What is Permaculture Herbalism?Aug 14, 2023
Are you interested in plant medicine?
I have leaned on the power of plants to heal from illness, improve my overall health and during the recent years, to support me through mental and emotional upsets.
When I began my permaculture journey, I simply wanted to have access to organic produce, fresh from my garden. From there, I quickly realised how broad Permaculture as a design system truely is and that living a permaculture lifestyle means being in relationship with plants.
Many plants! For all their ecosystem services and uses. We design them into landscapes to meet the end goal...so if your intention is to create a garden that supports your health and wellbeing...medicinal plants become your allies!
I am honoured to bring these two important themes and practices together, in a podcast segment for The Elder Tree.
This article explores;
- The Elder Tree
- What is Permaculture Herbalism
- Medicine Without Permaculture
- Home Herbalism
- Kitchen Witching
THE ELDER TREE
Let's start here. Beyond the podcast (top 25) and the Patreon Trove for members, The Elder Tree is a not-for-profit non-government organisation with a core vision to empower people through grassroots herbal education and earth skills, to make holistic healthcare available to everyone, and to secure the future availability of herbal medicine in Australia.
The vision is to put medicine into the hands of people, with an educational centre and healing sanctuary in the Tablelands region of Far North Queensland. This will base on an integrated permaculture design with opportunities to learn grassroots at-home healing, organic food production, design and bush skills, including wildcrafting. It will be a healing and retreat space, as a venue for related workshops and courses and clinic rooms for qualified practitioners to provide allied services.
You can learn more about ways to be involved and stay in touch with the evolution of The Elder Tree here www.theeldertree.org
(Image: my path to abundance. I walk past medicinal and culinary herbs and vegetables to get to my front door.)
SO WHAT IS PERMACULTURE HERBALISM?
Permaculture-Herbalism is the practice of using permaculture principles and techniques to grow and use medicinal herbs sustainably and regeneratively. It combines permaculture design principles with traditional herbalism knowledge to create a holistic approach to gardening, health, and ecology.
If you are new to this concept, Permaculture principles emphasise working with nature, rather than against it, to create self-sustaining and resilient ecosystems. This includes designing landscapes that are diverse, productive, and sustainable and that support the health and well-being of all living organisms.
Herbalism, however, is the study and practice of using plants for medicinal purposes, otherwise known as herbal medicine. It is the age-old practice of using plants for their therapeutic properties and is a holistic approach to health that draws on the wisdom of traditional knowledge and the science of plant chemistry to create natural remedies that nurture the body, mind, and spirit. Herbalists understand the properties and uses of different herbs and how to prepare and administer them safely and effectively.
So, Permaculture-Herbalism brings these two practices together to create a system of growing and using medicinal plants that are grounded in ecological principles and traditional knowledge. This may involve creating herbal gardens or incorporating herbs into existing permaculture systems, using companion planting and natural pest control methods, and making herbal preparations like teas, tinctures, and salves - as a DIY home herbalist. In fact, there is plenty of recipes and information for using herbs safely.
MEDICINE WITHOUT PERMACULTURE
Our medicines can be grown in ways that either care for the earth, people and for accessibility to all - or not. Let's discuss what it looks like with and without Permaculture.
...Permaculture asks us to value small-scale polyculture production and to localise food and medicine systems. We look to the plants that are endemic to where we live and learn from those plants first. For e.g. I can't grow Echinacea in my tropical climate, however I can grow Elderberry, Andrographis and Davidson Plum. These three plants are my cold/flu season medicines - fresh from my garden!
As a global movement of gardeners and community gardens, the seeds and plant stock are in the hands of many...growing, trading, sharing and learning directly with them. This is how we can be in relation with, to have plants as allies, right outside our doors. Free and in reciprocal in nature.
Alternatively, medicinal plants could be grown with chemicals in a monoculture. Chamomile could be sprayed with round up. Forests could be cut down to clear the way for Echinacea. Over-harvesting of Palo Santo is already happening.
Otherwise, without, we are supplied by Big pharma, Monsanto, Bayer and the likes...
...the concerns surrounding big pharmaceutical companies, along with corporations like Monsanto and Bayer, in the context of herbal medicine production stem from a complex interplay of factors related to health, environment, ethics, and sustainability.
Here's an overview of why these entities are often criticised in the realm of herbal medicine:
Profit-Driven Motives: Big pharmaceutical companies are primarily profit-driven entities. Their focus on maximising revenue can lead to prioritising financial gains over holistic health and well-being. This approach can sometimes overshadow the potential benefits of natural, plant-based remedies that herbal medicine offers. The cost of quality small batch medicines by community members can not compete with bulk-buy mass produced medicines.
Synthetic Drugs vs. Natural Remedies: The pharmaceutical industry often produces synthetic drugs that are designed to target specific symptoms or conditions. This approach can lead to a focus on treating symptoms rather than addressing underlying causes. In contrast, herbal medicine advocates for holistic healing by considering the whole person and the root causes of health issues.
Limited Research on Herbal Remedies: Pharmaceutical companies tend to invest heavily in research and development for synthetic drugs, often because they can patent these products. However, herbal remedies are often derived from natural sources that cannot be patented. As a result, there is often limited funding and incentive for rigorous scientific research on the efficacy and safety of herbal treatments.
Environmental Concerns: Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) has been at the center of controversies regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the production of herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup). GMO crops can potentially contaminate natural plant varieties and disrupt ecosystems. Herbicide use can also have detrimental effects on soil health, water quality, and biodiversity.
Loss of Biodiversity: Companies like Monsanto and Bayer have been involved in the development and promotion of genetically modified crops that can lead to a reduction in biodiversity. This can have negative implications for the availability of diverse plant species used in herbal medicine and disrupt traditional healing practices. They aim to own and patent seeds.
Corporate Control: The consolidation of these corporations' power in the agricultural and pharmaceutical sectors can limit competition and control over the availability of seeds, crops, and herbal remedies. This can impact small-scale herbalists, traditional healers, and local communities that rely on them for their well-being.
Ethical Concerns: The practices of some big pharmaceutical companies have raised ethical concerns, such as marketing strategies that may downplay risks or promote overuse of certain drugs. In contrast, herbal medicine tends to promote a more natural and holistic approach to health.
Focus on Chronic Conditions: Pharmaceutical companies often invest heavily in drugs for chronic conditions, which can be more lucrative due to recurring sales. Herbal medicine, on the other hand, often emphasises prevention and supporting the body's natural healing processes.
With these points in mind, I believe the biggest concern is the loss of traditional wisdom within the go-to home-grown medicinal gardens or consultation with herbal practitioners.
If you have listened into The Elder Tree podcast, there is an ongoing conversation of concern from the qualified practitioners and educators about the disconnection between plants and the clinical training. Most will graduate with the ability to write scripts and dispense bottled herbs, shipped in by order, but not actually know what the plant looks, feels, smells or tastes like in its raw form. Whilst this still has merit and can help people, there is a real resurgence in plant connection. To simplify and come back to basics - using the 'whole' plant or simple preparations regularly. To live a lifestyle that incorporates plant use regularly for health and as a preventative for common lifestyle illnesses.
(Image: Preparing fresh herbs and spices chopped from my garden).
Home herbalism is where the wonders of nature converge with the art of healing within the comfort of your own garden and home. It is an empowering practice that empowers you to harness the therapeutic properties of plants as allies to support well-being, promote balance, and cultivate a deeper connection with the natural world.
At the Heart of Home Herbalism
At its essence, home herbalism is about taking charge of your health and well-being using the gifts that nature provides. It's the practice of incorporating herbal remedies into your daily life to supporting overall vitality and address various concerns.
The Power of the Plant Allies
Plants have been our allies for centuries, offering a rich array of compounds that interact with our bodies to promote wellness. Home herbalism taps into this innate relationship, allowing you to create your own herbal apothecary filled with teas, tinctures, salves, and more. When exploring herbal remedies, it's essential to seek information from reputable sources and engage in critical thinking about the potential benefits and risks.
Bridging Tradition and Modern Living
While rooted in ancient wisdom, home herbalism seamlessly integrates with modern lifestyles. It's about striking a balance between honoured traditions and contemporary understanding. As you explore the world of herbs, you'll find that many traditional remedies have been validated by scientific research, lending credibility to their effectiveness.
Your Personal Herbal Sanctuary
Home herbalism invites you to create a haven of well-being within your landscape and living space. This may look like a herb spiral or dedicated medicine gardens in and around your home, or a windowsill filled with potted herbs, a shelf adorned with bottles, and a cupboard stocked with dried leaves and flowers. A pestle and mortar, dehydrator and bee's wax are often close by. Each element becomes a piece of your holistic toolkit, ready to support you on your journey to wellness.
Exploring Herbal Remedies
Common and simple remedies can include:
Herbal Teas and Elixirs: Sipping on herbal teas is a soothing way to experience the benefits of plants. From calming chamomile to invigorating peppermint, there's a tea for every mood. Drinks like Jamu (ginger, turmeric and citrus) or golden milk (turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, milk) are common health elixirs.
Tinctures: Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts preserved in alcohol or glycerin. A few drops can have a potent impact on your well-being.
Salves and Balms: Herbal salves and balms are perfect for external applications, offering relief to skin discomforts and muscle tension.
Infused Oils: Infused oils capture the essence of herbs and are often used as a base for massage oils, skincare products, and more.
The Empowerment of Self-Care
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of home herbalism is the empowerment it brings. You become your own healer, equipped with the knowledge to address everyday concerns and nurture your body's innate ability to heal. Whether you're seeking a more natural approach to wellness, looking to deepen your connection with the natural world, or simply curious about the magic of plants, home herbalism is an invitation.
(Image: My ready to use combo for medicinal cooking. Ginger, Turmeric, Garlic, Lemon, Chilli and Pepper paste for inflammatory, anti-fungal, immune boosting and helps with circulation).
Once you discover the joy of tending to your own herbal garden, creating remedies, and embracing the timeless wisdom of nature, and make friends/allies with plants, I believe kitchen witchery naturally unfolds. With a Permaculture perspective on life and herbalism knowledge, there become a way in which one engages in growing, preparing, cooking and healing that is magical, and here is why:
- Sustainability and Connection to Nature: In permaculture herbalism, the focus is on creating a sustainable and regenerative relationship with the Earth. Kitchen witches who embrace this perspective pay close attention to sourcing ingredients in ways that honour the environment. They cultivate their own herbs, fruits, and vegetables using permaculture principles, emphasising practices such as companion planting, composting, and water conservation. This connection to the land and the cycles of nature deepens the magical and energetic connection they establish with the ingredients.
- Ingredient Intention and Energetics: From a permaculture herbalism standpoint, ingredient selection goes beyond magical correspondences; it encompasses the ecological impact of cultivation and harvesting. Kitchen witches consider the energetics of plants, their impact on local ecosystems, and their potential for regeneration. They may choose to use plants that are abundant in their region, focusing on native species and those that support pollinators and wildlife. This aligns with the permaculture principle of "obtain a yield" while also respecting the environment.
- Regenerative Cooking Rituals: Cooking rituals in permaculture-inspired kitchens are rooted in the concept of regeneration. Just as permaculture seeks to improve and restore ecosystems, these kitchen witches aim to restore health and vitality through food. The cooking rituals might involve practices like fermenting, sprouting, and preserving, which enhance the nutritional value of ingredients while aligning with permaculture's emphasis on energy efficiency and waste reduction.
- Seasonal and Local Wisdom: Permaculture herbalism is attuned to seasonal cycles and local ecosystems. Kitchen witches practicing from this perspective gather inspiration from the natural rhythms of their environment, which means aligning magical recipes with the seasons, using ingredients that are in harmony with the current time of year. This approach supports the sustainability of local ecosystems while enhancing the magical potency of their work.
- Whole-System Healing: One of the key aspects of permaculture is to consider the whole system and its interconnectedness. In kitchen witchery, this translates to viewing food not only as sustenance but as a vehicle for holistic healing. Therefore, kitchen witches infuse cooking with intentions of restoring balance not only within individuals but also within the broader context of the environment and community.
In other words, by aligning kitchen activities with the principles of permaculture and herbalism, we create a transformative culinary experience that nurtures the body, soul, and the Earth itself!
Ok, I hope you got some clarity and food for thought from reading this article. If you want to find out more about the inspiring people I have interviewed on my podcast segment and learn much more about this topic, visit my podcast page.