While it’s no time to make light of the health predicaments humanity finds itself in, there are some very simple things we could be doing in our daily lives to keep us healthier. For me, many of them are tied to the permaculture lifestyle I adopted a few years ago. This is perhaps an aspect we often overlook about the practice: Permaculture is not only a way to live cooperatively with planet but also a way we ourselves can be much healthier.
At its most basic, a permaculture diet is a move towards organic produce (meat, eggs, and so on) and a shift away from processed foods. Beyond that, we have more nutrient dense food from healthier soils (or healthier animals) as opposed to industrial systems. Homegrown greens are more nutritious than the hydroponic stuff at the supermarket. Furthermore, never have I been so aware of what I’m eating as when growing it at home. It’s a wonderful feeling to eat meals and know they are providing real nutrition.
Of course, growing that food at home has also supplied lots of other health advantages. Like a permaculture design, it’s not just about getting food, but it’s the entire holistic approach of building and maintaining an environment that is beneficial for all. I’m outside more because of it. I’m more physically active and mentally stimulated because of it. My hands are in the soil, my lungs get to open up, and my face feels the sun warm it.
With all that in mind, let’s delve into how permaculture helps to build up our immune systems, and hopefully, because of it, we can celebrate our own good health as well as our friends and family.
Our immune systems start in our gut, and it relies on healthy bacteria. Though often marketed as coming in pill form, probiotics (these good bacteria) can come from fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kombucha, yoghurt, and so on. In permaculture, going back to Bill Mollison, fermenting is a common and promoted method of preserving food and staying healthy. In our home, my wife and I ferment sauerkraut, kombucha, oatmeal yogurt, sourdough bread, and hot sauce, and we’ve also done pickles and ginger beer.
Regular exercise helps our immune systems because it is beneficial—again holistically—to our overall health. When I was young, teens and twenties, I was a gym rat and a runner, so regular exercise has usually been a part of my lifestyle. However, when permaculture entered the scene, my entire approach shifted. I still get plenty of exercise, possibly more, but it is usually in the form of doing something more productive than lifting weights or running for forty-five minutes on a treadmill. Now, I shift wheelbarrows around, climb trees, split wood, walk the property, knead bread, plant crops, and on and on it goes. I can spend two hours a day maintaining a permaculture homestead and have absolutely no need for a gym membership.
Fruits, Veggies, Nuts & Seeds
Getting adequate vitamins and minerals is integral to a healthy diet, and fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are a huge part of where we get them. When we grow gardens, we eat many more of these things because:
- We have them on hand and
- They don’t cost us an arm and a leg.
The modern food system has made eating industrialised food far cheaper than actual fruits and vegetables, but we can grow them for free (or comparatively little start-up cost). Plus, permaculture living has put me more in tune with making the most of these foods, such as roasting the squash seeds when I cut into a butternut or using the carrot tops as greens.
Sleeping enough is dire to keeping our immune systems humming, but a conventional modern existence is geared against that idea. Increasingly, we stay up late to unwind from long days of work, and we get up early to get back at it. I find that I’m consistently working hard to reach my own permaculture goals: build a home, make quick compost, prune the trees, dig a swale, etc. However, because these activities tend to be physical and mental exercise, as well as purposeful as opposed to distracting, I also find that I sleep very well at night. Rarely do I make it beyond nine pm, and the next day I start early, ready to roll.
Sun & Fresh Air
The sun is our main source of vitamin D, a crucial nutrient for maintaining our immune system, and fresh air is a boon to our overall health, including energising us, helping us sleep, and relieving stress. Obviously, permaculture puts us outside frequently, so we are getting plenty of sunshine (in a good way, as opposed to say baking on a beach) as well as fresh air as we walk amongst our trees and plants. Having lived this way for some time, it’s now difficult to think of a life prior to it, in which much of the day was spent indoors.
A relatively new addition to my own personal permaculture lifestyle, medicinal mushrooms and mushrooms in general have become a beloved part of my diet, and these mushrooms are fantastic for a strengthened immune system. We’ve begun to cultivate some—shiitake, oyster, and wine cap—at home, but my wife Emma and I also love to forage mushrooms, which of course gets us outdoors, hiking, and doing other healthy stuff. We have found plenty of highly regarded medicinal species in our exploits, including lion’s mane, maitake, reishi, and turkey tail mushrooms.
In addition to providing healthy food to fuel our bodies, gardening, many studies have proven, is good for our minds, which is good for our immune system. It slows us down, makes us mindful of what we are doing, and gets us away from screens and unnatural noises. Aside from that, making beautiful, edible gardens gives us a sense of purpose, appreciation, and natural order. Mentally, we are in spaces that make sense. The effects of gardening reduce stress, and less stress allows us to physiologically support our immune system more effectively.
Before understanding the subtleties of soil and plant nutrition, the necessity of micronutrients in the human diet didn’t really resonate as all that important. A healthy diet reflected something akin to what food labels emphasise, meals based around carbohydrate, proteins, and fat. But, all those micronutrients involved in food, while they don’t come in the same bulk as other things, are just as vitally important to good health. Unfortunately, unhealthy soils and industrial agriculture have steadily stripped them out of even our fresh produce. Permaculture-based food production puts the micronutrient punch back into what we eat.
In the permaculture garden, nutrient-rich soil has added more vitamins and minerals to our foods, but soil is also doing work for our immune systems. This truism has become repeated so often recently as to become cliché: This overly sanitised state of the modern world isn’t good for us. We need to get “dirty”. For that matter, we need to think about what dirty actually means. What’s more problematic: hands with soil under the fingernails or hands doused in manufactured, carcinogenic chemicals? Permaculture has pushed Emma and I towards natural, homemade cleaning and hygiene products, and it has put our hands in the soil on a daily basis.
Being self-reliant for some of our diet is beneficial to our immune system in many apparent ways, many of them listed above, but it’s also beneficial in that we know to turn to our own gardens for healthful answers. More or less every whole food has medicinal qualities that help us fight off everything from cancers to colds. It’s much better for us to live this way day in and day out than to rely on medicine or pills to fix problems that arise from neglect. A permaculture lifestyle puts us in prime position for preventing health problems as opposed to acquiring them. We are healthy from our own efforts rather than relying on medical technology to keep us alive and thriving (until we really need it).