization so that one’s inner organs want to respond. Therefore, I would suggest that one sees this urtica sting as one that identifies and brings about surface experience. It brings about the sense of a surface though the surface that is not necessarily the surface of one’s skin, but a surface in contact with the environment.

If we take full grown stinging nettle, put it into water and let it ferment in the warmth of early to mid-summer, the result is a liquid with urea – and probably other nitrogen substances. Liquid manure is produced from the stinging nettle. This liquid manure is an amazing healing agent when used as a spray. Wilting potatoes will stand erect when sprayed with it. Drooping tomatoes gain new life. Insect infested plants in a green house gain health. It appears that the liquid manure, a product of urtica-fermented plant, carries a substance that is to a high degree healing. I would like to suggest that this healing, as other nettle activities, work to bring the dual influence, earth to plant and cosmos to plant, thereby bringing healing. The two iron processes, earth iron and cosmic iron, work to bring the metabolism of the plant into a balance between the two extremes. The result is a balanced metabolism.

To make the preparation, we pick the mature urtica at Michaelmas. At this time that it is often already somewhat past its prime. What one picks will be mingled with a few younger plants. There will be some dried plants present. The waxing and waning in plant growth will be seen, but not the juicy, soft, lighter green plant of early spring. It is the fall urtica that we use. The harvested urtica is laid into a pit, covered with peat and then the pit is filled with dirt. Some straw may be put on the peat before filling the pit to help find the preparation. The trick is to recover the transformed urtica in the following year.

We can then think that we are producing a preparation that is connected with mothering and fathering, male and female. In a way the life of the female and the form of the male has to be carried as working into the earth and into the plant. These are two very basic processes necessary for animal and man. Conception is a process, as we noted, carried by mothering and is initiated by fecundation – the union of life and form. The play between life and form is carried by the female (ovum) and male (sperm). We have to consider that the female and male elements lay a basis for the life and form upon which the unfolding of a new organism is dependent. That means that the life and form of an organism has to be able to carry the processes of breathing, of respiration as a next step. This breathing is what permits an organism to have a relationship with the domain of the astral. With respiration and its resultant chemism the organism becomes open to the domain of soulness. This plant and its preparation where organic activity passes over to soulness in turn lays the foundation for individuation or species working in the organism.

We might just note that the plant contains iron, is full of alkaline salts, contains potassium, calcium, etc. What I think is important here is to see its relationship with proteinaceous activity, with the nitrogen activity that we find in the sting substance. Iron activity we find working throughout the whole plant. In the duality of iron, the female and male element, the dioecious element of the plant, differentiates iron activity that is so crucial for human unfolding, mediating life from the earth-mothering and form from the cosmos-fathering. The plant also furthers a basic protein process.

Thus in anthropomorphizing our substances, our preparations, we come to some interesting contemplations. We have considered the mothering substances, the earth clay, the plant chlorophyll and the animal-human hemoglobin. The metals bring a father element. We have added the fathering element of the aluminum, magnesium and iron. The siblings we have enumerated as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulphur. I have added antimony. The potassium we have suggested as a incarnator being. One might say that the yarrow potassium is neither mother nor father, but a kind of a priestly being who helps incarnation in a baptismal process, raising the earth to receive an incarnating entity.

We have gone on to consider another mothering-like process and substance in the plant, that is the calcium process. This process is supported by chamomile. With chamomile I like to think of a light process that permits conceptive activity to occur. With nettle we concern ourselves with the male and female elements necessary for the fertilizing – the fecundating process. This we have discussed in relationship to the urtica dioica.

We have pointed to two different forms and sources of iron. One source of iron is from Mars passing through earth. The other iron source is from the outer cosmos that enters the atmosphere to overcome the sulphur activity of this sphere. This sulphury region of the atmosphere is the one that approaches the stratosphere.

The human being carries these two iron workings as sexually distinct activities. The sexual differentiation permits a further evolution of soulness and can lead to the birth of individualization. The male and female element in the plant, though related to the sexual in animal and man, is free of animality.