A Healing Garden
The new year is upon us, and with it comes planning out the garden! I love gardening! There is just something so therapeutic about it, and there are many health benefits one gains from growing their own food! Even if you have a less than green thumb, there is still so many reasons to get a little dirt under your nails. Like so many other things in life, gardening skills improve with practice!
Health Benefits of a Garden
Tending to a garden is a fantastic source of low-to-moderate intensity exercise that is so beneficial to healing, plus it engages the whole body. It improves balance, muscle tone, flexibility, and range of motion. You can read more about the many benefits of gentle movement in this great piece by The Paleo Mom, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.
Gardening gets you outside! Not only does time spent tending your garden give you LOTS of opportunity to get vitamin D straight from the source (the sun), it gets you in touch with the Earth. Studies have shown that grounding or earthing provides a number of health benefits, not least of which is a reduction in inflammation. So go ahead and get your feet and your hands dirty! Earthing only works if you are in direct contact with the ground without rubber or plastic creating a barrier. I spent the majority of my time in the garden last year in bare feet!
Speaking of going barefoot in the garden, having direct skin contact with soil benefits us in other ways, too. Soil has it’s own microbiome, and science is only just beginning to scratch the surface of what that means. What they have found so far has been good things for us! There is a reason that soil-based organism (SBO) probiotics are gaining in popularity! In particular, SBO’s have been found to have a significant positive effect on one’s mental state. So gardening really can make you feel happier and less stressed!
Gardening is a hopeful activity, which further adds to the positive mental health benefits. It also forces us to be patient and to get in touch with the natural rhythms of life. Hope is such an important gem to foster and protect in all circumstances, but especially for those managing chronic illness. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but one care provider I see has highly recommended I take up a zen garden for the health benefits. I’ll just have to make sure it’s toddler-friendly when I do!
Tending a garden fosters community and connection. We had some of our best family time together when we were at the garden last summer. Those are memories that will last a life-time! Local gardening and horticultural groups also tend to be full of people with a passion for gardening and sharing resources and knowledge. Our community garden has even more of an opportunity for community-building since there are many of us sharing the same space. It was a great way to meet new people in a new city and learn tips and tricks for successful gardening in a new area. Community really is such an important part of the healing process.
Gardening can make you smarter! While tending the garden is a physical exercise, it involves mental exercise as well. Planning and researching what to grow, when and where to grow it, what it needs, how to keep it healthy and safe, etc. all stimulate problem-solving skills and creativity. In fact, research out of the UK has found that children involved in gardening score higher in science achievement tests. And gardening therapy for dementia patients has shown improved functioning, well-being, and sleep patterns.
And last, but certainly not least, are the nutritional benefits of growing your own food! Growing your own food reduced your dependence on commercially-grown produce that has to be imported or shipped from distant areas, which decreases the carbon footprint of your food. Also, when produce is shipped long distances, it is often harvested before it is truly ripe and then goes a long time before being consumed or processed. Both of these factors mean that commercially-grown produce (even organic) is less nutritious than your own fruits and veggies picked at the height of ripeness and then eaten or processed right away.
Soil conservation and enhancement goes hand-in-hand with gardening, so you can ensure that the soil where your food is growing is the healthiest possible resulting in healthier, more nutritious food. And you control exactly how your food is grown and to what it is exposed during its life. There are many pest control measures that protect the health and integrity of your food that are viable options for home gardeners that are not necessarily practical for large-scale commercial operations. This leaves you with food that benefits you and the earth.
It also gives you the option to take advantage of the great many varieties of various plants and seeds out there that are not available commercially. The heritage seed movement is only growing and with it, an increased appreciation for these lesser-known, but truly valuable, vegetable varieties that are often difficult to come by. Each variety has its own virtues and strengths – and nutrient profile. They also tend to have a greater colour variety available, which means gardening will help you Eat the Rainbow! Growing a variety of colourful veggies makes it easier to get all those different colours (and nutrients) on your plate. Think not just red beets, but yellow and white ones, too. Not just white cauliflower, but orange and purple as well! Carrots? Why, they come in red, orange, purple, yellow, and white.
What to Grow in a Healing Garden
But what does one grow in a healing garden?
I’m glad you asked!
I don’t know about where you live, but around here, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, corn, peas, etc. are garden staples. Which is great…except when you are following a healing diet that eliminates nightshades, legumes, and grains. So what does that leave you with? Here is an extensive list that is by no means exhaustive (and may vary by where you live) to get you started with ideas for your healing garden (that is also AIP compliant).
- Artichoke (globe)
- Asparagus (perennial)
- Blackberry (perennial)
- Blueberry (perennial)
- Bok choi
- Borage (herb with edible flowers and leaves)
- Brussels sprouts
- Calendula (edible and medicinal!)
- Celery (stalk or leaf types, also green or purple)
- Collard greens
- Curry (herb)
- Green onions
- Ice plant
- Lettuce (romaine, loose leaf, butterhead, etc.)
- Melons (honeydew, cataloupe, pie melons, etc.)
- Nasturtiums (a nutrient-dense flowers that are also great pest deterrents!)
- Radishes (watermelon, daikon, cherry, white, black, etc.)
- Raspberries (perennial)
- Rhubarb (perennial)
- Squash – summer (scallop squash, crookneck, straightneck, etc.)
- Squash – winter (butternut, acorn, delicatata, etc.)
- Strawberries (perennial)
- Summer savory
- Sunchoke (aka Jerusalem artichoke)
- Sweet potatoes
- Tiger nuts
- Winter savory
- Zucchini (technically a summer squash, but there are so many varieties of zucchini itself)
Any I missed that you would like to add? Let me know below!