What can Ayurveda teach the field of permaculture?
Being immersed in the worlds of Ayurveda and permaculture, I feel that these two knowledge systems can benefit from one another immensely. So, today, I would like to point out a problem that these two systems can solve for each other.
Ayurveda is a traditional medicine which relies on naturally grown substances harvested from the environment. The main reason for that is because Ayurveda is a traditional medicine over five thousand years old and we didn’t have chemical factories at that time; hence Ayurvedic medicine could, can and is still being produced in the kitchen. Ayurvedic pharmaceutical producers also exist as well as Ayurvedic hospitals, which also use modern allopathic methods if needed. Ayurvedic medicine is concerned with both aspects of medicine: prevention and cure.
Permaculture is a design method involving people, plants, animals and the environment. It governs food production and is concerned with sustainability, whilst producing a yield. It also requires the individual to live closer to nature and to be aware of the environmentally destructive ways that mainstream food production has moved into since the mid-seventies. It is in a way getting back to the good old values of farming, whist applying new thought processes and design at the same time. It rejects chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and the pesticides used in modern-day monoculture.
The problem with modern agriculture and medicine arises from the mindset of “one solution fits all”; in agriculture, we are creating fields with one crop and drenching them in chemicals and in medicine, we treat the disease, regardless of the person who is having the disease. We need a new approach to many things in life as humanity has outgrown the one solution fits all approach; in education, in medicine, in agriculture and even in societal structure.
So, the field of Ayurveda – healing with nature – needs preserving, loving and saving by natural growers and permaculturalists, but here lies the problem:
Natural growers are not always aware of the medicinal power of weeds and hence view them as a problem.
I recently participated in a Facebook discussion where natural growers complained about weeds such as Cyprus Rotundus and Gokshura as being invasive. On the same day, I visited my local Ayurveda centre and found these herbs on the shelf in dried and powdered form.
Modern-day farming puts herbal effectiveness at risk. Growing methods have a profound impact on the effectiveness of herbs (as well as food). Monoculture, pesticide and herbicide use, degradation of soils and areas of wilderness put the entire field of traditional medicine under threat before we even have chance to universally embrace it.
Yet, the healing power of herbs is of utmost importance; allopathic medicine cannot stimulate a healing response from the body. The body needs to volunteer this in order for the medicine to be effective and absorbed to do the desired job. If we lose the ability to stimulate a healing response with our herbs, we have lost a lot!
Many Ayurvedic plant species are on the endangered list. They are potentially lost to us before the world has woken up to their benefits. Animal species becoming extinct is a news topic – take the recent example of the white rhino. And we are losing plants to extinction too! People who practise wild harvesting often rip out the roots and prevent new regrowth.
I can’t think of anybody other than natural growers who can be the stewards of medicinal weeds and herbs! If only they had knowledge of them. Maybe this is setting the bar too high and expecting a lot of those dedicated to saving our ability for self-sufficiency and resilience. But, in fact, they are the ONLY people who would be able to do it in a society where weed killer is available in the same supermarket that sells us food and drink.
All Ayurvedic medicine producers are located in India and there are more and more import restrictions on certain herbs or medicines. We do need producers in the western world who can make these medicines and also we need suppliers of the herbal material to these producers. There is a lot to learn in terms of herbal identification and preparation of medicines and hence permaculture may benefit from Ayurvedic pharmacopeia (herbal identification) and Rasa Shastra (herbal preparation).
Traditional medicine like Ayurveda and traditional growing methods like permaculture must work together in order to achieve their goals of preserving and promoting a more natural way of living and thereby saving humanity by teaching farmers, growers and permaculturalists the Ayurvedic way of growing – identifying the weeds as medicine.