In existence for thousands of years, gardens are now being increasingly used for addiction and mental health treatment. A combination of nature and experiential therapy, gardening has proven to be successful in helping people gain mental, physical, and spiritual wellness. Below are five ways gardening can benefit you in your recovery.
- Healthier Eating
As you start working on your garden, you will also start reaping its tasty benefits. The produce that you grow will actually be packed with more nutrients than the ones you get from the store, since commercial farms often harvest vegetables before they’ve fully ripened. Commercial produce is also often sprayed with chemicals to make them look more appealing to consumers. The fruits and vegetables that you grow in a garden, however, are picked when they are supposed to be—when naturally ripened by the sun—which is also when they are packed with the most nutrients. And if you are growing them organically, they are even healthier for you.
- Strengthened Sense of Purpose
Many who have battled addiction feel they lack a sense of purpose. Gardening is actually a great way to focus your energy. It is a healthy outlet for using your creative muscles, having fun, and doing purposeful work that show results that you will see relatively quickly.
- Greater Compassion
Tending to a garden will heighten your compassion. As you take care of your plants and watch them grow, you will began to feel a sense of connection and concern for them. This feeling will spread to other things in your life, including people and the relationships you have with them. This can even help lead you to repairing any familial ties that were broken due to your addiction.
- Improved Vitamin D Levels
Any weakened immunity that you may be dealing with, brought on by your addiction, can be helped through increased levels of vitamin D. This vitamin that’s known for calcium absorption, is also responsible for regulating the immune and neuromuscular systems in your body. So, as you work away in your garden, about 15-30 minutes (depending on your skin tone) of sun exposure each time will give you the vitamin D you’ll need for the week.
- Increased Physical Health
In recovery, it is important to make sure you exercise regularly to help your body heal from addiction. Drugs and alcohol take a toll on the body, especially your heart, liver, and stomach. As you work out, your body’s circulation will begin to improve and your organs, such as your liver, will begin to cleanse your blood of toxins. Although less intense than other aerobic activities, with about 10 minutes of work in a garden planting, raking, and digging, you will actually increase your heart rate and also begin to build muscle.
The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters
“I am happiest when I’m in my garden. It just gives me joy to have my hands in the dirt – weeding or planting or harvesting, and being truly “grounded” (double-meaning intended). Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food II (2013) is her companion piece to her 2007 The Art of Simple Food. But this book celebrates the garden and the gardener. It’s not a “vegetarian” cookbook, yet it’s all about the vegetable. This is not a flashy cookbook with shiny pictures. But it’s the book you go to when you come back from the garden with an armful of kale or broccoli rabe or dirty turnips, and you find a novel way to celebrate that day’s harvest. Or – if you are not a gardener – it frees you to shop the farmer’s market with an open mind and buy something fresh and interesting, and then you will come home and find a way to use that kohlrabi or eggplant or chicory. The book is a great read, very educational about each vegetable and best conditions for growing, harvesting, etc. The last 100 pages (called “Seed to Seed”) is a “how to” in starting and managing your own garden. The recipes are mostly very simple, and almost every recipe has “variations” – so that if you are missing some ingredient or want to try something a little different, you are encouraged to do so. You can’t help but practice mindfulness when you are in your garden or cooking from (or reading) this book. It’s a great book for this time of year, now that the ground has thawed, and the spring garlic has started to push through the earth. (Yes, she has recipes for that).”
Dr. Randall Dwenger