How Gardens Heal Your Body, Mind, and Spirit

4 ways gardens heal what ails you

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Amidst my whirlwind workday, a sniff of an herb in the garden outside my store reminded me of my grandmother, Cissie, from South Africa, who passed recently. She is the one who started me on the path of becoming a professional urban farmer, gardener, educator, and entrepreneur, and random moments like this strike often. I stood still and allowed the fragrance to envelop me, and to bask in her memory. In that moment of reflection, a calm washed over me, and I knew that, once again, the garden was serving to heal.

The definition of healing is broad and touches many parts of our lives. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, healing means: 1a: to make sound or whole, b: to restore to health; 2a: to cause (an undesirable condition) to be overcome, b: to patch up (a breach or division); 3: to restore to original purity or integrity. Gardens heal in many surprising ways, and it is exciting to see the positive healing effects they are having in places as diverse as corporate headquarters, children's hospitals, senior centers, and city halls. Healing effects can be seen in many ways, including these:

1. Gardens can serve as a place for reflection for those needing comfort. People carry their personal worries with them all day long—concerns about their ailing parent, struggling child, financial challenges, or fears about the future. Peaceful moments in gardens, where the sensual joys of plants growing can inspire feelings of hope, serve to counteract those stresses. What's more, when faced with acute stress resulting from the recent death of a loved one or a significant tragedy covered 24/7 by the news media, there is something very life-affirming about planting a seed and seeing it grow. In fact, it has been said that planting a seed is the ultimate act of faith in the future.

2. Gardens can provide plants that have actual medicinal uses. It's sometimes easy to forget that our modern medicine originated in plant-based medicinal therapies. The continual surge of interest in herbal medicine and home remedies is a reminder of the abundant healing benefits of our natural world. Simple herbal possibilities such as a cup of peppermint tea to energize, some lemon balm to aid digestion, or the sniff of a sprig of lavender to encourage sleep can easily become a welcome healthy habit in everyday life for those with a small herb garden. More extensive medicinal uses of a wide variety of plants can be learned as well. (Note: Do not consider this medical advice, and tell your doctor if you are using any herbs in addition to prescribed medication.)

3. Gardens can enable those on the edges of society to feel connected. In this context, healing may mean assuaging feelings of disconnect from society, and gardens have been shown to be valuable tools in helping everyone from seniors to incarcerated youth feel not only useful but necessary. Gardens can showcase hidden skills and teach new ones, provide responsibility that gives individuals a reason to keep showing up, and forge healthy relationships and connections across generations in non-threatening environments.

4. Gardens can help restore the earth. Let's not overlook the fact that organically-grown gardens don't only hold the potential of healing people but also our planet. They sequester carbon, mitigate water runoff, filter environmental toxins, increase biological diversity, encourage ecosystem development, and enhance the beauty, vitality, and even safety of our communities. Many municipalities are getting into the garden action because of these almost immediately seen results in which adding a little extra green space grows the health and welfare of their cities, counties, and states.

As you consider the value of your garden, don't overlook the simple and significant healing benefits that it affords you. If you would be so kind, please share with us how you have found gardens to be healing as your words may be exactly what someone else needs to hear right now.

Tap in next week for some tips for fast, simple meals with fresh, home-grown food.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Daron Joffe is a 30-something eco-entrepreneur who lives to make a difference in the world one homegrown organic fruit and vegetable at a time. Known as "Farmer D," Joffe has grown food for celebrities, private communities, and elementary schools in his "town-by-town mission to re-energize the food culture." His products are sold at select Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma stores. Born in South Africa and based in Atlanta, Farmer D is online at www.farmerD.com