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Tapping into Tradition: Exploring the Timeless Wisdom of Polyculture Farming

June 26, 2024

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Tapping into Tradition: Exploring the Timeless Wisdom of Polyculture Farming

The Power of Plants as Allies

Are you interested in plant medicine? I have leaned on the power of plants to heal from illness, improve my overall health, and support me through mental and emotional upsets during the recent years. When I began my permaculture journey, I simply wanted to have access to organic produce fresh from my garden. From there, I quickly realized how broad Permaculture as a design system truly 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 goals. So if your intention is to create a garden that supports your health and wellbeing, medicinal plants become your allies. I am honored to bring these two important themes and practices together in a podcast segment for The Elder Tree.

The Elder Tree: Grassroots Herbal Education and Earth Skills

This article explores The Elder Tree, a not-for-profit non-government organization 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 be based 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. Listen to my Introduction to Permaculture Herbalism segment here.

Permaculture-Herbalism: An Integrated Approach

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 emphasize 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.

Our Medicines, Our Responsibility

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.

Firstly, with Permaculture, it asks us to value small-scale polyculture production and to localize food and medicine systems. We look to the plants that are endemic to where we live and learn from those plants first. For example, 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 Roundup. Forests could be cut down to clear the way for Echinacea. Over-harvesting of Palo Santo is already happening. Otherwise, without Permaculture, 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.

The Perils of Corporate Control

The source of the problem is that these entities are primarily profit-driven, which can lead to prioritizing 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 cannot compete with bulk-buy mass-produced medicines.

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.

There is also limited research on the efficacy and safety of herbal remedies, as pharmaceutical companies tend to invest heavily in research and development for synthetic drugs, often because they can patent these products. Herbal remedies, on the other hand, are derived from natural sources that cannot be patented, so there is often limited funding and incentive for rigorous scientific research.

Additionally, 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.

Home Herbalism: Empowering Self-Care

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 allows 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 is the practice of incorporating herbal remedies into your daily life to support overall vitality and address various concerns. 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 t

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