Since the first human being used a substance for medicinal purposes, the quest has always been how to find the right substance, how to process this substance, and how to apply it to promote healing in the human organism. For millennia this was done in an instinctive way: A healer would walk up to a plant and instinctively recognize the plant's healing power.
Through the evolving intellect over the last several centuries, this instinct has become obscured and unreliable. In modern day life we can still experience it in unusual situations when either our senses are dulled by illness or by shocks. In a wakeful, alert state of consciousness, our intellect overrides our instincts to the point of denial.
Because of this loss of instinct, we are reduced to trial and error when we go out to nature to find medicinal plants. To resolve this dilemma, we either must retrieve our lost instinct and go back to pre-intellectual times, or we must find a way to use our intellect to understand substance and illness.
Anthroposophic medicine is a modern extension of conventional medicine with the goal to consciously understand the essence of a substance and the essence of disease through spiritual science. Understanding the vital and spiritual forces behind substance and illness is the key to healing. The method was outlined by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and grew out of the spiritual science of Anthroposophic Medicine. Many other fields of human endeavor have been enriched by Rudolf Steiner's work, such as education (Waldorf School), agriculture (Biodynamic Farming), architecture, arts, and economics. In the case of therapeutics, Rudolf Steiner worked with trained physicians. His first medical course for physicians was based on homeotherapeutic principles. He outlined a way to understand the functional-dynamic aspects of the human organism and its interaction with body, soul, and spirit.
The human organism can be understood as a fourfold whole: The first member consists of the Physical Body, which enables us to exist on this physical plane. However, with only the physical body we would be lifeless like minerals. In order to function like an organism, to grow, to live and multiply, there must be a supersensible organizing principle, which is called in Anthroposophical science Etheric Body. It is basically the same principle which the ancient Chinese called "Chi", Hippocrates “Mucus", Paracelsus "Archaeus", and Hahnemann “Vital Force". Its purest form manifests in the plant kingdom as growth, regeneration, and reproduction. In addition, we hold an even higher force, called Astral Body, which is responsible for movement, instincts, desires, dreams, emotions, and consciousness of the world around us. Its purest form is reflected in the behavior of animals. The forth and highest entity, called Ego, gives us the ability of self-reflection, thinking, creativity, speech, erect posture, to distinguish between right and wrong.
In addition to the fourfold nature of the human organism, Rudolf Steiner discovered a threefold organization as well. A study of our organs gives valuable insight into their functions. To establish their significance for us as a whole, however, it is necessary to determine what particular function each enacts. It is obvious that certain organs together form a functional whole. If we consider the sense organs, for example, it is easy to see that they all have something in common. They provide us with information relating to the environment (through the eye, the ear, etc.). All sense organs and processes are related to the nervous system and most of them are located in the head.
These two groups of organs, the nerves and the senses, may thus be taken as a functional whole, the Nerve-Sense System (NSS). If we study the dynamics, the force relationship within this system, it becomes evident that it is not by chance that, for the organs of perception located in the head region, the direction of action goes from without to within. Light, sound, and, of course, food enters into the organism through the gates designed for that purpose. The sense organs do indeed have the function of gateways. They are designed to let things pass through, as far as possible unchanged. Essential preconditions of this are stillness and low vitality, which goes along with cold. It is necessary to keep a 'cool" head in a quiet environment if one wishes to think clearly. The NSS shows little life. Death is prevalent. It is apparent that we would not be able to live if we only consisted of the NSS. (The other two systems about to be described can also be found in the head but to a much smaller degree).
There must be another system in our organism where the opposite characteristics apply: activity, movement, metabolism, warmth, and life. An organ for which movement is absolutely characteristic is the muscle. It is generally known that warmth is essential for proper muscle function. Movement and warmth go together just as stillness and cold do. Movement must be understood not only as visible locomotion, but also as transformation of substance or metabolism. Metabolism occurs not only in the muscles, but also in the liver, the intestines, kidneys, and even in the blood. There are cells and metabolic activities in the head and brain, which are not directly related to the perception and thought processes. Choroid cells and glia cells are examples of metabolically active cells. They are related to metabolism of oxygen and glucose in the brain and sense organs. These cells form part of the metabolic activities in the NSS. Life itself only becomes manifest in the conversion of matter and expresses itself through it. These and other “life organs" may be taken together as one system, the Metabolic-Limb System (MLS), mainly located in the lower part of the human organism.
The NSS and the MLS are polar opposites. While the NSS predominantly has a tendency to let the outside world enter into the organism through the organs of perception, the region of the MLS is the chief site for elimination. While the NSS passively receives, the MLS actively eliminates. The NSS is acted upon by the environment, while the environment is acted upon by the MSL. If these two systems were the only ones, they would have to be constantly at war with each other; canceling each other out just as hot and cold, when mixed, result in a lukewarm medium temperature, or plus and minus cancel each other out in a short circuit.
This danger is avoided by the presence of a third system, a mediator between the other two. In view of what has gone before, we must look for this system in the middle. The balance between the two opposing systems consists not only with regard to above and below, but also in alternation within time. This gives rise to rhythm. All rhythmical processes in the body may be taken together in one system, the Rhythmic System. In reality the two opposite systems we have described do not function simultaneously but in constant alternation. During the day, we are awake and 'live" on the forces of the NSS. During the night, when we are asleep, the real life processes become active, and there is a general permeation of warmth, revitalization, and stimulation of metabolic processes.
This rhythmic alternation maybe said to be epitomized in the heart and the lungs. Here rhythmic activity is so obvious that the two organs may be considered representative for the whole system. The heart is constantly alternating between expansion and contraction. In the lungs we have constant alternation between inhalation and exhalation. Contraction reflects the dynamics of the NSS, expansion those of the MLS.
The essential point in the threefold nature of the human organism is that it provides the key to health and disease. If the upper pole, the NSS, prevails, certain morbid conditions arise. If the centripetal tendency of contraction, stillness and cold predominates, then the premature aging process, hardening, formation of deposits, and stiffness occur. On the other hand, the MLS may predominate. The results are inflammatory processes with warmth and dissolution. This revelation of the human being as a threefold organism became the basis for careful research over a 30-year period before Rudolf Steiner spoke publicly about it. The discovery of the polarity and equalizing of the polarity by rhythm in the organism laid the basis for understanding the homeopathic process and the potentization process as it takes place in humans. It is out of this understanding that Rudolf Steiner came together with scientists, pharmacists, farmers and physicians to work with natural substances in providing remedies.
Therapeutically, Anthroposophic medicine utilizes potentized substances produced by several pharmacies according to processes specified in the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. The substances derive from the mineral, plant, and animal kingdom. They are found by studying their characteristics, growth, height, consistency, appearance, qualities, peculiarities, etc. These signatures are the keys in understanding their action in the human organism. Rudolf Steiner made the remarkable discovery that a plant is a healing plant when it has a distortion or an abnormality in its physiology and/or morphology. Medical plants are “diseased" in that they are one-sided developments that are held in balance only by self-healing. This represents a modern, scientific reformulation of what, in former times, existed in the "doctrine of signatures".
An example will demonstrate this: plants that grow near water are usually heavy, with big, dark green leaves that wilt and break easily. An exception is Salix alba, the white willow, a tree that always grows near water and loves light. However, unlike other "watery" plants, the willow has fine, almost dry leaves and looks very light. It has the ability to organize water, to "aerate" it. The willow does not retain the water. It absorbs water through its deep root system, transforms and evaporates it into the air. Its branches are unbelievably tough. They are elastic and cannot be broken. They bend easily and form "joints" rather than break. These few signatures can give us the clue to what Salix can be used for therapeutically: arthritis, deformation of joints, swollen joints, as well as head congestion, inflammatory conditions, and diarrhea. These are situations where the organism lost its control over the water element. Salicylic acid (Aspirin) was originally harvested from the bark of the willow.
Homeopathy is based on the law of similars. This similiar principle is also central to Anthroposophic medicine. The Anthroposophic oriented physician looks for the reflection of the illness in nature and, applying the law of similars, selects the proper healing substance.
The homeopathic art of healing with its two main principles, the vital force and the concept of similars is as old as the history of humankind. Before Hahnemann it was used in an instinctive, intuitive way. Hahnemann's genius put it into a modern perspective and gave it a scientific basis. But even Hahnemann could not give an explanation of how a homeopathic remedy cures. Rudolf Steiner extended the homeopathic principle based on spiritual/scientific studies and offered answers where Hahnemann left off and also furthered a basis for continued use of homeotherapeutics.