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What if permaculture could fuel your Ramadan? A practical example

by Shumaisa Khan

Too often, people associate permaculture with food-growing and gardening. 

Indeed, permaculture is a design approach that can be applied to food-growing, but it can also be applied to anything within the broad container of meeting human needs in ways that are considerate of the earth and its inhabitants – human and other. 

With Ramadan upon us, I was inspired to apply permaculture principles toward improving my Ramadan experience, and thought I would share my ideas here to illustrate the versatility of permaculture.  My hope is that this gently disabuses folks of the idea that one needs vast land or be a gardener in order to use permaculture.

Note that this post is not a full permaculture design; rather, I will focus on applying two permaculture principles that complement each other.  These two principles seem to be appropriate for Ramadan in relation to a challenge I often face when it falls in the long summer months: how to get adequate nutrition and hydration in a period of a few hours?

Before delving into applying the principles to Ramadan, I’ll first illustrate – via a garden-related example – two concepts in permaculture design:

1) Elements: the resources used for that particular design, and
2)  Functions: the function that each element serves

The garden example below will show you what I mean:

Element                  Function

Compost bin            Transforms food & garden waste into fertile compost

Water butt                Stores rainwater collected from big surfaces (e.g. roof)

Salad plants             Serves as a food

Comfrey plant         Used as natural fertilizer

 

This example should give you an idea of the relationship between elements and functions in permaculture design.  Now we can get to the principles:

Each element performs multiple functions

and its inverse…

Each function is supported by multiple elements 

The elements I am considering are food and drink, and the functions are: to provide nutrition, hydration, energy, good taste (if it doesn’t taste good, it’s not going to be consumed), and facilitate digestion.

Soupy, one-pot meals

There is only so much time we in temperate areas will have to eat and drink during summer months, when the nights are short.  In our home, we had already departed from elaborate iftaars, opting to break the fast with  fruit and then have a normal dinner.  

This year, I’m going to further simplify beyond a regular dinner to a soupy, one-pot meal.

In many traditions, people who are recuperating from illness are given soupy meals because they are easy to digest, and thus minimize the diversion of the body’s resources to the process of digestion.

Ramadan can be potentially healing to our bodies, including digestive capacity.  After all, usually most of us do one or more of the following: eat without presence, eat while on the go, eat at irregular times, eat until full, etc – all of which strains our digestive system.  Then there is the actual food we eat, and how that helps or hinders healthy gut flora.

By not engaging in bad habits, we can give our bodies a break in Ramadan. However, if we carry on with these habits, or start picking them up in Ramadan, then Ramadan would not be healing to our bodies.  So my reason for trying soupy, one-pot meals is to be kind to my body.

Compared to different types of foods being cooked separately (like proteins and carbohydrates), cooking them together in the same pot is a form of pre-digestion – at least that is the idea in some traditions.  

  • A soupy, one-pot meal will provide hydration, nutrition, energy, be easier to digest, and be tasty (each element supports multiple functions).  
  • Digestive support means that the nutrition will be absorbed better. 

In terms of taste, all one needs to do is add the herbs, spices, and foods according to preference.

An additional benefit is that it’s simpler than preparing a few different things – the function of convenience, which is very valuable in Ramadan.  As we all know, time speeds up during Ramadan, and before we know it, we will be celebrating Eid.  Simplifying meal prep conserves time and energy that we can use toward squeezing the most out of this month.

Nourishing infusions

An infusion is a very strong herbal tea.  In terms of ratios, you would pour 1 L of boiled water over 25g of dried herb and steep for at least four hours, drinking this within 24 hours of straining the herbs.  

Nourishing infusions made of certain herbs (e.g. nettle, oat straw, red clover), have minerals and vitamins that are more easily assimilated by the body than the average multivitamin.  Because they are more food-like than medicinal, infusions are generally safe, but it is always important to do your own research to check safety if you are on prescriptions, pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Last summer, I participated in a ‘nettle initiation’, where participants drank shots of very strong nettle infusion in order to connect with the plant more deeply over the course of a weekend. During that time, we were fasting from food. What came through quite strongly for me was how nourishing nettle was – the simple drink completely sated me, at least for the duration of the weekend. 

Nettle is rich in protein, iron, potassium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, B, C, D, and K, selenium and manganese; it improves digestion if taken regularly, and enhances energy level.  It is a mild diuretic, so one shouldn’t use it as a water substitute during Ramadan, but it does pack a lot of good stuff in. 

So this Ramadan I will be making infusions by steeping nettle for several hours, straining, and drinking it cool or at room temperature – I prefer nettle this way rather than as a hot tea.  You can also mix it with mint or other herbal teas or coconut water to address taste if that is an issue.

Because I am harvesting fresh nettle, I will not follow the above ratio, but I think the infusion will still be nourishing.  

Rather than snacking after a meal, which will tax my digestive system, I will drink some of this infusion and also drink some before beginning the fast. I tried this last night, on the eve of Ramadan, and am feeling more energetic today compared to when I was fasting earlier this week.

In this way, my hydration will come from food, water, and infusions rather than just from water (each function is supported by multiple elements). Similarly, nutrition will be provided by both food and infusions, as will energy. 

The infusions will provide nutrients, hydration,  energy, and digestive support (each element supports multiple functions).  

An additional function, if I gather the nettle myself as I probably will, is connecting with nature, which I feel is very beneficial in Ramadan.  

If you, too, harvest nettle from around you, make sure you do so before it flowers because at that point the leaves may have a substance that can irritate kidneys. You can keep cutting the tips to prevent it from flowering.

I hope this example illustrates how permaculture can be applied more broadly in our lives, and how refreshing and practical it is in its simplicity.  

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