Planting Potatoes

Planting Potatoes

article by Patricia Damery

Carl Jung was said to be an earthy man. He derived pleasure in growing his own potatoes despite his intellectual interests. During the Second World War he plowed up part of his yard to do so. “Every man should have his own plot of land so that the instincts can come to life again,” he claimed. “We keep forgetting that we are primates and that we have to make allowances for these preemptive layers in our psyche. The farmer is still closer to these layers. In tilling the earth he moves around with a very narrow radius, but he moves on his own land.”(1)

Growing potatoes is a magical process, and one I suspect that also works deep on the psyche. You take a potato with “eyes” and cut it into pieces, each with its own sprouting eye. You place this “eye” underground, and in a few days you see a sprout coming up, and then a plant about two or three feet tall that finally blooms and then yellows. After about four months you dig carefully into the earth (so as not to spear any!) and find the egg-like potatoes buried in the soil. For me, it is always a miracle.

Potatoes are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family along with several other common food crops including peppers and tomatoes, as well as several medicinal and poisonous plants, such as belladonna. The word “solanum” is derived from Sol, the sun. Even its name is paradoxical: that of the sun and in the “nightshade” family. It is also what is called a gamopetalous plant, or one (from the Greek gama) that “marries” unusual aspects, and often opposites. The eyes are underground, in the earth. The potato is not a root but a stem, and the sprout, a branch, that which usually grows above ground. If the potato is exposed to the sun, it turns green with the alkaloid solanin, a poison. Many of the members of the nightshade family are poisonous and used in medicines or in sorcery, some bringing altered states. I have used homeopathically prepared belladonna successfully both with my children when they were young and with a goat in controlling high fevers characterized by hotness radiating from the body like the sun. Anthroposophist and natural scientist Gerbert Grohmann, states, “The poison [of the nightshade] eliminates the controlling force of the human ego so that mental processes (thinking, feeling and willing) become autonomous and thereby the soul life becomes confused and disorganized.”(2) Used as a medicine, however, this can have a stimulating effect on the autoimmune system. A plant becomes poisonous, anthroposophists claim, when the astral forces “penetrate too deeply into it [the plant].”(3) Rudolf Steiner says poisonous plants always have too much astrality for a usual plant and this not only is revealed by the poisonous properties but also by unusual changes in their forms (e.g., the swollen underground stem we call a potato.)

In growing potatoes, we learn something of this, although seldom on an intellectual level. We learn the magic of cutting a potato into pieces, each with an eye, and how each then grows into a separate and complete plant, so different from planting a seed formed by an entirely different process. We learn how light turns the potato green and bitter, poisoned, and this bitterness cautions us to not to eat the skin that has developed this green tinge. We are brought into communion with the earth as we partake of this potato, which Steiner would claim is a “higher” plant due to its increased astrality, energetically somewhere between a plant and an animal, animals having astral bodies whereas plants do not. In the nightshades we are confronted with plants marrying many opposites. They not only nourish us, most having great vigor and vitality, but also provide medicine, often operating on psychological levels. Overdone, these very healing plants can poison us.

Jung directly blamed modern disease on the rootless and gardenless existence of modern life. “ …We all need nourishment for our psyche,” he said. “It is impossible to find such nourishment in urban tenements without a patch of green or a blossoming tree. We need a relationship with nature.”(4) — in this case, perhaps, as experienced through the nature— and teachings—of the potato.

Farming Soul, a courageous offering that will help to reconnect us to our deeper selves, the often untouched realities of soul, and at the same time ground us in our physical relationship to self and Mother Earth.

In addition to being the author of Farming Soul, Patricia Damery is an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and practices in Napa, CA. She grew up in the rural Midwest and witnessed the demise of the family farm through the aggressive practices of agribusiness. With her husband Donald, she has farmed biodynamically for ten years. Her chapter, “Shamanic States in Our Lives and in Analytic Practice” appeared in The Sacred Heritage: The Influence of Shamanism on Analytical Psychology, edited by Donald Sandner and Steven Wong, and her articles and poetry in the San Francisco Library Journal, Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Psychological Perspectives, and Biodynamics: Working for Social Change Through Agriculture.
Copyright © 2010 Patricia Damery – Permission to Reprint this article is granted. 

(1) William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull.C.G., ed, Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. “Man and His Environment.” (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977), 203-204.
(2) Gerbert Gohmann, The Plant, Vol 2. trans., K. Castelliz and Barbara Saunders-Davies. (Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc. 1989), 155.
(3) Gerbert Gohmann,156-157.
(4) C.G. Jung Speaking, 203-204.