Tag Archives: light root

First Harvest of the Light Root at Emerson College

Those of you who have read my blog post, “Rudolf Steiner and the Chinese Yam”, will already be familiar with the story of this extraordinary root and its ability to incorporate within its physical substance large quantities of the light ether, of which most of our foods are nearly or completely lacking (you can read more about the ethers in the post linked to above). This is the vegetable that Rudolf Steiner said should eventually come to replace the potato as a mass staple food crop.

In April 2015, Ralf Roessner, the German author of the book The Light Root mentioned in that post, came to give a talk to a large and enthusiastic audience at Emerson College in Forest Row, East Sussex (UK). Not only did Ralf talk about the light root but he also brought some samples of the root for planting in the newly refurbished biodynamic garden at the college. There is an account and a short video about this event on the Emerson College website here.

It has to be said that growing the light root is not quite as straightforward as planting potatoes. Nik Marten and his colleagues in the BD garden at Emerson took out a deep trench surrounded with wooden boards which they filled with river sand, chosen for its fine, rounded crystals (ie not sharp sand, which can damage the roots). They then added a layer of good loamy soil and compost. The rootlets brought by Ralf were then gently pressed into the surface and biodynamic preparations applied to the soil. A wooden construction about 8’ high was then put up just to one side of the trench to hold a series of vertical strings, up which the leafy stems of the light root plants could entwine themselves. As the top growth climbs the strings, the root surges downwards into the depths of the river sand. Paradoxically, it needs the darkness and depth in order to develop and preserve the light ether qualities.

The light root stems growing up the strings of the wooden framework.

The light root stems growing up the strings of the wooden framework.

Six months later and Ralf returned to Emerson College to show us how to harvest and store the resulting crop. It was a damp and cold autumn day, with occasional showers – a typical October day in England! A group of about 15 people gathered in the BD garden and Ralf described some of the features that make the light root such an interesting plant. The roots with the light ether qualities grow only on male plants and if female plants grow with them, they will rapidly hybridise and produce all sorts of other yams, which may be perfectly good vegetables but do not hold the light ether. Ralf described how he had gone around the world seeking out samples of the yam, but only in the original growing area in China had he been able to source the right kind of plant.

The group gathers around Ralf Roessner (in hat) to hear more about the light root.

The group gathers around Ralf Roessner (in hat) to hear more about the light root.

Ralf then began to cut the leafy stems about six inches from the ground and as he began, several little mice began to scurry up and down the trench where they had obviously been living underground. This was a worrying sign – Ralf said that he had just come back from the Czech Republic, where the light root crop at a Camphill centre had been entirely eaten by mice. Despite this, the rest of the stems were cut and group members then began to lever up the wooden boards surrounding the trench so as to make it easier to harvest the roots.

Ralf Roessner begins to cut the top growth stems away from the roots prior to harvesting.

Ralf Roessner begins to cut the top growth stems away from the roots prior to harvesting.

Ralf and group members then began to remove carefully the soil from around each of the tufts left after the cutting-down of the top growth. After a while, we got down to the layer of river sand. Careful work with trowels and hands to remove the sand and keep it separate from the soil then began – the sand can be used year-after-year but should not be mixed with the soil. Gradually we could see the form of the roots emerging as the sand was cleared but this was delicate work – the roots can easily be broken if roughly harvested. Strangely, the roots begin to harden up, rather than soften further, in the days after the harvest.

Group members carefully scraping soil and sand away to reveal the light roots.

Group members carefully scraping soil and sand away to reveal the light roots.

It was a thrill to see the first root emerge and to see that it was of good size – Ralf said that it was of very good quality. Thus encouraged, work proceeded to bring up the rest of the roots. Some of the roots had indeed been eaten by mice but only a very few – and those that had not been eaten were all of a good size and quality. Even to the eyes of a non-clairvoyant like myself, there is a radiance about the roots that is quite noticeable. The roots were laid in trays and, at Ralf’s suggestion, some of the cut leaves and stems were laid on top of the trays, which helps the roots to adjust to their new situation and to remain in good condition.

Ralf Roessner holding the first light root to be harvested at Emerson College.

Ralf Roessner holding the first light root to be harvested at Emerson College.

The roots should be stored either in a clamp (ie straw is laid on the ground, the roots are put onto the straw, another layer of straw is added on top, and then the whole structure is covered with earth), although Ralf said that this method was vulnerable to attacks by mice; or in an earth cellar; or kept in the dark between 5-15 degrees Centigrade in river sand that is drier than that used in the trench. The roots should then last in good condition through until the next summer.

The light root requires special treatment after harvesting, too. It should not be washed, as water washes away the light ether very quickly. The roots come very clean out of the sand and a rub with a cloth is sufficient to bring them to sparkling condition. Nor should the roots be processed or cooked in machines using alternating current electricity, as this also destroys the light ether. It is best to have the light root raw in salads; or cooked in soups and sauces, where the liquid in which they are cooked is consumed by the eaters; or sliced with a knife and fried in a pan. Not all treatments are deleterious to the light ether, though – Ralf has observed that light root pounded in a mortar and pestle absorbs more and more of the light ether and this process can continue for hours. In an experiment he set up, the increase of light ether went on for up to 36 hours!

Radiant roots - some of Emerson College's first harvest of the light root.

Radiant roots – some of Emerson College’s first harvest of the light root.

At lunch that day, Ralf came round with some slices of raw light root for us to try with our meals. There is a mucilaginous quality to the cut root, which is crisp like a water chestnut and it has quite a bland taste, which of course is an advantage for a crop that may one day become a staple food like the potato. I have also sampled some sautéed light root and it was delicious – I would be quite happy to eat it instead of chips!

In a question and answer session after lunch, I asked Ralf whether, given the fairly demanding cultivation requirements and the need for great care in processing the roots after harvest, if he had any indications of when it might be possible for the light root to begin to assume the role of a staple food crop. He said that his sense of it was that it would be about three hundred years into the future and that his role, and the role of a few others in various countries, was to keep alive the knowledge of the plant and how to cultivate it until the world was ready to take it up. He also said that in future times the light root would be cultivated in a different way – in water – and that he was already experimenting with ways of doing this.

This was a fascinating and inspiring day, which provided (literally) much food for thought. Thanks are due to Nik Marten and his colleagues in Emerson’s biodynamic garden, to Michael Williams and Heidi Herrman for their excellent translating skills and of course to Ralf Roessner for bringing his knowledge, light root samples and huge enthusiasm to Emerson College.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamics, Chinese yam, Emerson College, Light Root, Ralf Roessner, Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner and the Chinese yam

It’s interesting to see how time and again during the life of Rudolf Steiner, a new body of knowledge was able to begin only once someone had asked him a significant question. Examples of this include:

1. In 1900, Marie von Sivers, a gifted young Russian (who was to become the future Frau Dr Steiner), came to Berlin in order to make the acquaintance of Rudolf Steiner. Soon after meeting him, she asked him a question which had preoccupied her. They came to call this the Chrysanthemum Tea moment, because the room in which they were having tea was full of those flowers. She asked Steiner if there wasn’t a need to call a new spiritual movement into life, one which would be appropriate for Europe and the West, since the Theosophical Society contained so much Eastern spirituality. Steiner replied that this would only be possible if it could arise from the depths of esoteric Christianity. Thus was born anthroposophy.

2. On April 23, 1919, after a lecture Steiner gave to the factory workers of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Emil Molt, the company director, asked Steiner to take on the planning and leadership of a new school for the company’s workers. This led to the birth of the first ever Waldorf school.

3. In August 1923, in Penmaenmawr in Wales where Steiner was leading a summer school, Dr Ita Wegman asked him: “Would it not be possible to found a form of medicine based upon the mysteries?” This led to their collaboration in writing a book and the beginnings of anthroposophical medicine.

It seems as though an initiate can only bring something new to the world when requested to do so through an act of free will by another human being – the initiate cannot act to impose new ideas without the way being cleared by someone asking for them.

The story of the Chinese yam is another example of a significant question being asked of Steiner that led on to new research and knowledge. I’m indebted for the following account to Hannah Townsend’s review of Ralf Roessner’s book The Light Root in the Autumn 2014 issue of New View magazine (article not online).

To quote from Hannah’s review:

“Rudolf Steiner was apparently just about to depart from the gathering at Koberwitz where he had been giving the course of lectures that would lay the foundation for the development of biodynamic agriculture. This was in 1924 and the effects of humanity’s gradual slide into a one-sidedly materialistic thinking was beginning to have an effect on food. Mechanistic agricultural practices were starting to deplete produce of the cosmic forces that food should carry into the human diet if people are to be enabled to pursue their rightful spiritual development. (Food is more than solely a means of keeping our physical bodies alive, but more fundamentally a source of nourishment for human consciousness.)…

Roessner relates how, as Steiner waited for his car to arrive to take him to the train station, two of the course participants came up to him with a question. They wanted to know whether, if all the indications that he had given were followed, it would be enough to raise the quality of nutrition to give adequate spiritual nourishment for our times. The answer that Steiner gave seems to have been both surprising and direct:

‘It will not be sufficient, even in the most favourable circumstances,’ he said. ‘What should be done is to cultivate Dioscorea batatas in Europe so that it can take over from the potato as the staple diet…’ ”

Well, who could resist following up on such an intriguing story? Certainly not the anthropopper, who promptly went out and bought a copy of The Light Root by Ralf Roessner (£8.99 from Temple Lodge Publishing, ISBN 978 1 906999 63 6).

Here's what the Chinese yam (or light root) looks like when well grown.

Here’s what the Chinese yam (or light root) looks like when well grown. (Photo via Apios Institute)

It turns out that what the author calls the Light Root is a particular type of Chinese yam. The special quality of this particular yam is that it is able to incorporate within its physical substance large quantities of the light ether, of which most of our foods are nearly or completely lacking. Why does this lack of light ether matter? It matters because without the light ether it is far more difficult for us humans to become aware of ourselves in our true nature, ie as spiritual beings currently living within physical bodies. Without the light ether, materialism holds sway and people are unaware of anything other than physical, material reality. So it is possible that this plant is not only a valuable food but also something which in the future could be a decisive influence in the development of humanity. (My wife, a specialist in fertility and maternity reflexology, is convinced that the other food which contains light ether is breast milk – which, if true, is yet another reason why breast is best.)

Here of course we dive straight into controversy: what is this light ether, which most scientists, if asked, would say does not exist? Those who are familiar with Steiner’s concepts will know that he thinks in terms of a spectrum of realities, from the physical to the etheric to various gradations of the spiritual. Living organisms which have a physical body or form also have an etheric body or form, which is essentially an energy body that contains and forms the physical. It is this etheric body which maintains the physical body’s form until death.

According to Steiner, the etheric body is made up of four ethers: warmth ether, light ether, chemical/sound ether and life ether (he said that there are in fact seven ethers but only four of them are currently susceptible to investigation). Materialists won’t go along with any of this, of course. However, two researchers, Dennis Milner and Edward Smart, in their work with Kirlian-type photography, seem to have been able to detect the four ethers identified by Steiner. My friend, Dr Siegfried Trefzer, has also used Kirlian photography as a means to detect illnesses in the etheric body before they manifest in the physical body. Between them, the etheric and physical bodies contain the meridian lines and acupuncture points which create a structured and permeable web of energy that helps to maintain the health of our physical body. This level can be weakened by various factors including: electromagnetic pollution, poor diet, drug misuse, trauma, sedentary lifestyle, genetic factors etc. From all this, it is clear that the medicine of the future will have to encompass energy medicine if real progress is to be made in treating pain and disease.

I can remember staying in a boarding house at Cliftonville with my parents when I was a young boy. On the table next to ours at breakfast was a man who had an artificial leg below one knee, which was of course fascinating to me. I have never forgotten how he said that he was having pain, not where the artificial limb joined his leg, but below this – where the amputated leg had been. This phantom limb effect is another example of the etheric body. Even when the limb has been removed, sensation can be felt as if it were still there, because the etheric form of the limb is still there.

Anyway, back to Ralf Roessner’s book about the Chinese yam or, as he calls it, the “light root”, a term he has patented in Germany as “lichtwurzel”. Roessner found that he had to go to the original growing areas in China to find suitable plants, as the specimens he had got from France, Africa and America did not show anything like the expected light ether qualities. The ability to store light ether in the plant is dependent on growing the plant at a sufficient depth (the tubers need to be at least four feet deep) as tubers grown near the surface do not have the same qualities at all. In addition, it is only the male plants of the Chinese yam which have the ability to store the light ether. At harvest time, according to Roessner, these tubers have a radiance that is noticeable even to the untrained observer.

The author clearly does not expect a sympathetic hearing from materialistic science, saying at one point: “spiritual scientific research should not try to gain a place among present day natural science (on the one hand it is still in its infancy, on the other it is more the task of natural science to venture into the spiritual), it is only right to renounce any acknowledgement from natural science.”

One can see why he should be cautious – he claims that the light root was rescued from Atlantis and brought to China, that the light root is a plant which nourishes yin or what Steiner calls the Venus principle, that to describe the effect of the light root on the human being requires faculties which go beyond ordinary sense-perceptible observation. He says that the light root’s unique light ether potential is able directly to strengthen the body’s formative forces (ie the etheric body), which is thereby enabled to take up with more ‘clarity’ those cosmic formative forces which underlie all earthly growth processes. Roessner sees the light root as providing an intermediate stage between a light nutrition of the future and our current one-sidedly materialist nutrition which is becoming less and less capable of truly nourishing us.

I can see why a scientist wouldn’t want to go to Monsanto or some other large corporation to ask for a research grant to look into this. However, in a few years time, when spiritual research has done all the heavy lifting and the reality of the etheric body has been established, I can also see these same large corporations trying to patent the light root, either to suppress it or else to exploit it so that they can market food based on it as “strengthening the etheric body, lengthening your life.”

What is more, the light root does have the potential to be a popular staple food: it is apparently delicious, makes good chips, and can be used in soups, sauces, pies etc. It has the property of filling you up with a small amount, so would be good for slimmers, as well as an excellent food for people with little money. It even has a beautifying effect, bestowing smooth, silky skin and shiny, strong hair. So, yes, I can see the Monsantos or Nestles of this world spotting vast commercial opportunities further down the line.

How would you like your light root cooked? Chipped, fried, in a soup or sauce? Yam, yam!

How would you like your light root cooked? Chipped, fried, in a soup or sauce?
Yam, yam! (Photo via AliBaba.com)

In the meantime, Ralf Roessner is doing his best to promote light root products on his website (German language only). Processing the light root so as to preserve the light ether it contains has its challenges, as the magnetic field associated with electricity soaks up the light ether quality. Even the fan in a conventional oven causes damage, while microwaves completely destroy the quality of light ether. Roessner says that there is an urgent need to develop appliances such as graters, mills and mixers, where a motor can be installed away from the actual appliance. Clearly at present it is best to use the light root as a fresh food. It may be, of course that we in the West are not yet ready to swap the potato for the Chinese yam and it is therefore the role of people like Ralf Roessner and his colleagues to research and to keep the knowledge alive until that time when we begin to awaken from our deep materialistic sleep. In this, they deserve our thanks and respect for ploughing their lonely furrow on behalf of the future.

It seems significant that the light root has come out of China and that advocates of anthroposophical medicine and ancient Chinese medicine are finding more and more parallels in their approaches. Yvan Rioux, in a fascinating article in the Winter issue of New View magazine, says that: “When the Chinese tried to grasp the activity of an organ, they looked for psychic activities as well as biological processes because our internal landscape is the basis of our soul life. “ And he quotes Steiner from lectures given a century ago: “What makes consciousness possible is not the brain as a producer of consciousness but the processes of the body as a whole. These serve as a mirror reflecting the activities of the soul. The bodily organs as living body processes act as reflectors of psychic activities.1” And again: “We must know that, in spite of the fact that they are not fully penetrated by the life of consciousness, all the organs contain the source of what surges in us as our psychic life.2

How did Steiner know all this stuff? And where are the true scientists who, even if something does not fit within their current paradigm (or especially because it does not fit within the current paradigm), will say: ”We must look into these matters and if necessary, we must develop new theories, methods and techniques to enable us to do so.” Those are subjects that the anthropopper will return to in future postings.

1 Rudolf Steiner, Psychoanalysis and Spiritual Psychology

2 Rudolf Steiner, Occult Physiology


Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner