How to Use Gardening to Improve Your Health

Besides looking beautiful, a garden can do wonders for the health and wellness of the gardener. When you get your hands in the dirt, it can actually help improve health challenges from which many people suffer. Keep reading to learn how gardening can improve your wellbeing and learn about what to plant to really boost your mood.

5 Ways Gardening Can Improve Your Health

1. Gardening Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Getting out in the garden at the end of a busy day reduces stress levelsand mental fatigue. Watching the plants you’ve worked so hard to cultivate from seed to flower can make you feel proud and self-accomplished. In addition, caring for a plant can help you feel more compassionate and aware of the Earth’s natural systems.

2. Gardening Decreases Your Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes

Gardening keeps you active and reduces your stress levels, and that means it can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other associated lifestyle ailments. Also, eating the nutritious foods that you grow is heart healthy, too!

3. Gardening Makes You Happy

Evidence shows that a number of health and behavior problems, including anxiety and depression, are directly linked to the amount of time you spend outside. Gardening staves off the blues, provides an outlet for creativity, and nurtures a sense of pride and accomplishment when you harvest those juicy red tomatoes or other fresh vegetables.

4. Gardening Keeps Your Mind Sharp

A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that various physical activities—gardening among them—can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s by 50 percent. Other research finds that horticulture therapy is very engaging for dementia patients and has a positive impact on their overall wellbeing.

5. Gardening Helps You Sleep Better

Spending time in the dirt can improve your sleep quality. The physical activity tires you out, but more importantly, tending to your garden reduces stress and anxiety levels, meaning you’ll be able to fall asleep more easily and experience sweeter dreams.

Now that you know the benefits of gardening, here are some plants to grow that also provide mood boosting agents from Rodales Organic Life.

10 Plants that Boost Your Mood

1. Blue Potatoes

The anthocyanin antioxidants in rare, but delicious, blue potatoes reduce the inflammation that can lead to bad moods. The skin is also packed with iodine, which helps stabilize thyroid hormone levels, thus warding off mood swings.

How to Grow Them: Potatoes are about the easiest crops to grow. You can even grow them in a bag of potting soil, without really dirtying your hands. To do that, cut a few drainage holes at the bottom of a bag of potting soil, then stand the bag someplace sunny.

2. Cherry Tomatoes

Tomato skin is rich in lycopene, a phytonutrient that stops the buildup of pro-inflammatory compounds linked to depression. Because lycopene lives in tomato skins, the best way to get it is through cherry tomatoes, whose smaller surface area means you'll eat more skin than if you eat a full-size tomato.

How to Grow Them: Cherry tomatoes are good choices for containers, and they'll produce more fruit than larger varieties. The pots should be large, ones that hold 4 to 6 gallons of potting soil will do, and placed in a sunny spot.

3. Black Eyed Peas

Black-eyed peas have some of the highest levels of folate of any vegetable. It’s thought that folate plays a role in creating dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, three brain chemicals that, when absent, can make you forgetful, irritable and unable to sleep.

How to Grow Them: Black-eyed peas need long summers with temperatures averaging between 60° and 70°F, which is why they're so commonly grown down South. They need warm days and warm nights, with lots of sun and water. After you plant them, they'll be ready to harvest in a little over three months. You can eat them fresh off the vine, or leave them on the vine until they dry (you'll hear seeds rattling around in the pods) and save them to eat all winter.

4. Oregano

Oregano is rich in caffeic acid, quercitin and rosmarinic acid, which are all components that combat depression, fatigue and anxiety.

How to Grow It: Pot the seedlings and water as needed, leaving the soil on the dry side. It thrives better in containers, but make sure your pot is fairly large, at least 12 inches across, as this plant can grow pretty quickly.

5. Swiss Chard

All types of chard are packed with magnesium, a nutrient essential for the biochemical reactions in the brain that boost your energy levels. In fact,magnesium deficiency is a common condition among people diagnosed with clinical depression.

How to Grow It: Chard is a hardy crop that, if planted even as late as summer, will produce until early winter. Pick a spot that gets a fair amount of sunlight; it can tolerate shade but produces best with lots of sun. Or choose a container that's about 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep and fill it with a good all-purpose organic potting soil. Sow between 2 and 3 seeds per pot. You can start harvesting leaves as soon as they appear, but harvest from the outside so as not to kill the entire plant.

6. Sunflowers

Sunflower seeds are a great source for the antidepressant phenylalanine, an amino acid the body turns into norepinephrine.

How to Grow Them: Sunflowers like sun, but be sure to plant them in a sunny spot on the north edge of your yard or garden so they don’t cast too much shade on other sun-loving plants. Plant your seeds after the last frost. Towards the end of summer, the flowers start to wilt and the seed heads ripen and droop.

7. Chamomile

There’s a reason a cup of chamomile tea just before bed helps you sleep. Just like oregano, it’s rich in stress-reducing caffeic acid and quercitin, but it tastes much better in the form of tea, which you can make from your garden herbs by steeping chamomile flowers in boiling water for about 10 minutes.

How to Grow It: Since it can grow wild and take over your garden, it’s best suited for containers. A small container about 6 inches wide by 6 inches deep will suffice, but a bigger pot will yield a bigger harvest. It prefers full sun and should be planted in late spring, when there’s no risk for frost.

8. Evening Primrose

Evening primrose is technically a wildflower. Its seeds have the highest levels of tryptophan (which your body uses to make mood-boosting serotonin) of any plant. In the fall, when the flowers mature, the flowers’ seed pods begin to fill up. Harvest a few and grind them as you would flaxseed into your favorite dishes.

How to Grow It: Evening primrose is drought-tolerant and easy to grow either in containers or in the ground. You can find varieties with flowers ranging from deep reds to light yellows. Sow the seeds in groups of four. They’ll start to appear in 14 to 28 days.

9. Lavender

Gardens don’t have to focus on edibles. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, aromatherapy treatments involving lavender and a few other herbs are often used to supplement depression treatments because the scent is so relaxing.

How to Grow It: Plant a lavender seedling in a container made from a material that breathes, such as terra-cotta, and choose a pot about 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Place your pot in an area that gets lots of sunlight; lavender loves dry, sunny areas.

10. John's Wort

The most famous herbal antidepressant, St. John’s Wort contains compounds like those found in Prozac. The flowers and leaves are the most valuable part of the plant and can be brewed into a tea that will calm you down and boost your mood. Just note that St. John’s wort has many adverse drug interactions, so check with a pharmacist if you’re on any medications.

How to Grow It: St. John’s Wort should be grown in containers to keep it from spreading where you don’t want it. Just find a seedling or some seeds and plant them in a small container placed in a partially sunny/partially shady area.

As if you needed another excuse to garden, gardening offers benefits to your physical and mental health. How do you find gardening helps your stress or anxiety? Are there any other seeds you like to grow to help? We’re happy to answer your questions and look forward to hearing from you. Come visit one of our stores today!

About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, and in Silicon Valley, California, making it one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.