Plant Fragrance – Smelling the Universe


“Now since the universe is filled with the gaseous substance we perceive in the zodiacal light, this universe would be found to emit all kinds of different smells if organs of smell existed which were even more delicate than that of the dog. Imagine some creature sniffing towards the sun, not seeing the beauty of the sun but becoming aware through its sniffing of how the sun smells. Such a creature would not say as the poets do, ‘The lovers went a-roaming in the enchanting moonlit night,’ but he would say. ‘The lovers went a-roaming in the enchanting moon-scented night, in a world of sweet fragrance,’ or perhaps, since it’s to do with the moon, the scents would not be so very pleasantly fragrant! Again, such a creature might sniff towards the evening star, and its smell would be different from that of the sun. Then it might sniff towards Mercury, towards Venus, towards Saturn.

It would have no picture of these stars like that transmitted through the eyes, but it would get the sun smell, the moon smell, the Saturn smell, the Mars smell, the Venus smell. If there were creatures, they would be guided by what the spirit inscribed in the smell of the cosmic gas, by what the spirit of Venus, Mercury, sun, moon inscribes into the world existence.
But now, gentlemen, think of fish. Fish don’t smell things. But they take on colours according to how the sun shines upon them. They reflect in their colouring what comes to them from the sun. So you see, a being with a very delicate sense of smell would actually adjust its being to the way it smells the universe.

Such beings do exist. There are beings that can actually smell the universe, and these are the plants. The plants smell the universe and adapt themselves accordingly. What does the violet do? The violet is really all nose, a very, very delicate nose. The violet is beautifully aware of what streams from Mercury and forms its scent-body accordingly, while the asafoetida has a delicate perception of what streams from Saturn and forms its gas-body accordingly, thereby acquiring an offensive odour. And so it is that every being in the plant world perceives the smells that come from the planetary world.

But now what about plants that have no fragrance? Why have they no scent? As a matter of fact, to sensitive noses all plants do have a certain scent – at least, they have what can be called a refreshing aroma – and this has a very strong effect upon them. This refreshing fragrance comes from the sun, A large number of plants, like the violet or the asafoetida, are receptive to the planetary influences; these are the sweet-smelling or the bad-smelling plants.

And so, when we smell a violet, we can say that this violet is really all nose – but a delicate nose, inhaling the cosmic scent of Mercury. It holds the scent, as I have indicated, between its solid parts and exhales it; then the scent is dense enough for us to be able to smell it. So when Mercury comes towards us through the violet, we smell Mercury. If with our coarse noses we were to sniff towards Saturn, we would smell nothing. But when the asafoetida, which has a keen nose for Saturn, sniffs towards that planet, it smells what comes from it, adapts its gas content accordingly, and has a most foul odour. Suppose you are walking through an avenue of horse-chestnuts – you know they scent of horse-chestnuts, or of linden blossoms? They both have such perfume because their flowers are sensitive noses for everything that streams into the universe from Venus. And so in very truth the fragrances of heaven come to us through the plants.

…The human being has the whole of nature within himself: mineral, plant, animal and man. The plant-nature in the human being adjusts itself to the scents of the planets just as do the plants themselves. Certain minerals that still retain much of the plant-nature also have an odour. So whether something does or does not have an odour depends upon whether it perceives the scents of the universe.

…Thus, if we know that with their fragrance plants are breathing out what they inhale from the universe, then we can say that plants are the delicate organs of smell that belong to the earth. And the human nose, gentlemen, that’s really a course plant.

…In this way we attain true knowledge of the world. And we discover how mankind is indeed related to all the rest of the universe. It might well be said, man is a poor creature; he has a nose for smelling, but he can’t smell much because his nose has become too coarse, whereas the blossoms of plants can smell the whole universe. The leaves of plants can be compared to the human tongue; they taste the world. The roots of plants can be compared to the organs in man that look at things, his eyes, but in man it’s a weak organ.”

R. Steiner, From Sunspots to Strawberries, Lecture 9, 9 August 1924, CW354