Permaculture is a practice and philosophy that is being used by people from many different walks of life. Gardener, landscape designer, and community activist: all have found inspiration in this practice. Although this system was originally designed for agriculture, its principles can be applied to nearly any topic.

Punta Mona 

I would like to share my own exploration of Permaculture from the seat of my new living classroom, an 85-acre sustainable farm on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. I am here, as an herbalist, because I want to learn about the tropical medicinal plants I’ve always felt a strong connection to and be a part of a working botanical educational center. However, my true motivation resides with my longing to live a more sustainable and vital life in nature.

The Wonders of Bamboo!

So what is Permaculture? The philosophy was developed in the 1970s in Australia by Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren. The term combines the words permanent and culture or permanent and agriculture. In his career as a wildlife biologist Bill observed the human destruction of natural eco-systems and thought there could be a system that embraces the idea of “working with rather than against nature.” Bill wrote, “We are not superior to other life-forms; all living things are an expression of life. If we could see that truth, we could see everything we do to other life-forms we also do to ourselves.”

It Begins with the Children

There are 12 principles generally adhered to in the practice of Permaculture and through this series I will briefly extrapolate and view them through the lens of holistic health, my favorite topic. As we view each principle allow yourself to consider where else you may apply these ideas and what other patterns you may see as well. For example, notice how the number 12 relates to many sacred systems and philosophies. I have provided a figure below for a visual reference of the 12 principles.


The 12 Principles of Permaculture

Observe and Interact

This key principle of Permaculture is the observation of the patterns in nature and the interaction with the elements. In gardening it’s about how to use “the landscape as your textbook” by seeing how all the systems function together; one literally “mimicks” Nature in the design of the garden. I see this as a beautiful correlation with the underlying ethic of holistic healing: observing the macrocosm of health and being aware of how the vitality of every internal system relies on the vitality of the whole organism. In the presence of dis-ease, observing all systems and understanding what elements and constitutions are present is essential to understanding how to help rebalance health. In Herbalism this could refer to the use of the whole plant, and the dynamics of how all of the constituents function and can be used in the body. Or it may refer to the symbiosis of body, mind, and spirit, how there can be no separation of the interrelating systems and how to support a healthy internal environment.

Punta Mona GreenHouse

How the principle of “Observe and Interact” then upholds the basis of working with the other principals, we will explore as we continue on our journey…

By Katie Browning, Clinical Herbalist