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This Spring - Garden for Health!

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This Spring - Garden for Health!

There’s a really good reason (several, actually) that gardening is the United States’ #1 hobby. It’s fun, it beautifies your yard, and you can do it alone or with your family and friends. And while it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about gardening, there are loads of health and wellness benefits to this beloved activity as well! Here are our top 5 — do you have any you’d add in?

1. Grow healthy food

This might well be the most obvious health benefit to gardening — the ability to grow your own healthy, organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Homegrown food always tastes better than those bought at the grocery store, and you have the added benefit of having 100% control over how that food is grown. That peace of mind alone is worth so much more than the cost of a few packets of seeds or starter plants. Not sure where to start? Try easy-to-grow tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini, but don’t forget about plants like nutrient-laden asparagus and antioxidant-rich figs

2. Bond with your kids

Gardening with your kids is a perfect opportunity to teach them a new lifelong skill, to spend screen-free time with them, and to learn together through trial and error. And guess what? If you’ve got a picky eater on your hands that will only ingest Goldfish crackers, sugar cereal, and chicken nuggets, studies show that when a child participates in food gardening, they are much more likely to not only try the food but enjoy it as well. Hello, Clean Plate Club!

Quick tip: Get kid-sized hand tools, let your child choose some of his or her own special plants, and consider giving them free reign over an entire bed or section of a border. The more “buy in” you have from the beginning, the greater the likelihood that they will stick with it and be as excited as you are.

"Homeschooling" right now? Gardening is a great science activity!

3. Boost your mood

If you didn’t know it, there are scads of healthy things happening in your body when you’re out in the garden, digging and planting. Getting your bare hands in the soil can expose you to good bacteria called Mycbacterium vaccae — which in turn can trigger the release of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that gives a happy feeling.

And you know that small (okay, huge) sense of thrill you get when you pick your tomatoes or find a ripe zucchini in the vines? You can thank dopamine for that, another neurotransmitter in your brain. Researchers believe this is an ancient response that evolved when we were hunter-gatherers — it was our brain’s way of triggering a reward when food was found. It seems any way you cut it, gardening = Happy Place.

4. Create an apothecary garden

Aside from growing beautiful flowers that lift your spirits and organic food that graces your table, apothecary gardens are an amazing source of health and healing for you. These medicinal gardens feature plants that have been used for ages to relieve all manner of ailments including nausea, headaches, anxiety, and insomnia. Try planting common herbs like chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, rosemary, and peppermint, then add other plants like culinary ginger (great for nausea), lemongrass (anti-inflammatory), and turmeric (both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant). 

Quick tip: There are many medicinal plants out there, so our advice is to start small with your favorite go-to’s, and then as you learn, expand your apothecary garden. Do some research about the healing properties of each plant, how to grow them, and then how to harvest and prepare them as teas, tinctures, salves, and aromatherapy. 

5. Get in a little workout

Every spring we have to remind ourselves to pace our gardening activities, because all that hauling and digging and shoveling can do a number on your entire body. The good news is that, done safely, gardening can range anywhere from a nice light activity (small planting, pruning, and watering) to a full-on session that rivals a Zumba class (turning the compost pile, lugging mulch bags, large-scale planting).

A little sunshine, a little sweat, and a lot of dirty fingernails later, most gardeners are true happy campers. Just remember to stretch, use your knees to bend, and above all — avoid the bending-reaching-twisting motion at all costs, unless your best friend is a chiropractor.

While edible and medicinal plants are no-brainers when it comes to gardening for health and wellness, we never underestimate the value of the sheer beauty of flowers and a well-tended perennial and bulb garden — after all, what draws the eye in has the power to keep a gardener engaged and motivated! There’s no need to choose between flowers, veggies, herbs, and fruits when creating your healthy garden.

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  • Katie Elzer-Peters
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