I’ve wanted to make this post for a while ever since @UnicornEmily suggested it a while back. Grateful for your suggestion and patience :slightly_smiling_face: Grateful also to you and @Lowell_McCampbell who have heard me talk about “gardening by guna” and expressed curiosity or challenge in the spirit of growing understanding.

Vrikshayurveda is a traditional system of growing, native to India. Honestly I am not qualified to speak about it at any length. But because I believe it has significant value to humankind and is little-known, and because the principles it shares in common with Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) greatly inform what I try to do as a grower, in hopes of inspiring others to explore it for themselves and improving my own understanding I will talk about it a little.

Vrikshayurveda is often translated as “Ayurveda for trees”. A more useful translation for most people is “the science of tree life”, or perhaps more liberally “the science of plant life”. To the best of my knowledge there are two texts by this name. The better-known is written by Surapala.

I have not read a complete English translation of either text, though I have read a significant excerpt from a translation of Surapala’s text of the same name. I haven’t found them as easy to find as one might hope (i.e. free and legal), though you can certainly find them. All I’ve done is be an informal student of Ayurveda for fifteen years, hear recorded testimonial from a farmer using kunapajala, and since last year tried to grow according to the gunas (qualities or energetics) of plant and environment.

To me the key insight I took from my limited contact with this system of growing was that, just like forms of life with mind, plants are comprised of the five elements and governed by the three vital principles of vata, pitta, and kapha. If you ever saw the children’s cartoon Captain Planet, the five elements are mostly the planeteer elements, with space taking the place of heart.

Consider a banana tree. The fruit of the banana tree is sweet, heavy, and cooling. It has more gunas than that, but limiting this simple example to three makes it more digestible. Now take the pepper plant, whose fruit is pungent, light, and heating. Assuming the gunas of the plant are reasonably well-represented by its fruit, and knowing that these qualities oppose and thereby balance those of the banana, we can infer that pepper makes a good companion to banana when grown in balanced soil. This would appear to be the case of traditional agriculture is an indicator - - I have heard planting banana with pepper is a traditional form of intercropping in the Phillipines.

The three sisters are another excellent example of gardening by guna:

Heavy, cooling, wet
Beans (most pole)
Light, cooling
Light, heating, dry

That’s all. All I hoped to do this evening was put this traditional growing system on the radar of folks who might be interested.

In the end I really think the best thing would be to learn to talk to plants and animals, as many people in traditional cultures have done historically, and thereby know much more easily what to grow and how. But because this ability is disappearing from the modern world and I don’t have it and can’t teach it, I can just share a little information and hope it serves you.


Sounds interesting, and complex. But the world is complex so any system that hopes to be in any sense representative has to be complex. I suspect the western tendency to reduce and simplify is one reason why we seem to be mucking everything up.
The best I can do is to try to be observant and listen to what the world, as it appears in my garden, is trying to tell me.


Thank you for sharing. This reminded me (I hope it’s actually relevant) of what I read this morning on the Milpa /polyculture course Marcos’ is working on in Guerrero… this is an unedited translation, so a bit rough, but very lovely. Also reminds of the One Straw Revolution philosophy of farming as a complete way of life.

"There is a lot of agreement among milperos when they say that “the milpa is a way of life”, as a basic element of their daily life, perceived not only as a millenary agricultural production system, but also as a guarantor of their nutrition, identity, culture and social organization. For this reason, making milpa in Mexico constitutes to this day a primordial element to guarantee the nutrition of all Mexicans, with its uses and applications not only at home. The milpa allows the production of various foods, and also provides other joint actions that require organization of the family and community groups to achieve the manufacture of their own tools, materials and local inputs to be used in the plot during the preparation of the land (in the rainy season), to achieve the harvest. The milpa is the way of cultivating in accordance with the way of living, to make milpa is to make family, community, organization, patron saint festivities, assemblies and an innumerable list of etceteras, which is present in both agricultural and non-agricultural tasks.

Each culture, according to its knowledge and traditions, has selected its plants and combined them in a particular way, giving the milpa its own stamp in the selection and management of breeds, and in the design of tools for cultivation and processing of its products. Therefore, there is no single way of making milpa, since this diversity is also shown in the local traditions, customs and knowledge, as well as in the culinary and nutritional tastes and needs. In other words, the composition and structure of the Mayan milpa in the Yucatan peninsula is different from the milpa in the Nahua region of Guerrero, and vice versa. For this reason, it can be said that in Mexico there is not a single milpa, but several milpas.

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That is wonderful! I am really looking forward to this course :pray:

Even innate talents require focus and practice to develop. Humility, a quiet mind, lengthy contemplation are crops to cultivate in the garden of our minds. Gratitude to the plants that feed us, rather that arrogantly assuming that feeding us is the only reason they exist. Respect for all life, even when we seem to come into conflict. Then we are better able to learn the lessons that are right there in front of us. Thank you for your post.


Ayurveda exists on the foundation that we are natural, and part of natural systems. The ecosystem of our bodies consists of more microbe cells than human cells. When we bring that understanding to gardening, we consider the plants as “us”, rather than “other”.

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