Going Green: Five Health Benefits of Planting an Herb Garden
by J’Nel Wright
I can’t help it, I am obsessed with pineapple sage. One sniff of that or a whiff of lemon thyme and you wouldn’t blame me. There is something organically satisfying about growing herbs. And gardening is good for your health. The National Institutes of Health found that activities like gardening reduce the likelihood of inadequate Vitamin D, which is necessary for healthy bones and teeth. Gardening also helps boost the immune system, regulate the nervous system and insulin levels, and improves brain function.
The positive impact gardening has on mental health is worth noting as well. “Stress is a risk factor for a variety of diseases,” said Sarah Hilton, a nurse at University of Utah Hospital. “Gardening is a common activity, especially among the elderly, that helps reduce stress.”
With the welcome arrival of warmer weather, here are five reasons why the idea of planting an herb gardening just may grow on you.
Just one hour of digging is equivalent to a session of moderate cardiovascular exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “Active people are less likely than inactive people to be obese or have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer, and premature death.” For best results, schedule gardening time earlier in the day or the cool evening hours to avoid the risk of sun exposure.
Why herbs? Why not marigolds or roses? While flowers are wonderful, herbs grow faster and are forgiving when exposed to “remedial” gardening skills. For example, oregano and parsley will start sprouting within a month. And the more they are cut, the more they grow back.
Perhaps it’s the sensation of cool dirt between the fingers or the warmth of the sun on your face, but the practice of caring for a garden spot or containers of beloved plants does wonders for undoing a stressful day. “For many, the peacefulness associated with gardening comes not from its social aspect, but the opposite. It enables us to escape from other people,” says British novelist Sarah Rayner. “Tending to plants allows us to tap into the carefree part of ourselves with no deadlines, mortgages, or annoying colleagues to worry about.” As a bonus, be sure to clip a sprig or two of lavender or lemon balm for a soothing cup of herbal tea.
Your garden needs you every day. And that sense of purpose can help stave off feelings of anxiety and depression, especially for seniors. “Depression in senior citizens is one of the most under-recognized and under-treated medical illnesses,” says Marlis Powers, who writes for the website Aging.com. “In the general population, 12 percent of deaths are attributed to suicide. That statistic rises to 16 percent for those aged 65 and older.” One of the advantages of gardening is its versatility. For people who experience limited mobility or live in a smaller space, gardening, particularly an herb garden, can adapt to the gardener’s ability and available resources.
The growing interest in organic gardening has fostered trends in community gardens. And that is an added boost for seniors and others who may feel isolated. “After retirement, many people struggle with fewer socialization opportunities, and community gardens can be a fun way to engage with others while providing benefits to neighborhoods,” says Kim Hayes of the AARP.
Much as home-grown tomatoes taste fresher than those bought from the store, or as the juicy sweetness of a fresh-picked raspberry makes one’s heart skip a beat, harvesting fresh herbs for a favorite recipe is a satisfying reward.
“I like to make tea from the herbs and edible flowers that grow in my garden,” says Karen England, owner of Edgehill Herb Farm. “It’s something only home gardeners can make.” One of her favorite tea blends incorporates sweet lavender, French lavender, rosemary, sweet bay, calendula, basil, kaffir lime, mint, Cleveland sage, nasturtium, and a variety of roses and rose hips. Good luck finding that blend on a restaurant menu!
So, if you are looking for a new activity that will encourage you to spend a day outdoors, improve both your physical and mental health, and fill your basket with delicious delights of the season, try herb gardening. You may plant a seed for a hobby you can never outgrow.
J'Nel Wright is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in topics concerning health and wellness, aging, caregiving, humor, travel and business. Her work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications. Her educational background includes a bachelor's degree in English and Social Work. She has traveled throughout Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, French Polynesia, Mexico and much of the United States. She is a full time writer.