SENSITIVE CRYSTALLIZATION is an analytical technique peculiar to Biodynamics (peculiar being very much the operative word) which allows the effectiveness (or otherwise) of Biodynamic practices to be guaged because it ‘makes visible etheric formative forces,’ (Gisela Franceschelli, 1993).


Rudolf Steiner suggested Dr Ehrenfried Pfeiffer study crystallization processes and find a reagent that would allow the ‘formative forces’ of a living organism or system to be revealed pictorially, so that the effectiveness or otherwise of biodynamic trials could be gauged,’ (Christian Marcel, 2011). Pfeiffer got the idea of sensitive crystallization by looking at ice flowers forming on panes of glass in shop windows in the city of Basle. The  sensitive crystallization method he developed showed the difference in blood between healthy and sick people to an 82% accuracy, earning him an honorary doctorate at Hahnemann Hospital and Medical College in Philadelphia, USA (Swann, Jan 2019, p15-16).

Ehrenfried Pfeiffer worked ‘in cooperation with Erika Sabarth,’ says Gisela Franceschelli (1993). ‘Later on, Alla Selawry joined this pro-ject [sic] as well. The impetus and initial idea for this process came from a brief hint that Steiner once gave for making visible the formative forces in living organisms. The chemical reaction of copper chloride with a plant sap or blood would show a certain formation, a pattern. The pattern makes visible, according to Pfeiffer, the formative forces of the organism, be it plant, animal, or human.’

‘Above all, it was in response to Pfeiffer’s question about how these [etheric formative] forces could be put to practical use in agriculture, that Steiner began giving instructions for developing the Biodynamic preparations,’ (Michael J Pawlicki, 1998-99).


Helen Philbrick and Richard Gregg (1966) say that Dr Ehrenfried Pfeiffer ‘first used Glauber’s salt (sodium sulphate) for crystallizations. He then used copper chloride with additions of extracts of living matter, and got excellent results….developing…The Pfeiffer Method of Sensitive Crystallization. The method consists of adding small measured amounts of the substance to be tested–for instance a plant extract–to 10 ml of a 5% solution of copper chloride in a test tube. After thorough mixing, this solution is poured out onto perfectly smooth, specially cleaned, round glass plates of about 9cm diameter, which are provided with a rim. These plates with the solution are then left in a temperature- and moisture-controlled room on a level surface. The solution slowly evaporates, and finally (after about 14 to 17 hours) crystallizes into a pattern which is determined by the nature and quality of the plant was which the extract was taken. Those forces (or factors) which are inherent in the plant and bring about its specific form and shaped (called therefore formative forces). As well as the living growth forces, are active in forming the resulting pattern of crystal arrangement. A strong, healthy vigorous plant will produce a beautiful, harmonious, and clearly formed crystal arrangement, radiating through to the outer edge. On the other hand, a crystallization made of an extract from a weak, sickly plant will result in a picture which shows thickening or incrustation, be more or less uneven, unharmonious.’

‘The technique works by allowing copper chloride crystals to form patterns, resembling ice crystals on a window pane, when a water-soluble extract of a substance like wine, plant sap or milk is added to it. Both the structure of the crystals and their texture make visible the ‘inner quality’ or etheric formative forces (or lack thereof) in the material being tested. Some contemporary winegrowers use sensitive crystallization as one way of evaluating the structural and organoleptic characteristics of wine quality,’ (Christian Marcel).

Jens Otto Anderson in Denmark developed a computerised analytical method for assessing the texture of the pictures (Swann, Jan 2019, p16).


Randall Grahm (2006) writes that ‘there is a very odd, particular technique called “sensitive crystallization,” employed by practitioners of biodynamics. Sensitive crystallization is not a precise science, at all, by a longshot. You do a number of replicates and they can all be a little bit different, but you do begin to see some recurring patterns that are quite suggestive. To do it, you take your material, in this case a couple of milliliters of wine, mix it with a copper chloride solution, put it carefully into a Petri dish, and allow it to evaporate in a controlled environment. Voilà, you will observe a distinctive pattern, which is interesting if you have some inkling of how to make heads or tails of it.’

SEE ALSO | Lili Kolisko. / Chromatography.


Christian Marcel, ‘Sensitive Crystallization, Visualizing the Qualities of Wines’ (Floris, 2011) by Christian Marcel, translated by C. Moore.

Gisela Franceschelli, Applied Biodynamics, Winter 1993, p8-9.

Helen Philbrick & Richard Gregg, Companion plants & how to use them, USA, 1966.

Michael J Pawlicki, ‘A Tribute to Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer for his 100th birthday, February 19 1999’, Applied Biodynamics 25 Winter 1998-1999, p2.

Monty Waldin, Biodynamic Wine (Infinite Ideas, 2016), p96 & p102. 

Randall Grahm, The Phenomenology of Terroir, World of Fine Wine 13 2006 p102-107 p249-50. 

Richard Swann, ‘Perceiving quality through picture forming methods’, Star and Furrow, Issue 130, January 2019 p15-17.