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

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

8 responses to “Rudolf Steiner and the Chinese yam

  1. Interesting article. I am keen to try Yam chips, fried 3 x with mayonnaise. Sounds delicious. See also:


    • Hi Magic E and thank you for that very interesting link. I, too, would love to try some yam chips and hope to be able to organise a tasting before too long. Please see my reply to Caroline Kelly below.


  2. caroline kelly

    Hi Jeremy,

    Glad to see you are still posting. Very interesting about the Yam. Can it grow in the UK climate? I have actually eaten some raw, it has a slippery texture, and not much flavour which is fine for something that is to replace the potato or starch element in our diet. A friend brought one back from Hungary. It sounds like it will be hard to grow on a big scale.

    Best wishes

    Caroline Kelly

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Caroline,

      Lovely to hear from you! I’ve been in touch with the British publishers of Ralf Roessner’s book and the good news is that he may well be coming over here to give some talks. I’ve suggested that if he does so, then it would be great to organise some cooked yam tasting opportunities as part of them!

      I’m told that it’s not a good idea to touch with bare skin the mucilaginous texture you refer to when the raw yam is cut, as some people can find it irritates the skin. But cooked it’s great! It could certainly be grown in the UK climate but needs careful cultivation in order to preserve the light ether qualities. Interestingly, the Chinese yam also produces quite large quantities of bulbils, like small potatoes, on the above-ground portions of the plant – and these are also delicious to eat.

      Best wishes,



  3. Jennifer Baer

    Hi everyone,
    Wonderful to hear that the light root info is spreading. I have the great fortune to live in the east of Germany near where Roessler grows the root. We have several plants in our school in Dresden, which we harvest yearly. Yes, it’s complicated to grow, but worth it. And yes, do listen to his lectures. He is someone who directly experiences what he talks about. His is not read up, it’s the real thing and he can be very funny when recounting what he experiences. Best wishes, Jennifer Baer


  4. Ralf Roessner, author of the book about the Light Root referred to in this posting, came to Emerson College (where I work) at the end of April 2015 to give a talk about the Chinese yam. He brought with him some samples of the root and lots of the tiny bulbils, which he helped us to plant in the biodynamic garden at the the college. Grace Connor, one of our kitchen staff, filmed this, I did the voice-over, and the result was posted on the Emerson website here:


    • I should also have mentioned that Ralf Roessner very kindly gave me a large light root to take home and try – and I’m very happy to report that sautéed light root is absolutely delicious! I can really see that it does indeed have the potential to become a staple food on a par with the potato.


  5. Isabelle

    Does anyone know where to find this root in California? I would be ver interested to try it and try growing it as well. Thanks for any leads. Isabelle


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