The Wondrous Threefold Nature of the Plant and Human Being


I was introduced to the “threefold” concept when I discovered Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy while in the Peace Corps in South Africa. Steiner was, among other things, a scholar on Goethe, one of the foremost thinkers and philosophers in the western world.  

I was surprised to learn in my early 20s that Goethe counted as his greatest achievement the “discovery” of the Urpflanze, or the imaginary perfect plant. Goethe wrote a book called The Urpflanze, in which he describes that through intense contemplation and observation, he perceived that the ideal plant (which doesn’t
actually exist) consists of three equal parts or “spheres”: the root, the stem/leaf, and the flower/fruit. He said that if you could truly understand this imaginary plant, you would understand the entire natural world.  Here is what I think he meant by this.   If you picture this perfect and non-existent plant with its three equal realms, you begin to easily grasp that each realm has certain properties. For example, being green is almost entirely confined to the leaf/stem realm. Having color, smell and insect attractiveness is clearly a function of the flower/fruit realm, and concentrating minerals and salts while sensing its local environment is a property that belongs to the roots. Also, roots grow like a sphere, in contrast to the more spear-like shape of the leaves. The importance of this threefold concept lies in the understanding that no such “perfect” plant exists, and that each individual plant is its own variation on this threefold theme. For example, the color of the plant “belongs” in the flower/fruit realm. Yet in the carrot, the plant has “decided” to put its color into the root sphere. It’s as if the carrot is saying, “I’m all root.”

This anomaly allows you to predict two things: first, the color of the carrot flower will be colorless (or white) because all the plant’s attention to color has been sucked down into the root. Second, you can predict that carrots will be important nourishment for the nervous system, or head sphere, of the human being. This notion is well known in conventional science as carrots, with their high carotenoid content, are considered food for the eyes. 

Steiner expands on this threefold concept by pointing out that the human being, seen properly, is an upside-down plant, with its spherical head sensing the world, and its warmth region (the metabolic and reproductive organs) existing below the diaphragm. In between lie the heart and lungs, corresponding to the breathing organ of the plant, the leaves, and the circulatory organ, the stem. From these simple pictures, a new view of nature, medicine and nutrition emerges.

I could give hundreds more example of how this threefold concept gives us valuable insights into nutrition, medicine and plants. For example, digitalis leaves and stems are used to treat heart and circulatory conditions, chamomile flowers treat digestive disturbances such as the tummy aches of young children, yarrow-flower compresses are used for stagnant liver conditions, and eating green leaves is widely known to help with breathing conditions.  

Human beings’ most efficient way to consume these essential minerals is by eating plants. We can’t use nitrogen to support our heart/lung sphere.   But we do use the nutrients in leaves for exactly this purpose. Therefore, to nourish the entire human being, we need to eat daily from the three parts of the plant – root/leaf/flower-fruit.

Dr. Cowan’s Garden Threefold powders (both the “slightly sweet” and “savory” versions) were designed to make this daily task day easy, tasty and fun. We start by growing root plants (carrots, beets and leeks), leaf plants (kale and Swiss chard) and flower/fruit plants (winter and summer squash) in mineral-rich Napa soil or sourcing them from the best local organic farms. Then we turn them into powders and blend them into a “slightly sweet” version (carrots and beets, kale and chard, winter and summer squash) and a “savory” version (beets and leeks, kale and chard, and zucchini). Stored in Miron jars to protect their nutrients, they will last months, if not years.

For ideas on how to use the Threefold Blend powders (and others), see the Suggested Uses page on our website. 

In good health, 

Tom (Dr. Cowan)