Anyone who gardens will testify that it’s the best therapy, and can extol the many reasons why gardening makes us feel good—breathing fresh air, taking in the beauty of plants and insects, and even working up a bit of a sweat. But it turns out that gardening is good for your gut, too!
Here are our three favorite gut-healthy benefits of the wonderfully uplifting practice of soil cultivation.
1. Exposure to friendly microbes in the soil
At Hyperbiotics, we recommend supplementing with probiotic strains that are resident to the human microbiome, such as L. acidophilus and B. bifidum, to reap the benefits these strains provide, like digestive and immune support. But we also recognize that regular exposure to soil-based microorganisms through lifestyle choices—such as gardening, spending time in nature, and having pets—provides significant benefits as well.
For example, one bacterial strain found in compost and soil, M. vaccae, has been clinically studied for the way it supports mood.1 Research indicates that serotonin synthesizing neurons are activated upon exposure to this microbe, as well as neurons related to immune response—two great reasons to dig your hands in the dirt!
2. A good dose of vitamin D
We all know that getting a little sunshine makes us feel good—this is partly because time in the sun allows our bodies to synthesize vitamin D. The “sunshine” vitamin is an essential nutrient for absorbing calcium in our food and supporting the body’s immune response, among many other things.
Studies have also demonstrated that vitamin D deficiency can even lead to an imbalance between different types of flora in the gut microbiome.2 Fortunately, spending time in the garden soaking up the sun can be a great way to ensure your vitamin D levels stay in a healthy range.
3. Access to fresh, prebiotic-rich vegetables
Did you know that eating vegetables and herbs fresh out of the garden exposes you to a wide array of microbial diversity? Indeed, a small spinach plant has over 800 species of bacteria inside of it!3
We are passionate about the important role that diet plays in supporting a healthy microbiome, so we recommend a plant-based diet full of whole foods, especially those high in prebiotic fiber—a specialized plant fiber that’s indigestible to us, but feeds the friendly bacteria in our guts.
The good news? It turns out that many of the prebiotic foods we recommend incorporating into your diet are also easy to grow in climates across the U.S. and around the world:
• Garlic. This member of the onion family is a great prebiotic source and is surprisingly simple to grow. Just place garlic cloves in the ground before the first autumn frost, and they will slowly begin to take root all winter (and if there’s a rainy spring, they won’t need much watering). Their scapes can be harvested in May and the bulbs can be harvested in June.
• Jerusalem artichoke. One of three ingredients in our Prebiotic Powder, Jerusalem artichoke also requires very little maintenance and produces a lovely sunflower-like bloom. These prebiotic powerhouses are grown and harvested like potatoes, by placing tubers with eyes in the soil in the spring and then digging up the new growth in late autumn.
• Burdock root. High in two important types of prebiotic fiber, inulin and FOS (fructooligosaccharides), burdock root grows wild like a weed in many places across North America. To cultivate burdock in your garden, plant seeds in the spring in a sunny part of your plot and harvest the roots in the autumn or following spring.
• Dandelions. Even your weeds can be healthy and tasty! Dandelions are packed with liver-supporting compounds and their leaves are full of prebiotic fiber. It’s best to harvest in the fall when they’ve stored up the most nutrients, but make sure to only do so in areas that aren’t sprayed and that are free of roadside pollution.
With spring well underway, now is the perfect time to start gardening—your gut will most certainly thank you for your efforts!
1. Reber, S., Siebler, P., Donner, N., et al. (2016). Immunization with a heat-killed preparation of the environmental bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae promotes stress resilience in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(22), E3130-E3139.
2. Avan, A., Ghayour-Mobarhan, M., Tabatabaeizadeh, S., Tafazoli, N., & Ferns, G. (2018). Vitamin D, the gut microbiome and inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences,23(1), 75. doi:10.4103/jrms.jrms_606_17
3. Lopez-Velasco, G., Carder, P. A., Welbaum, G. E., & Ponder, M. A. (2013). Diversity of the spinach (Spinacia oleracea) spermosphere and phyllosphere bacterial communities. FEMS Microbiology Letters,346(2), 146-154. doi:10.1111/1574-6968.12216
Kelli is passionate about cultivating harmonious relationships with all life—from the microbes in our guts and in the soil to plants, animals, and people. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah and works as an ecological gardener, hosts communication workshops, guides group meditations, and shares her knowledge about probiotics and the human microbiome with our wonderful customers here at Hyperbiotics.