Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gardening all year round!


Thanks to the Kapuskasing Horticultural Society for the opportunity to present this week:
How was your garden this summer?  What did you grow?  Some of us may have grown traditional veggies such as peas and carrots, our family nurtured a new apple and a cherry tree….we all have likely had some different experiences this past summer, but all of us have one thing in common.
We grew our garden in soil. The soil in our garden is a living organism nourishing a bounty of growing plants.  Out of respect for our soil, we replenish it with nutrients and compost to keep it healthy.
Our brain is the soil to our garden, which is our body.  A garden cannot grow without soil. Without our brain, we cannot function.  The stem of our brain, like the stem of a plant, provides the nutrients and capabilities to control the body’s 3 key functions: breathing, blood circulation and digestion.   Other parts of the brain have different functions.  The cerebellum, which is the back of brain, gives you balance and movement.  Your brain also contains the pituitary gland which controls growth and the hypothalamus gland controls your body temperature.  Neurons, tiny cells which build your nervous system, also help regulate your emotions and moods with neuro transmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and tryptophan.
 A healthy brain is like good soil….it is the basis for everything your body does: how you move, what you can do and how you feel.  Unfortunately, not everyone has a healthy brain and some brains are ill. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common forms of mental illness, or often also called mental health problems.  One in three persons will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime and in fact, it may be more than this. 

We likely all know someone whom has experienced anxiety or depression or another mental health problem, or we may have experienced these problems ourselves.   As we talk more openly and publicly about our mental health, about the soil that our brains grow in, we come to understand that what is going on in our brains affects our whole body and is real. Sometimes mental health problems, like other medical conditions, require medication as they don’t get better on their own.
Relaxation and stress reduction is an important aspect of good mental health for everyone, and gardening is one activity that can have great benefits. Researchers commonly note the positive mental outlook obtained by those who participate in gardening.  Hospitals and treatment centers are encouraged to “go green” to help lower stress and improve social interaction through gardening activities.
Even if you don’t garden, there are simply benefits to having plants and flowers around. Park and Mattson in 2008 confirmed that hospital patients recover better with flowers.   Patients with flowers need less pain medication, have better blood pressure and pulse rates, and have a better sense of wellbeing than patients who do not have flowers.
In the flower country of Holland, researchers have also proven that people eating in restaurants that have tables with fresh flowers are in better moods….that sounds good for business! A study done by Harvard University, says that flowers in the home or office create long lasting feelings: being in the presence of flowers creates a feeling of compassion towards others.  Putting flowers in your home encourages feelings of wellbeing and chases away worries…and these feelings carry our mood over even at work!
Herbs are also important and are plants that have natural chemicals which can affect the brain.  Many herbs can be grown for their relaxing benefits: taken as a tea, or absorbed through our skin in a bath.  Herbs such as lavender, chamomile, catnip, hops, lemon balm, and valerian are just a few which have relaxing benefits.  We can grow all of these in northern Ontario.

And then we can also nourish our brains by growing brain food in our gardens. Roasted pumpkin seeds and dry sunflower seeds are an excellent source of the brain chemical, tryptophan, making them a safe, natural way to relive mild depression and insomnia. Additionally, sunflower seeds are high in thiamine, an important B vitamin for memory and brain function.  This is just two examples; there are many more brain foods.
Overall, growing and eating lots of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains have abundant nutrients to keep your brain healthy.
So all year long, our brains can enjoy the harvests of summer.  We can even try growing herbs or small plants indoors throughout the winter in window pots of soil. Just having soil in our hands is healthy!  Our skin is the largest organ in our body and can absorb all kinds of things. Researchers at Bristol University in England began pursuing a treatment for cancer and fed mice harmless bacteria named mycobacterium vaccae.  Not a cure for cancer, but what they discovered was that the mice became less agitated and had less anxiety because it increased the brain chemical serotonin.  Why am I telling you this?  Because this bacteria exists naturally and abundantly in one important thing for gardeners….it exists in soil. 
So gardening is in fact a truly good activity for positive mental health.  Keep your hands in contact with soil, get dirty and keep your brain healthy! Gardening is also good exercise, and exercise benefits the brain.  Plants are also good listeners, and when you join a group such as this, you can share your stories with others.  There’s just so many benefits to gardening, it’s impossible to relay them all… so go ahead and garden knowing that you are enjoying life, experiencing good mental health and having fun!