Why Biodynamics ?
First, we should answer the question: “Why organics?”.
Chemical herbicides can poison plants even after they have been digested by grazing animals and have been composted as manure! So medicines that may have been contaminated in similar ways must be treated with the most extreme caution.
The basic truths of herbal medicine have been known since antiquity but, recently, reductionist analysis has helped explain much of it
in modern terms.
Biodynamics is a form of agriculture that arose from anthroposophical science which was developed by the Austrian scientist, Rudolf Steiner in the early part of the 20th century. This world view stemmed from a concern that industrialisation was resulting in damage to both the physical and the spiritual world, of which mankind is the custodian. Later this gave rise to the Soil Association and the development of the ‘Organic’ movement in the English speaking world.
Herbal medicine differs from conventional pharmaceutical medicine in a number of ways. The most fundamental of these concerns the holistic extraction of whole plants, as opposed to the purification of certain active ingredients. Generally, biologically active plant molecules are found to have varying, and often even opposing, pharmacological effects at different concentrations. Whole plant extracts often function at sub-pharmacological plasma concentrations of the active ingredients, and so generally reduce the unwanted side effects of medical intervention. In the correct hands, this may make them safer to use. The term used to describe the way in which whole plant extracts achieve this is ‘synergy’.
Some plant molecules evolved, for example, to inhibit insect predation, many millions of years before mammals even existed. As a result of more recent co-evolution, these biologically active compounds may now facilitate transport of medicinal compounds in mammalian systems. This is just one of the many ways in which herbal synergy works.
Under most conditions, plants produce several thousands of compounds, and invest huge amounts of their metabolic energy, sometimes up to 90% of their nitrogen resource, into producing such so-called ‘allelopathic’ compounds. These compounds, which are also known as “plant secondary metabolites”, are usually produced in response to even low level competition. In the semi-sterile cultivations favoured by non-organic chemical methods of farming, plants have no effective competition and so no need to produce allelopathic compounds. In the total absence of natural competition, selection pressures favour the production of plant mass either devoid of, or with reduced proportions of these metabolically expensive compounds.
Synergistic quality is therefore very dependant on cultivation techniques which pay attention to the facilitation of biodiversity. Biodynamic cultivation is a technique specifically designed to enhance quality of product in this way.
In biodynamic cultivation, very low doses of special preparations are applied to the land at certain times in order to improve fertility. These are made according to ancient formulations presented by Rudolf Steiner in a series of lectures called ‘The Agriculture Course’, and include medicinal herbs and farmyard manure. These improve the biodiversity of the soil microfauna and flora upon which the fertility of the land is dependant. Other preparations, such as silica, are also applied in minute doses at different times, directly onto the plant, helping to stimulate ripening processes.
The natural world is primarily connected to the rhythms of the sun and the moon. These are also implicated in product quality and so the biodynamic farmer often studies and may also employ these as product quality determinants.
Click here to find out more about how herbs use the world of molecular biology to promote their unique properties.