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Edible Gardening For Better Health And Happiness

By Nikita Manavi

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Spring is here! You’re probably eager to go outside and enjoy the warm air—or desperate to avoid rain and allergens by staying indoors. Whichever way you embrace the change in season, you can enjoy the immense health benefits of growing plants and gardening.

 

Gardening is relaxing, restorative and rewarding for people of all ages. Gardening has been clinically shown to reduce stress and improve mood1, and it is positively associated with overall life satisfaction.2 The CDC recommends gardening as “a great way to enjoy the outdoors, get physical activity, and grow nutritious fruits and vegetables”3. Gardening has been shown effective for rehabilitating patients with mobility or mood difficulties4, and it is an excellent educational activity to share with children.

 

Edible plants, like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices provide the additional health and environmental benefits associated with organic or local foods. Growing your own fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices is a fantastic way to limit the produce contaminants, hormones, and pesticides you’re exposed to.5 In addition, local foods are significantly less taxing on the environment because they require fewer resources to reach end consumers. Your own home is the most local food source of all!

 

Even if you’re extremely busy or restricted to indoor spaces, you can achieve the benefits of gardening. It’s a low-cost, low-impact hobby, and you can invest as much or as little effort into it as you’d like.

 

Beginner gardeners can start with indoor plants in medium-sized pots, placed near a window or light source. Here are some general tips for beginner gardeners:

 

●       Buy starter plants from nurseries instead of using seeds. Seeds often require pre-soaking, and seedlings often die before they can make it to a larger pot. Established plants are much easier to grow. Packaged decorative plants, however, like autumn mums and holiday poinsettias, are notoriously short-lived and should be avoided. Nursery plants are most reliable. (Some people also like to plant whole fruits and vegetables from grocery stores; avoid this, because seeds from grocery produce are rarely viable and generally produce frail plants.)

●       Don’t bother with specialized supplies at the beginning. Apart from pots and potting soil, common household items can stand in for gardening equipment. First nurture your green thumb; then, specialized equipment can help you go further with your gardening.

●       Start with hardy plants rather than exotic plants that require special attention. Pay attention to the information that comes with your plants. Plants that grow wild in your region will most likely succeed in your home.

●       Don’t get discouraged! Plants are complex living organisms that have many needs. It’s okay if your plants die; learn from your mistakes and try again. The best gardening tools are practice and experience.

 

Simple, and hardy edible plants with numerous health benefits6 that are great for beginners include:

●       Aloe vera (the jelly in each stalk is a natural treatment for burns and irritated skin, and juice from stalks is delicious and soothing)

●       Radishes (rich in ascorbic acid, folic acid, and potassium)

●       Basil, thyme, rosemary, mint, and other herbs (fresh herbs add flavor to foods and teas, and herbs have medicinal properties)

●       Ginger and turmeric root (extremely anti-inflammatory and medicinal)

 

Edible plants with health benefits6 that more advanced gardeners can try:

●       Peppers, including bell peppers, sweet peppers, and chili peppers (rich in vitamins A, C, and K, and phytochemicals)

●       Tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and larger varieties (rich in vitamins A, C, and K, folate, and potassium)

●       Onions and garlic (extremely anti-inflammatory and great sources of flavonoids)

●       Carrots (rich in antioxidants and vitamin A)

●       Potatoes (filled with phytochemicals and vitamin B6)

 

Edible plants with health benefits6 to grow outside:

●       Pumpkins (rich in carotenoids and the amino acid tryptophan)

●       Zucchini (contain high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and dietary fiber)

●       Most varieties of squash (contain high levels of vitamin A, carotenoids, and folate)

●       Cucumbers (good for hydration, aid digestion, and contains many vitamins)

●       Lemons and limes (rich in vitamin C, and have antibacterial and antiviral properties)

●       Culinary berries, like blueberries, strawberries, boysenberries, blackberries, and raspberries (delicious and rich in phytochemicals)

●       Figs (rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, and B-complex vitamins)

●       Most varieties of apples (full of soluble fiber and vitamin C)

●       Sunflowers (seeds have anti-inflammatory properties, and are rich in vitamin E)

 

Spring is the perfect time to boost your health and happiness with an edible garden! If you’re looking for more information, there are thousands of books, magazines, and websites devoted to gardening and speciality gardening, such as therapy gardening, gardening as an educational tool, or gardening with kids. It’s easy to make gardening a fundamental and fulfilling part of your life. Happy planting!

 

Citations

 

1        Van den Berg, AE, and MH Custers. "Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress.." Journal of Health Psychology. (2011): n. page. Web. 9 Jan. 2013.

2        Blair, Dorothy, Carol Giesecke, and Sandra Sherman. "A dietary, social and economic evaluation of the Philadelphia urban gardening project." Journal of Nutrition Education. 23.4 (1991): 161-167. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

 

3         "Gardening Health and Safety Tips." CDC Family Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 02 2012. Web. 9 Jan 2013.

4        Söderback, Ingrid, Marianne Söderström, and Elizabeth Schaländer. "Horticultural therapy: the ‘healing garden’and gardening in rehabilitation measures at Danderyd hospital rehabilitation clinic, Sweden."Developmental Neurorehabilitation. 7.4 (2004): 245-260. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

5        Crinnion, WJ. "Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer.."Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic Studies. 1. (2010): n. page. Web. 9 Jan. 2013.

6        United States. USDA. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. 2011. Web.

 

nakita_cropped

Nikita Manavi is a college student interested in math, economics, and environmental science. She is currently an intern at the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at HackensackUMC. Her dream is to work in environmental economics and pursue her love for photography and oceanography. She began gardening as a young girl, taught by her mother and grandmother in India. She happily cares for more than 30 different plants at her home today.

 

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