Permaculture for the Herbalist’s Path a Whole System Perspective by Katryna Bell

IMG_7386I would like to express a deep gratitude for being able to be one of the first students to complete the first ever, Herbal PDC. It was a blessing to sit and discover the potential behind the vision of applying permaculture to health and wellness. Stephen Brooks was onto something when he said to us, “When I first began to learn permaculture the consistent thought of “DUH!” came through my mind. I wondered how are we even sitting here teaching this as if it isn’t obvious?” The same can be said for the new-found term herbaculture. How is it that we do not treat our health, on all levels, with the intent of creating a system of permanence. Don’t we want to live a long, healthy life in which we thrive within and outside ourselves?  The twenty-six individuals I was able to share this experience with and I certainly do, and if there is one thing we will all be able to take from this gift is the ability to explain the system of permanence through the design perspective, so that others will find themselves also thinking, “DUH!”.

By giving Sarah and Lala the trust and faith they were calling in, we allowed them to open our minds, expanding our ability to see the reality behind the statement, “The problem is the solution.” Each facilitator came to class with an understanding that the learning never stops. Through their interaction it went without noticing that with every class there was just as much to be learned as there was to be taught. They were each provided the opportunity to see how deeply the combination of these concepts could truly impact the world, simply by seeing the impact it had on our own thought process and course of discussion. 

Permaculture is a combination of the words permanence, the state or quality of something that last or remains unchanged indefinitely, and agriculture, the practice of cultivating soil, crops and animals to provide food and materials that can serve the basic needs of human existence. Herbaculture, is the combination of the words herbalism and permaculture. Herbalism being a term we have used to define the very broad practice of using plants as medicine, though they have always been, and always will be, the root to preventive health and recovery. However, in this course, Sarah and Lala went beyond working with the earth and plants to maintain health and wellness by taking on a holistic approach, incorporating a variety of practices that work with the soil, mind, body and spirit. 

With the understanding of these terms, and how they can be combined, it makes sense that one could apply a holistic agricultural philosophy to holistic wellness. The reality is, plants grow from soil, many of which are edible, and most, if not all, edible plants have medicinal qualities. Food is in fact medicine, and soil is the medicinal food that enables these plants and their qualities to thrive. If we are looking at ways to create a system of permanence when it comes to the ways in which we grow our food, tend to our soil, and live with the land, we are indirectly looking at a way to create a system of permanence in whole body wellness. 

Permaculture begins by looking at the macro, creating a design that enables you to apply slow and small solutions that eventually allow you to focus on the micro. Each step formulated in the design process is done so while honoring the four permaculture ethics: earth care, people care, fair share and future care. By honoring these ethics while applying the design, one eventually reaches a state where the work is less, and the yield is continuously more, and with that, there is excess which is able to be distributed where it is needed. The goal isn’t be sustainable, doing the bear minimum and generating enough to get by, but rather to build a platform that is indefinitely generating more than enough so that other’s now, and in the future, can be provided for.

In the PDC for the herbalists path, Sarah and Lala outlined how this philosophy, and these ethics, can be applied to holistic wellness on both a macro and micro level. When we are working with our lives and our bodies in a way that we are generating health, energy, and an abundance that is indefinite, we are generating excess yield of whatever it is we have to offer to other’s. Th8is excess yield allows us to co-exist in community where we can build a future that will allow those coming into the world to thrive in good health and abundance, with the knowledge necessary to maintain and excel in an already established system.

Currently, modern medicine is mostly practiced from a reductionist philosophy rather than a preventative philosophy. In this, the goal is to alleviate symptoms on a continuous basis without having to interrupt one’s life style or daily practice, only viewing the micro and not looking at the macro. The reality is, this simply does not work long-term, because the micro is a result of the macro and vice versa. Coming from a more holistic philosophy, we understand that all areas of our livelihood affect our health in a variety of ways, and we can easily see that a more preventative health philosophy is more adequate for long-term, successful results. 

The permaculture design can be said to be a preventative agricultural practice, with an understanding that change is natural, and rather than working against change we must adapt and value diversity, even when it comes to technological advances. The goal isn’t to go backwards in scientific discoveries, but rather use this knowledge to generate self-sufficient mechanisms that maintain through closed loop systems, lessoning the work and increasing the gains. Similarly, holistic healthcare isn’t a way of discrediting scientific findings or health centered advancements, but rather a way to incorporate all practices as needed, when needed, on a case to case basis. The goal is to treat the whole to ensure long-term results, while moving into more sufficient practices on a macro level that prevent future ailments.

The best example of how this course weaves the application of the permaculture design into health and wellness, is by looking at the five zones outlined in the design process. Zone zero is the most important of all, it is the area where the most energy is received and released from. Zone zero is the same whether it be outlined for permaculture or for the personal life. Zone zero is the self; mind, body and spirit. Zone one is where the most attention is needed to be given and where the most output is received. Zone two doesn’t necessarily need everyday attention, but weekly attention is required. Still important, but not needing consistent energy are areas that fall in zone three. The areas that only need attention annually fall under zone four, and zone five is vast, and simple. The areas in which we give no attention and take nothing directly from, fall into zone five, the unknown.

Outlining these zones creates a map that prioritizes time, energy, and available resources. With this map, one can observe, interact and document energy input and output. Through these observations the zones can be rearranged to allow more energy to be received where output is lacking, when needed, as well as display when certain aspects of one’s life or structure has reached a point of needing less energy, making space for new projects and hobbies. 

From a macro level you can look at zone one as being the home, domesticated animals, one’s lover, job, family and best friend’s. Zone two can be applied to areas such as compost and waste systems, close friends, social groups, counselors and clients. Zone three consist of crops such as grains or orchards, and in the personal life it’s one’s doctors, body workers or acquaintances. Food forest, timber and native species would fall into zone four, as well as one’s dentist or gynecologist, or something more technical like reviewing and filing taxes. Zone five is again the wild, that which we don’t associate with and do not know much about or need to directly work with.

Broken down even further into a more micro level, one can zone the body. The heart, brain and lungs being zone zero. Leaving all other organs falling under zone one, the muscular skeletal system as zone two, zone three being the nervous system, the skin as zone four and that which is outside the body as zone five. Or, you could zoom further in, applying zone zero to the whole body, emotional health to zone two, mental health to zone three, and the spiritual self to zone four leaving external life in zone five. No matter how far you zoom in, or out, these zones can be applied to evaluate where the most energy is needed to be put in to receive the highest overall yield for a life in which one can thrive. 

This earth has blessed us with all the tools we need to survive. The only work we truly have to do is to gather the tools and put them to use. However, our individual tool box isn’t, and shouldn’t be, limited to ourselves. There is importance to co-existing in community, and community doesn’t exclude non-human beings. In community we find support in the areas we are lacking an abundance of wealth, and I am not referring to monetary wealth alone. Sarah taught us that when we speak of wealth, we are speaking of healthy living, intellectual, experiential, cultural, material, societal, and spiritual wealth, as well as financial capital. With financial capital currently being seen as our main will to survive, we should be treating all aspects of our lives as that which generates such capital, considering that money alone does not generate the resources we need to wake each day to a life worth living.

As an herbal student and a permaculture enthusiast, with a strong interest in whole body wellness ranging from internal emotional and mental health, to diet and lifestyle, I cannot deny that when zooming in to the most micro one can get in the design process, you are looking at the longevity of health and wellness of each individual being involved. Which truly is everyone, and everything, that breathes life into everyday existence. As one of the other students said, “We are not working with nature, but instead we are nature working together.” When we tend the earth with care, generating a lasting system that allows excess yield to be produced, all creatures are cared for, and when all creatures are cared for, life is healthy, long, and lasting. This effort creates an abundance of resources for everyone, and when there is an indefinite abundance, the future is set to be cared for. In that, we are honoring the four permaculture ethics.

This course illuminates how necessary it is becoming to integrate with the diversity around us, rather than segregating as if we our independent beings that can survive solely on our own, or as if we can simply mimic and create that which we need, on a macro and micro level, without any long-term consequences. Thus far, this tactic has begun to drain the earth of the resources we need to survive, taking away from the overall health and longevity of our lives as individuals, and as a collective. It is time that we become increasingly selfishly selfless with both our lives and the future in mind, creating systems that regenerate the earth back to a state in which we are all provided with the resources we evolved through, so that our bodies can stop forcefully adapting to the rapid change we have exposed ourselves to, and instead find the balance we were meant to be born into.