My husband is currently studying permaculture, which means that every aspect of our lives is currently being assessed for how sustainable it is. The term permaculture comes from the words permanent and culture and it is a philosophy and design process that is inspired by natural ecosystems, which are more sustainable than the systems that modern life has been built on. The desired end point being a system that is not dependent on fossil fuels, and works efficiently with the minimum amount of maintenance work necessary.
As a herbalist, I have found it really interesting to think about how sustainable it is to use herbs for healthcare. While modern medicine is completely dependent on fossil fuels for the production and transportation of pharmaceutical drugs, herbal medicines can be wild-harvested, or grown in private or community gardens. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. Many of us herbalists in the West have appropriated particularly useful herbs from the East, and while some can be cultivated here, it is hard or impossible to grow others and these are shipped in from abroad. I’d like to spend more time trying to find local herbs that can fill the shoes (or roots!) of some I depend on from China or India, but can’t grow here. It is more rewarding to grow herbs yourself rather than buying them from a wholesale company, it enables you to get to know the plants much better and encourages you out into nature, which is good for the soul.
Another aspect of herbal medicine that contributes to its sustainability and lives up to permaculture principles is its holistic approach to health – permaculture takes in every aspect of a system, and herbalism addresses the person as a whole. All aspects of a person’s life and wellbeing are assessed, including emotional wellbeing, lifestyle and diet. As many of these factors can contribute to good or ill health, addressing them is essential to achieving wellness. The herbs help to gently coax the body into better balance, while easing symptoms and supporting people as they work out how to live their life in the best way for them.
Many herbalists are interested in sustainability and permaculture and I can see why, there’s a natural connection.