Gardening Rx: Gardening As Medicine

Food has been considered medicine for generations. The idea that what we put into our bodies can help and heal them is widespread, almost common knowledge. 

But what about gardening as medicine? 

Though it doesn’t get discussed nearly as often, gardening also has the potential to help and heal those who prioritize it. After all, interactions with nature impact more than just our vitamin D levels–they help us to transform, reconnect us with the Earth and create our agency, consistency, and tranquility in a hectic and increasingly digital world. 

How can you start to take advantage of gardening as medicine? It’s not just about growing specific herbs that promote health (though there are many that do!) Here are just a few ways gardening helps us heal as we grow. 

It Mediates Anxiety and Depression

Top scientists are still discovering just how large an impact gardening has on mediating symptoms of anxiety and depression. We recently spoke to Dr. Madhukar Trevedi, a noted psychologist whose research is redefining how we think about two of the most common mental health issues in the nation. Some of the best advice that his research has unearthed? Get out into the garden. 

“​Gardening, like any effort or attempted mindfulness, actually quiets down the ‘default mode’ [of your brain],” Dr. Trivedi said. “Your brain is ready and available to respond to stimuli from within or outside [the body] in a much more appropriate manner.” 

It Helps Us Trust the Earth Again

With news of the changing climate surrounding us each day, there has been a rise in a new mental health diagnosis: eco-anxiety. Defined as a fear of climate change and its impact on the future of the planet, eco-anxiety is particularly prevalent among young people, specifically millennials and members of Generation Z. 

Gardening has also been observed to reduce these anxieties, offering a way to witness the resilience of life on this planet and regain trust with nature. For more information about eco-anxiety and how gardening can help us combat it, check out our interview with meteorologist Bonnie Schneider.

It Increases Physical Activity

Spending time in the garden each day gets our bodies moving. We breathe in fresh air, stretch to water high-up plants, walk between plots, and bend to sow seeds. It’s incredible how just a little bit of extra movement can transform our health, both physically and mentally. Dr. Trivedi has also observed this in his research

​​“People who have a routine habit of exercise or outdoor activity have lower rates of depression,”

Dr. Trivedi

“Data from the Cooper Institute [shows that] people with physical activity as part of their routine are at lower risk of depression than those who have no physical activity. The reverse is true, as well…when people who have depression engage in physical activity, their recovery is better.”

It Changes our Brain Chemistry

Dirt is magical. It is where life begins, the basis of our Earth, the foundation beneath us responsible for the beauty around us. And although our society is built around it, we are still learning just how great its impact can be, especially when it comes to how it affects the human brain. 

Recent studies have shown that dirt contains Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria that actually increases the levels of serotonin, the “happy chemical,” in your brain. Higher levels of serotonin lead to lower levels of depression, increased immunity, better sleep, and even increased longevity. It’s a marvel of medicine available in your own backyard, no prescription required.

How do you view your gardening as medicine? Let us know on social media at @Gardenuity.