Horticulture Therapy. It's Really a Thing.

May 21, 2018

So many of my day-to-day activities and responsibilities require me to be indoors, and many involve me sitting in front of a screen. As someone whose skin starts to crawl every time she’s boxed in (whether that be physically or mentally), being stuck inside can take its toll on me. Certainly, I understand we all need sunshine and fresh air. Yet, for some of us, our mental and emotional health really needs it—the outdoors serving as a sort of tonic to keep us balanced.

 

This past week, we had a couple of beautiful days that I was able to take advantage of after work. It felt so good to do some manual labor outdoors preparing my raised garden beds for planting. Because Simply Nourished always seems to have produce that needs to be moved out, I’ve learned it’s silly to grow much food myself. And, I absolutely hate to waste food. So this year, I've decided to cut way back on vegetables and instead plant mostly herbs and flowers to attract bees and butterflies. I bought dwarf sunflowers, bee’s friend, dahlias, zinnias, geraniums and ornamental strawberries to name a few. As I was pulling weeds last week, I was reminded of just how therapeutic weed pulling is. I remembered how for the last 4 summers it was weed pulling after supper (while Shea put the kids to bed) that kept me sane. The mindless rhythmic repetition of it soothed and created space to think about important things, to process, or to simply enjoy the quiet. My garden, my sanctuary.

 

And there's an added bonus. Science supports the practice of gardening as therapy—horticulture therapy. In fact, in the 19th century, the “Father of American Psychiatry” Dr. Benjamin Rush (also a signer of the Declaration of Independence) was the first to document the positive effects gardening had on individuals experiencing mental illness. And although much of the science behind how gardening affects the mind still remains a mystery, scientists do know that gardening has the potential to decrease stress and calm the nerves. It has even been shown to decrease cortisol, a hormone that is involved in stress response. 

 

There are just so many benefits! So many it’s hard to list them all. So for the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to share just 5 additional perks of digging in the dirt:

 

Exercise. I am not an exercise person. I know that’s practically sin if your husband is a personal trainer and fitness enthusiast. It’s not that I am sedentary or hate being active. I just don’t make time to attend structured exercise classes (although I believe that can be highly valuable). So for me, exercise is almost always task-oriented—carrying a child, pushing a stroller, lifting boxes, walking to work, raking leaves, cleaning the basement, pulling weeds, shoveling dirt. I like to do these things. Working up a sweat getting something accomplished is deeply satisfying to me.

 

Fresh Herbs. If you plant nothing else, you must plant herbs. It is so amazing to have fresh herbs at my disposal every night for supper. Cooking is so much more fun and the food significantly more flavorful. Some of my favorites to grow and use are thyme, basil, cilantro, chives and spearmint.

 

Earthing/Grounding. “Multi-disciplinary research has revealed that electrically conductive contact of the human body with the surface of the Earth (grounding or earthing) produces intriguing effects on physiology and health. Such effects relate to inflammation, immune responses, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.” [Source] I’m continuously amazed by the connectedness of all things.

Vitamin D. The Sunshine Vitamin. We all desperately need it (our immune systems depend on it). Yet, many of us (especially those in the Northern Hemisphere) are tragically deficient. Contrary to what you might believe, Vitamin D is not something we simply get from the sun. It is actually our bodies that produce the Vitamin D after our skin is exposed to sunlight (UVB rays). You do not need to burn or even tan to produce Vitamin D either. It only takes about half the time it would take for your skin to just begin to burn. The amount of Vitamin D you produce depends on the amount of skin you expose. So those nude gardeners from Naked Gardening Day (apparently that’s actually a thing) quite likely maxed out their production that day.

 

Help the Bees. Bees are one of our most valuable pollinators, supposedly pollinating 80 percent of the world’s plants! By those calculations, 1 out of every 4 bites of food we eat is available due to the hardworking bees. Without the bees, our food supply would be drastically decreased and life as we know it would be greatly changed. To learn more about this, our son Mikha would suggest renting the animated film Bee Movie 😊

 

If you aren't already getting some horticulture therapy in, you really should consider it. If you don’t have a patch of grass you can till up, and you don’t have the space for raised beds, simply get yourself some pots to plant in, even if it’s just small herb pots to keep in a window in your home. There are also community gardens available to dig in. And, if you are completely at a loss for options, I am 100% certain I can connect you with a local organic producer who would love some assistance pulling weeds.

 

I'm looking forward to connecting with some of you this week at Simply Nourished to hear about what you’re planting this year. Stop by and see us Tuesday through Friday 10-6 and Saturday 10-4. Hopefully the weather will give us ample opportunity for therapy this week.

 

Happy gardening friends!

 

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