Feb 022013

The modern diseases of cancer, arthritis, chronic infection, diabetes, lupus, fibromyalgia, etc. are essentially symptoms of malnutrition brought about by insufficient nutrition in the food that we eat. Big agriculture treats their fields with chemicals and gene splicing. Medicine treats disease with drugs (chemicals) and surgery. It’s curious that every natural food store also has a large section of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, enzymes and other potions designed to supplement the organic food that we are purchasing in the produce section, the organic dairy products from the refrigerator case and the free range, hormone free meats from the butcher shop.

Why would we need all this supplementation if the food was good to start with? Why not put the nutrition back in the food? And, why isn’t it there in the first place?

The concept of mineralizing soil isn’t new at all. In the mid-nineteenth century Justus von Liebig invented nitrogen based fertilizer and the concept known as The Law of Minimum which postulated that plant development was limited by the one essential mineral that was in the shortest supply. Von Liebig’s theories generated the fertilizer industry and moved farmers away from using manures and humus to feed their crops.

In 1893 a chemist named Julius Hensel published a book called, “Bread From Stones.” Bread From Stones advocated using stone meal (ground rock or rock dust) in place of chemicals to vitalize the soil. Hensel claimed that plants needed more than Liebig’s nitrogen, phosphorus and potash and stressed the importance of trace minerals which were ignored in the Liebig system. According to some, Hensel’s book was suppressed by the chemical industry and he was forced out of business by unfair competition. Years later his work was rediscovered and the rock dusts have become commonplace in organic fertilizers.

Starting in the late 1930s, William Albrecht was Chair of the Soils Department at the University of Missouri. Albrecht determined that animals would be healthiest if the grass they ate came from soil with a balance of 68% calcium and 12% magnesium. Albrecht believed our soils had become depleted. “Albrecht was outspoken on matters of declining soil fertility, having identified that it was due to a lack of organic material, major elements, and trace minerals, and was thus responsible for poor crops and in turn for pathological conditions in animals fed deficient foods from such soils.”

Victor Tiedjens was a contemporary of Albrecht and was another soil scientist who believed that calcium was the key to rehabilitating worn out soil. He went farther than Albrecht concluding that the calcium saturation should reach 85%. “Tiedjens found that, once the soil was saturated with calcium, he could grow a huge crop of corn or soybeans using about one-tenth the quantity of fertilizers a typical farmer thought was needed to produce a similar result. And that is why the fertilizer industry made sure you never heard of Victor Tiedjens—lime is cheap; fertilizer is not.”(The Intelligent Gardener, p. 91).

Dr. Carey Reams was a biochemist and biophysicist who, “…demonstrated that all disease is caused by mineral deficiencies and when a person remineralized, the symptoms of those diseases disappeared, and the remineralized person would no longer have that disease.  It was so simple that the medical community of the day could not accept the fact that their drug, cut and burn way of treating people was the completely wrong way to treat disease.”

Authors Peter Thompkins and Christopher Bird (authors of the well-known Secret Life of Plants) wrote a less well-known but more fascinating book called Secrets of the Soil. They cover many alternative agricultural and gardening practices and spend a lot of time on mineral rock and the remineralization of soils.

Michael Astera took the work of Albrecht and Reams and wrote The Ideal Soil which explains how to test and analyze for soil minerals and the proper balance of cations and anions. It was Astera’s work that got Steve Solomon interested in the subject resulting in his book The Intelligent Gardener.

A backyard gardener can experiment with nutrient dense food at quite a low cost—$20 for a soil test and perhaps $50 for a supply of minerals to begin balancing the soil. After a few years, perhaps as soon as one year, a gardener should be able to taste the results. Using plant tissue tests, an additional expense if one insists on being completely scientific, the gardener can verify increased minerals in the tissue of plants.

Improving nutrient density of our garden produce should not only improve taste and reduce disease in our plants but increase our own ability to withstand disease.


  9 Responses to “Garden For Medicine”

  1. Nice post, Randy.

    I’m sure the reason why ‘supplements’ (OTC pills & potions) are so plentiful in grocery stores, even ones that sell lots of organic produce, is the profit motive (pill/potion producers & retail stores love these very high profit items) combined with faith-based consumers convinced that more pills will make them healthy or, in current market-speak, “well.” I noted that our local food co-op, of which I’m an enthusiastic member/owner, had a big write-up on its Wellness sections in its most recent mailer.

    Eating good food grown on good soil is smart. Chemistry can be useful in identifying mineral soil deficiencies (which may or may not characterize any particular garden plot), though of course soil biota, available moisture & its chemistry, temperature and the needs of particular plant species also play crucial roles. Not all plants need all minerals in equal amounts.

    So — here’s to better living through chemistry, with a personal preference to getting as much as possible from home-grown foods — even if that means importing bags of minerals mined somewhere else & transported to our homegrounds, to bring health & wellness to our soils. Plus we get much more exercise digging in those soil supplements & growing our food than we do by poping pills & swigging potions!

    PS I regularly take a few ‘supplement’ pills myself, including Vit D (D3 form) without which, in winter at least, my psoriasis goes berserk. Can’t get Vit D from plants, regardless of soil minerals.

  2. I just wrote a Whatcom Locavore article (out in the Herald next Tuesday) that includes information about why flour often doesn’t have the nutrition it could. Commercial mass-production grinding methods remove so much nutrition that the FDA actually stepped in and established laws requiring manufacturers to add certain nutrients back in (“enriched”) to try to raise the nutrition back to the level of the original grain. Of course, they only focus on certain nutrients. I’m sure plenty are omitted.

    If we don’t deprive plants of nutrition as they are grown, we often process them out anyway.

    It’s a sorry thing when a culture prioritizes money over health… The ironic karma, of course, is that we then end up paying all that money for health care later.

    I’m reading a great library book right now called “Kissed by a Fox” which talks about how our Western culture’s current relationship to Nature has developed, and suggests some more appropriate alternatives. I highly recommend the book–beautifully written.

  3. Have not read Steve’s book yet. (working my way through a stack of winter reading right now) however I do know that not all plants need the same minerals. Potatoes for instance do not do well with lime. It seems to promote scab. I learned this the hard way and THEN read up on it. Apparently blueberries also don’t do well with lime as do other acid loving plants. So mineralizing seems to be plant specific. Perhaps Steve covers this already.

  4. Susan. I posted your question on Steve Solomon’s discussion group and got responses from both Steve and his co-author of The Intelligent Gardener Erica.


    Your intelligent friend is entirely correct: each crop species almost
    certainly its own unique ideal soil nutrient profile. Trouble is, we don’t
    have more than a slight clue about what that profile might be. The SLAN guys
    have a far better idea; for decades they’ve been compiling results from
    using various application rates against an ammonium acetate soil test
    result. They can call accurately how to bend soil so as to produce the
    largest bulk yield. We balancing guys need to do the same, but not by yield,
    but by nutrient-density as determined (how?). On top of that, in a vegie
    garden it is logistically nearly impossible to bring each part of each area
    to be what the crop growing there ideally needs.

    Because we have not a clue, the best we can do for now in the vegie garden
    is to target a generalized mineral profile that works pretty good across the


    Sun Feb 3, 2013 1:34 pm (PST) . Posted by: “EAReinheimer” ericareinheimer I agree with what you are saying, about crop-specific nutrient
    balancing, Steve. Really, we shoot for a well balanced soil – which is
    maybe not achievable because of the parent material.

    Randy, both the potato and blueberry examples are low pH examples rather
    than general nutrient balancing differences (although this is a pretty
    fine distinction – low pH is a result of nutrient balancing ) . I
    think I read somewhere that in the case of potatoes it isn’t so much
    that they like low pH soils as that they tolerate them. And they are
    less prone to scab at low pH. I get some pretty good potato crops here
    on my pH 7.2 soil. But, commercial potato growers keep the pH of their
    fields pH low, and so don’t have scab problems. I don’t either, but I
    guess I am just lucky so far.

    As far as blueberries – blueberries native habitat is low pH (acid) well
    drained high organic matter soils. They have evolved for those
    conditions, so best to provide what they want. Also they are going to
    want fungally dominated (forest type) soils. I think this is a real
    exception, though, and not part of a vegetable garden discussion. These
    perennials are more of a specialty orchard crop.


  5. Susan C & Solomon’s comments are right on. There’s no ideal, one-size-fits all mineral ‘balancing’ formula for small, multi-plant gardens, just as there’s no perfect pH for all plants. That’s one reason monocropping is so alluring — if you know what the requirements are for the single plant, you might be able (for brief time, at least) to provide that plant with optimal growing conditions via external inputs & reap lots of nutrient-dense food. If weather permits, that year.

    The complexity of soil-plant-atmospheric-water interactions totally boggles my mind. As someone with yrs experience as a scientist (totally different field) totally immersed in data measurement & analysis, I now choose mostly to do the best I can, returning as much plant material to the soil as possible. All plants are composed of minerals, both organic (carbon-based) and non-organic) as well as water etc. Manure is similarly composed. I figure … that’s good enough for me, for now. Sometimes I toss on some lime, sometimes I check pH (and add coffee grounds around my blueberries, as my soil tends to be alkaline, not acidic), sometimes strew around some greensand or ‘minerals from the sea’ (packaged or seaweed).

    What grows, grows. Some years, some places — very nicely. Other times & places, not so much.

    I know that soil tests & specific mined minerals can supply mineral nutrients in much more concentrated and targeted form to our gardens & farms, often to the benefit of at least some plants & animals growing there. But despite using some bagged minerals myself, I’m increasingly reluctant to do so because I know that those bags are the result of mining elsewhere on our planet, requiring fossil fuel & water (lots of it, often) to extract & transport & incorporate into soils far, far away.

    Perhaps mining -> farming is one more example of humans enthusiastically manifesting our oneness with the second law of thermodynamics? (Thanks to Laurence Gonzales in his book “Everyday Survival: Why Smart People do Stupid Things” for articulating the idea that much otherwise bizarre human behavior actually is quite logical, if in fact our species evolved to be super-efficient ‘entropy generating’ creatures, i.e., in harmony with the 2nd law of thermodynamics.)

  6. I might get tired of trying to convince people that there can be a better way than just throwing some stuff on the garden. But I will stick with it through the feb 11 gardeners network meeting.

  7. I’ve no problem with a highly quantified approach. In fact, I respect it greatly. Generations of respected soil scientists have taken a similar approach for years, even if application has been bastardized by big farma.

    I suspect the targeted-nutrients approach is particularly useful for small gardens with relatively homogenous soils.

    I think it’s great that you keep offering this interesting info like ‘nutrient-dense’ soils & being a strong advocate for what you think is right. The more info out there, the more informed we’ll all be & each of us will be able to make choices that make sense to/for us. My comments aren’t complaints or (contrarian to contrarian?) counter-arguments or prescriptives for anyone, merely descriptions of what/why I’m currently doing on my property.

    Your posts have stimulated me to re-think & investigate soil science a lot the past couple of months, so I particularly appreciate those posts. So — thanks!

  8. I recommend another book that is like “Intelligent Gardener” and had great information to add. It is “Building Soils Naturally” by Phil Nuata (Amazon link: http://tinyurl.com/cz9h2tg). Acres USA published it, and they’ve been at it (remineralization) for decades.

    I’ve been remineralizing with granite dust for 5 years, but this is my first year using International AgLabs for soil testing and recommendations.

  9. I was interested to find this article. Where you buy granite dust and how fine is it ground up? I would like to buy some for my dad who is interested in trying new organic methods. I have an old article explaining Julius Hensel’s theories and the writer mentions buying Cascade Mountains granite dust ground to “a fineness such that 98 percent of the material filters through a two hundred mesh to the inch sieve.” The only place I have found so far that sells it says it is the size of pencil shavings. Not sure if that will work.

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