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GARDEN 101-Garden therapy

Everyone that spends time enjoying their garden knows that gardening is therapy.

There is something about the fresh air, the touching of plants and appreciation of nature that slows us down and makes us feel good. Gardening undoubtedly has a positive impact on our psychological wellbeing. The garden is the perfect spot to relax and unwind and being surrounded by green is the perfect antidote to modern day stress of urban surroundings and technology. I find that the garden is a wonderful place to clear my head and get away from work-the green, flowers, the rustling of the leaves in the breeze.
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Freud said: “Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.” and this is definitely something that appeals to many people who have busy everyday lives. The garden is undoubtedly a place to rejuvenate psychologically and gardening is in a way a form of ritual which forces our busy minds to become still. Surrounded by beauty we can really concentrate on the moment. It is no mystery too that gardening has many actual physical benefits. First of all, getting physical in the garden is literally good for our bodies -with digging, weeding and planting using various muscles that constitute a good work. But there is more to being in the garden than just the physical. 

Call me weird but the thing I love most in the garden is the soil.

The scent, the texture and even getting my hands covered in it. The other day I was planting some Tomatoes and after many months of being indoors I had forgotten how much I love inhaling the scent of soil! Have you ever considered what makes this delicious scent? It really is like no other- earthy, base in note, with hints of fresh air- almost chocolatey rich. The smell makes me think of harvesting potatoes and carrots and other vegetables that grow inside the soil and there is actually a name for this smell. Scientists describe it as ‘geosmin’, this rich, earthy smell and taste that we find in vegetables that grow underground. 
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There is another term for this which is found more frequently in the world of gastronomy and this is what chefs, winemakers and cheesemakers call ‘Terroir’.

This word plays a big role in the flavour of wines, where certain soils will bring out totally different flavours in one grape to another as well as cheese and other plant and animal based foods that vary from region to region. Think about it -soils will hold many different nutrients and characteristics- From geological locality to the compost used to enrich it, the make up of the soil will always be totally unique and ever changing and therefore will have a strong impact on the taste of what grows within it. 

No two soils are the same. That explains the fact that no two wines taste the same.

Even more fascinatingly though, recent studies have found that soil don’t just affect the plants that grow within it. Soil can actually get rid of the blues in humans! Soil in the garden you see contains microbes which have a similar effect on our system as prozac. Here’s the science bit: Mycobacterium vaccae, the friendly bacterium which is found in soil is thought to stimulate serotonin and norepinephrine in the body. A lack of these natural chemicals in our bodies has been linked to depression and mood disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorders and bi-polar depressions.

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How dirt takes us happy

 So how does this happy bacterium get into our systems to enhance our mood? Well, when working with soil we inhale the Mycobacterium vaccae as well as it getting into our bloodstream by touching the soil. This stimulates of our levels of serotonin an norepinephrine production and can have a drug-like effect on our system, enhance mood and act as a natural anti-depressant. It is no wonder that I love digging in my garden-playing in dirt literally makes us happy! 

Plants to get you high

It is not just soil that can have mood enhancing properties. Many plants have undeniable medicinal benefits and botanical brews and remedies have long been used in all forms of therapeutic and alternative medicine practices. Here are a couple of plants that are popular in their use for depression for their mood enhancing properties. 

Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
Yes-you guessed it-this is the chocolate plant! Raw Cacao contains over 300 identifiable chemical compounds which include antioxidants, dopamine and seratonin. It is no wonder that chocolate makes us feel good with its high levels of iron, chromium and magnesium as well as tryptophan, PEA and anandamide. What is best said here though that this applies to raw cacao so the best choice is 100% raw cacao, or if you can’t stomach that then try and go as high as you can in cacao percentage for the most benefits.
Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnate)
The beautiful passion flower is a wonderful climber for the garden but not many of us know that it is also used for treating anxious depression and calming the nervous system. It is actually a natural sedative and tranquiliser and has been used as an anti-spasmodic herb and in some cases to treat seizures, pains, hysteria and palpitations. The chemicals in passionflower are also said to have calming and sleep-inducing properties. 
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Again, this herb has long been used in treating mild to moderate depression and sleeplessness. Since the middle aged it has been used for its anti-inflammatory and healing properties and even Hippocrates and Pliny recorded its benefits! The effect of this herb is likened by some to be comparable with standard antidepressants and drinking it as a tea it can have great benefits for those suffering from insomnia. It must be said that it does not interact well with some other medicines so this herb as well as all the others mentioned should only be taken by recommendation of a doctor or professional herbal practitioner.
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Photo By: Colin Gillen

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