The History of Wheatgrass
Ann Wigmore re-discovered the health benefits of wheatgrass in the 1970s, but it was Dr. Charles Schnabel who was first to discover them 1925. Dr. Schnabel was not alone. Scientists, medical doctors and other health practitioners produced a significant volume of research on wheatgrass during the 25 years between 1925 and 1950. Ann Wigmore’s bibliographies in her books list many of them, especially Dr. Schnabel. Their research was the scientific basis for many of Ann Wigmore ideas. The research by Schnabel and other scientists used dehydrated wholefood wheatgrass powder that had been grown for 200 days over the winter in special glacial soil in Northeast Kansas.
Dr. Schnabel was an agricultural chemist. Before his discovery of the nutritional density of wheatgrass and other cereal grasses, the primary purpose of his early research was to determine the value of various animal feeds to see which would produce the best results for livestock. Very little was known about the nutrients that were in their food. It was known that amazing results occurred when cattle were allowed to graze on wheatgrass in the spring prior to what the farmers called “the jointing stage.” Beef cattle showed tremendous weight gain. Dairy cattle increased in milk production and butter fat by more than 30% is they were allowed to graze on wheatgrass.
In an interview with Ron Seibold in 1981, Dr. Schnabel’s son told the story of how his father walked out into a wheat field in the early spring of 1925 when the wheatgrass was only eight inches tall. Dr. Schnabel harvested some by hand with a pair of scissors. The wheat had been planted the previous fall in the fertile, alluvial, glacial soil of northeast Kansas. It had grown to a few inches tall in the fall, but during the coldest part of the winter it did not grow very much.
Although it was still often below freezing at night, the wheatgrass had grown to eight inches in the warmer
daytime temperatures. It was deep, deep green. He took it back to his house and dried it. He then mixed a small amount (6%) into chicken feed and carefully documented the results. The hens in his study went from an egg production rate of 30% to 90%. In other words, hens that had been laying an egg every three days now started laying an egg almost every day. He published his results and after that, the research on wheatgrass and other cereal grass took off for both farm animals and humans.
It was an exciting time for food scientists. A year after Dr. Schnabel dried the wheatgrass on his home, another scientist, Dr. Saunders, published his landmark research titled, “The Nutritional Value of Chlorophyll as Related to Hemoglobin Formation.” It published in the Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine in 1926. Dr. Saunder’s research led to decades of intense study of the effects of chlorophyll on the human body and its detoxifying qualities. The source of chlorophyll or most of that research came from dehydrated wheatgrass that Dr. Schnabel provided. Further, most of the chlorophyll research dovetailed with other wheatgrass research by Dr. Schnabel, other scientists, medical doctors and clinics.
Meanwhile even more scientists worldwide were at work in understanding more and more of the components in food. Shortly before Dr. Schnabel’s first research on chickens, Vitamin D was discovered in 1922. Although Vitamin A had been discovered in 1913, it was not until 1929 that beta-carotene was found to be a source of it. Vitamin K was first isolated in 1929. Vitamin C was known but was not isolated until 1928. Folic Acid would not be discovered until 1933. It was not until 1938 that Vitamin E was discovered.
Certainly, Dr. Schnabel knew cereal grass was a rich source of chlorophyll. It was much darker green color than any other vegetables. All the chlorophyll research made it abundantly clear that the greener the plant, the more chlorophyll was in it. As new vitamins were discovered, Dr. Schnabel found that dehydrated wholefood wheatgrass contained a higher concenration of each vitamins. He was anxious to know what its effect would be on humans.
Dr. Schnabel began mixing the dried wholefood wheatgrass powder with the milk that his children drank. During the next winter, they had no colds or sickness and were the picture of health. He continued to give dehydrated wheatgrass to his family after that. In 2012 Dr. Schnabel's daughter, Emily Sloan, and two of his grandchildren visted Dr. Schnabel's laboratory that is still in use at Pines. She reported that her father made sure all his children took their wheatgrass every day. An octogenarian, Ms. Sloan is still very healthy and uses Pines Wheat Grass, which is grown, harvested, dried and packaged in the same way as the Cerophyl product her father produced as the world's first multi-vitamin.
Ms. Sloan explained that her father's study with chickens were ones that her family had in their back yard. The incredible results in egg production caused Dr. Schnabel to realize that he had found a new course of study in his professional life, but first he needed to develop a dehydration method that could produce a larger quantity of dehydrated wheatgrass and other cereal grasses. With the help of investors, he built a laboratory and dehydration facility at Midland, Kansas. After exploring various existing drying methods, Dr. Schnabel developed a low-temperature drying process that quickly removed the moisture from fresh wheatgrass in a rotating drum. The temperature of the wheatgrass powder coming out of his dehydrator was the same temperature of the surrounding air.
Although the original dehydrator has long since been replaced several times, Pines International owns the facility and Schnabel’s original laboratory. The drying process developed by Dr. Schnabel is still being used by Pines but is greatly improved. It is a computer controlled to insure the highest quality, but the basic drying principles are the same.
With the development of his low-temperature drying process, Schnabel now had ample amounts of dehydrated cereal grass to provide to other laboratories for their research. As new vitamins were discovered and isolated, Dr. Schnabel and other respected scientists from all over the world, such as Dr. George Kohler, Dr. G.A. Emerson and Dr. C. Von Wendt, carefully measured the vitamin content of dehydrated cereal grasses. Other scientists as far away as South Africa and Russia also were studying these grasses, but it was Dr. Charles Schnabel and his team of scientists who focused the most attention on wheatgrass and other cereal grasses.
Dr. Schnabel and the other scientists tested cereal grasses at various stages of growth. They tested them in the fall, several weeks after germination. They also tested them in the spring on a daily basis up to and after the “jointing stage.” With each nutrient, the concentration increased each day until the jointing stage and then rapidly dropped off.
The jointing stage is when the almost microscopic grain ovule begins its journey, moving up from the roots inside a developing stalk. It is fed in that journey and grows in size due to the nutrients stored in the cereal grasses. The scientists learned that after jointing, the stored vegetable nutrients in cereal grasses support the rapidly-developing ovule as it makes carbohydrates and various proteins associated with the grain. Because the concentrated vegetable components of the cereal grasses are being used in the development of the grain, the nutritional level of the grass quickly drops. Within a few weeks, all the nutrition that was stored in the young cereal grass has gone to help produce the grain.
The nutritional spectrum of the cereal grains such as wheat is much different than the nutritional spectrum of wheatgrass. Wheatgrass, if harvested above the joint, is a dark green, leafy vegetable that contains no gluten. Wheatgrass and other cereal grasses have basically the same nutritional composition as any other dark green vegetable but in much greater concentration.
The scientists also found no significant nutritional difference between the young grasses of wheat, barley and rye, but each grass followed the same pattern of increasing nutrient levels up to the jointing stage followed by a rapid decline in nutrients as the grain developed inside the stalk.
The scientists did find significant differences in where the cereal grass was grown. They tested wheatgrass grown in various locations in Kansas and in other wheat-producing states. There was no location found to produce as high of quality of cereal grass as northeastern Kansas. The reason the soils are so special in this one area of Kansas compared to any other area is the last major glacier stopped there. It had traveled thousands of miles like a bulldozer churning up minerals and pushing rich top soil toward Kansas. When it stopped in northeastern Kansas. all the fertile topsoil and minerals it had collected were dropped off in what the geologists call “loess.” Thick deposits of loess, more than a hundred feet thick were left behind in northeastern Kansas when the glacier receded. Over thousands of years, the mineral-rich, fertile topsoil from the loess filled the valleys of northeastern Kansas and made the farmland there among the richest and most fertile in the world.
Dr. Schnabel and the other scientists discovered that the concentration of nutrients as cereal grass approaches the jointing stage is the highest of any dark green leafy vegetable. It is so high, that Dr. Schnabel rounded up investors to commercially produce dehydrated cereal grass as the "world’s first multi-vitamin." It was sold under the name Cerophyl. The label said, “Cerophyl contains one or more of the following cereal grasses: wheat, barley, rye and oats.” This left the company open to blend any combination of cereal grass; however, in general Cerophyl was primarily wheatgrass.
Through their analysis, the scientists determined that 20 cereal grass tablets, grown in the glacial soils of northeastern Kansas and harvested just prior to the jointing stage, were equal to what was considered to be the minimum daily requirement of all the known vitamins and most of the minerals.
The timing for the new product was perfect. The public had been following with great interest the discovery of each new vitamin and were clamoring for a convenient and economical way to increase the vitamins in their diets. The sale of Cerophyl tablets took off like a shot. Soon, nearly every pharmacy in the United States and in several other countries stocked Cerophyl on their shelves. Medical doctors routinely prescribed Cerophyl as medical journals reported research findings in studies using Cerophyl. The research indicated all sorts of positive results when Cerophyl was added to the diet.
The blood building components and the high folic acid content caused many gynecologists to prescribe Cerophyl for pregnant women. One published study showed that young girls had less bleeding during their menstrual cycles after including Cerophyl tablets in their diets. Studies on secondary anemia showed similar results. Medical journals published studies by gynecologists, opthamologists, dentists and other medical professionals in various fields documented positive research results by adding Cerophyl to their patients’ diets.
At the same time as all the human research was going on with Cerophyl, the animal research with “unjointed dehydrated cereal grass” continued. Just as gynecologists found that human mothers gave more milk and richer milk with cereal grass tablets in their diets, animal feeds researchers found that adding only a small percentage of dehydrated cereal grass (usually about 6%) to the ration of hogs, horses, cows, sheep and goats produced the same kinds of results: more milk, richer milk, healthier babies and less infant mortality.
By 1939, the research and documentation of Cerophyl had become so impressive that the American Medical Association published a statement in the Journal of the American Medical Association accepting dehydrated cereal grass as a food.
Also in 1939, Dr. George Kohler and other scientists began guinea pig studies in which control groups were given foods like fresh carrots, spinach and other greens, which were known to have basically the same vitamins as cereal grass. The experimental groups were given the same diet as the control groups, but a small amount of dehydrated cereal grass was added to their diet. In every case, the addition of cereal grass caused the animals to grow faster, larger and show greater overall health as evidence by their fur, eyes and energy levels.
The scientists were mystified. They referred to this phenomenon as “the unidentified vitamins of cereal grass.” It was also known as the “grass juice factor.” To this day, scientists have yet to determine what cereal grass contains that other vegetable do not contain. Some have speculated that it is abscisic acid or other compounds associated with the growth and reproductive nature of cereal grass. Abscisic acid is present in dehydrated outdoor grown cereal grass when it is grown in cold weather. It is believed that abscisic acid is what slows the growth of cereal grass during cool weather and is the reason wheatgrass that has grown for 200 days through the winter is still shorter than wheatgrass grown indoors for ten days. Some scientists have speculated that since the abscisic acid slows the growth of the cereal grass plant, it might be effective in slowing the growth of tumors, but research has yet to demonstrate it.
Whatever it is that wheatgrass has (besides extremely high nutritional density) that other vegetables do not have, the research on the grass juice factor did not prevent the loss of market for Cerophyl when one-a-day pills made of synthetic vitamins began to appear in the late 1940s. Cerophyl, the world’s first multi-vitamin, started to go out of style. This was a time when “natural” was not in the consciousness. In fact, it was a time when people celebrated “the miracles of modern science.” At last, you no longer need to take 20 tablets a day for your vitamins and minerals. Now, you could take just one.
One-A-Day pills proved disastrous for Cerophyl. The company saw its market share drop very quickly. The company tried to offset the problem by producing a product called “Viet” (rhymes with “try it”). Viet was dehydrated cereal grass in a tablet form that was fortified with synthetic vitamins. You could now get your vitamins by taking just 4 Viet tablets rather than 20 Cerophyl tablets. Viet was unsuccessful in competing with One-A-Day and other synthetic vitamins.
Cerophyl, however, continued to have a limited-but-slowly-declining market because many people still depended on it not just for its vitamins and minerals. They also recognized that it was an important roughage that helped keep them "regular."
But slowly, over time, as enthusiastic Cerophyl customers grew old and passed away, the market became even smaller until all that was left of Cerophyl was a filing cabinet, some literature and a few cases of the product in the office of another company. This company kept a list of active customers. It included several hundred direct retail customers and a few remaining pharmacies that still sold the product. To supply these customers, they kept an inventory of dehydrated wheatgrass in frozen cold storage and would draw on it whenever they needed a production company to make more bottles of tablets and powder.
Besides the remaining pharmacies, several University laboratories still ordered the Cerophyl powder. It was being used as a growing media for one celled animals and for probiotics, including various strains of lactobacillus. These labs found that dehydrated cereal grass with it high nutrient content and excellent vegetable fiber was a perfect media for growing these friendly bacteria that are essential for good digestion in humans.
In 1975, Pines’ co-founder and president, Ron Seibold worked in the office that stored the remains of Cerophyl. He spent months studying cereal grass research and the sales history of Cerophyl and Viet. He began to take Cerophyl tablets himself and noticed an immediate increase in energy, better bowel movements and a noticeable improvement in his skin.
Ron grew up on a farm and already knew the strong health effect of wheatgrass in the spring after a winter of slow growth. His father and other farmers in northeastern Kansas pastured their cattle on wheatgrass in the spring prior to the jointing stage. It was common knowledge that wheatgrass would bring health to sick animals and increase their milk production. Ron had instinctively chewed the leaves of wheatgrass in the spring as a boy and remembered the rush of energy he had felt.
With that knowledge and experience, Ron eagerly set about reading all published research in medical journals that had used Cerophyl in their studies. He also read the massive testimonial file. The testimonial file only went back only 20 years, but it weighed more than ten pounds. It took Ron weeks to go through all the letters. He was amazed at how many people had taken the time to write letters praising the product. Many had overcome serious health problems and believed Cerophyl had been responsible.
After reviewing all that research and testimonials, Ron wanted to establish a company to reintroduce dehydrated wheatgrass, not as a vitamin, but as a convenient and economical dark green, leafy vegetable. He met Steve Malone in Hays, Kansas in 1976, and the two men promised each other they would commit to the vision and make the new company a reality. Rather than approaching big investors or banks, Steve, who was a lifelong resident of Hays, lined up most of the investors. The two men convinced more than 200 people to invest an average of $200 each in the entities that merged into Pines International. Their vision was more than just marketing wheatgrass. They wanted to promote the American free enterprise spirit. The year 1976 was the bicentennial for America. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, many were disillusioned with the American system. Ron and Steve wanted to prove that the pure spirit of free enterprise and economic democracy were still alive in America.
They also wanted Pines to be known as an honest company with integrity that cared about improving the health of people. They wanted Pines to be a company that also cared about its employees and cared about the future of the planet. A part of their dream was to discourage further loss of America’s farmland by converting as much of it as possible into organic agriculture.
They believed in the power of the common people to pool their meager resources and build an international company that would stand the test of time. They chose the name “Pines” in recognition that the Pine tree as an internationally-recognized symbol of the peace that exists in nature. The investors, employees, customers and everyone associated with Pines International were like trees in a pine forest. It is often said, “One pine tree does not a forest make.” And it is also often said, “In a forest, each pine tree grows tall to keep out of each other’s shadows.” Each of us is unique, but we are all part of greater efforts that grow strong not because of one individual but because of the cooperative effort of all the individuals involved. It seemed the perfect analogy of the philosophy that had drawn so many people together into Pines International.
Steve and Ron started the company with $8,000 in cash from some of the original stockholders. The rest of the original stockholders were issued stock in return for services. The employees were paid in stock. The farmer and dehydration company also received stock instead of money.
After the first harvest, Steve and Ron hit the road with their message that Pines Wheat Grass is an economical and convenient way to get more vegetable nutrition and fiber in your diet. The office was shut down and moved to the home of two stockholders who, on a voluntary basis, took care of shipping the orders and answering the mail and phone.
Meanwhile, it was up to Steve and Ron to develop a market for the new product. They stayed at campgrounds at night and used campground showers and bathrooms to prepare for spreading their message during the day. At first, they tried to market Pines Wheat Grass as a multi-level product patterned after Amway. After a two weeks of hard work, it was clear that their business plan was progressing too slowly. Bills for harvesting supplies, cold storage, tableting, bottling and shipping were soon going to be delinquent. Steve and Ron had to change plans.
On a whim, they stopped into a health food store in Denver. The store owner bought six bottles of Pines Wheat Grass. Their next stop was at original Vitamin Cottage in Lakewood, Colorado. There the owner, Margaret Isley, befriended the pair and gave them valuable information about the Natural Food Industry. Further, she purchase 24 bottles!
The men were very inspired by Ms. Isley, who went on to become one of the great leaders of the Natural Foods Industry. Her family now owns a nearly 100 Natural Grocers throughout the United States. After Ms. Isley's education, Steve and Ron then started going from store to store in Denver. Most stores had not heard of wheatgrass, but they could understand Steve and Ron’s message about eating more dark green, leafy vegetables and fiber. After only a few days, the pair had sold enough Pines Wheat Grass to enough Denver area stores that they were able to convince a Natural Foods distributor in Colorado to carry Pines Wheat Grass and to continue to supply the stores.
Ron and Steve repeated that pattern throughout the United States during the next eight months. They were in on the ground floor of many developments in the emerging Natural Foods Industry. For example, they sold to each of the original stores that merged to became Whole Foods Markets. Pines Wheat Grass was the first product in what became "the green food section" of Whole Foods and other Natural Food Stores. When Steve and Ron were finished with their original travels in 1977, Pines Wheat Grass was being sold in more than 2,000 stores in the 35 states they had visited.
Steve and Ron began to hear that some people were growing wheatgrass in about 10 days indoors. Because they knew how wheatgrass was supposed to grow, they immediately realized that this was not a natural way to grow wheatgrass. Although people were achieving similar results that Dr. Schnabel had documented, growing wheatgrass in a tray indoors causes it to grow 20 times faster than it grows in nature. Another unnatural practice is putting the seeds right next to each other.
This unnatural way of growing wheatgrass was being “supported” by the research conducted by Dr. Schnabel, other scientists and medical doctors. Of course, these scientists used Cerophyl, which was grown outdoors during the winter in freezing temperatures and harvested in the spring when it was still not much taller than tray grown, but much darker green.
For nearly four decades, Steve and Ron has sought to make it clear that, although tray wheatgrass contains some of the benefits of true wheatgrass, Pines Wheat Grass is grown and harvested in the manner used for the research, whih was outdoor in freezing winter temperatures in northeastern Kansas, not in a tray.
Steve and Ron have sought to distance Pines Wheat Grass from tray-grown indoor wheatgrass because Pines Wheat Grass is a food, not a medicine. Because the FDA cannot regulate what is said in a book, some of the health claims that are made about tray wheatgrass are not allowed for a food product. All Steve and Ron have ever said regarding the amazing results people had had for more than 80 years with wheatgrass (even the pale tray-grown variety) is this: "The Standard American Diet (SAD) is very deficient in green food nutrients. Because of that, when people take Pines Wheat Grass or a even a shot of the weaker tray-grown juice, amazing things often happened because people are finally getting the kind of nutrition that their bodies have been craving."
The company was located in Hays for the first three years. Pines had been outsourcing everything including farming, dehydration and tablet making. The company had depended on another company for bottling until they returned from their travels. After that, they filled the bottles in Hays but still had to ship the dehydrated wheatgrass off to Nevada to have it made into tablets before being shipped back to Hays.
Steve and Ron had developed a business plan that showed that the company could start making a profit if it had its own equipment. They approached bankers in Hays, but Hays is in Western Kansas, where the economics are based on cattle and oil. None of the bankers in Hays were interested, but they did find a bank on the other side of the state in Lawrence that would work with the company to obtain a small business loan. After receiving the loan, Steve and Ron moved their bottling equipment to Lawrence late in 1979, purchased a building, tableting equipment, and a much-needed tablet counting machine.
The men had forgotten that Cerophyl had been located near Lawrence. In 1984, Steve and Ron were looking for a place to put a new piece of equipment. They found themselves at an old alfalfa processing plant outside of Lawrence at Midland that had been shut down a few years before. As they toured the buildings, Steve saw an old black and white picture on the wall with the word, “Cerophyl Laboratories.” Both men nearly screamed with joy. They were standing in the same building that contained an actual laboratory Dr. Schnabel had used. “Yes,” the owner said, “The plant used to be owned by Cerophyl laboratories and was used to dehydrate wheatgrass!” The men purchased this historic facility, including the laboratory where Dr. Schnabel had done some of his research.
Nearly thirty years later, Pines obtained the Cerophyl trademark in 2012. The company was honored to be able dedicate a new company sign with the Cerophyl logo and a sign in front of Dr. Schnabel's laboratory, honoring his work. Dr. Schnabel's daughter, Emily Schnabel Sloan, and two of her children were present for the dedication.
In 1987, Ron and Steve obtained another small business loan and built a new building at Midland and moved their offices, tableting and bottling facilities there. With the market for Pines Wheat Grass taking off in Asia and increased sales in the United States, the company built a second new building in 1991.
Today, the two men, the 200 shareholders and all the employees are fulfilling the vision that began in 1976. So far, more than 2,000 acres of farmland has been converted to organic farming, millions of people have benefited from Pines Wheat Grass and now hundreds of companies worldwide have used Pines' marketing ideas and are selling green food products. Pines has donated several million dollars worth of wheatgrass to feeding programs for malnourished people in the United States and around the world. Through its foundation, the company has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to environmental and organic farming causes and organizations.
After nearly 40 years, the two men still promote the same message of the importance of increasing the amount of green food nutrition in our diets. They are flattered when Pines' competitors use nearly the exact same phrases that Steve and Ron developed many years before. Regardless of how they word it, all those marketing cereal grass are basically saying what Ron and Steve first said in 1976: “Eat more green!”