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Dirt Therapy – 8 Reasons You Need to Have a Garden

I love my garden, and I almost always feel better after spending time in it, but I never really thought about *why* I felt better after a round of dirt therapy. It turns out that experts are catching on to the healing combination of plants and dirt, and it's not only me that experienced the health benefits of gardening.

Close-up of seedling

If you're already gardening, good for you! You've probably noticed some of these things, too. If you're not gardening, perhaps this will help you get inspired. (Share with your other non-gardening friends, too! It's more fun to work together  🙂 ).

#1 – Dirt Therapy Fights Depression

Doctors in the UK are ditching pills and prescribing time in the dirt for treatment of depression. “Drug therapy can be really expensive, but gardening costs little and anyone can do it,” said Sir Richard, who is a patron of Thrive, a national charity that provides gardening therapy.

In the US, veterans are being given time in “Healing Gardens” for treatment of post traumatic stress disorder.

#2 – Exercise

We all know we're supposed to exercise, but not enough of us do it. Gardening is less monotonous and more engaging than many other types of exercise, and can include a wide array of movements such as squats, weight-lifting (watch your back), stretching, wrist strengthening and more.

Moderate to low level extended aerobic exercise is also becoming recommended by more health professionals instead of the old “no pain, no gain” mentality. A garden also serves as a reminder to exercise – it won't take care of itself. 😉

#3 – Get Probiotics

Healthy soil contains a wide array of microorganisms. A teaspoon of productive soil generally contains between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria. (source)  These have been bottled and marketed as HSOs (Homeostatic Soil Organisms) and Carolyn Dean MD ND recommends “Take Soil-Based Probiotics and Eat Dirt“.

In other words, if your garden soil is healthy, there's no need to be too fussy about washing all your produce. Go right ahead and enjoy that tomato fresh off the vine. Eat the carrot pulled out of the soil and brushed off or rinsed with a garden hose.

#4 – Look at Nature, Reduce Your Stress

I've never been a big fan of abstract art – it's just not my thing. That said, I was still surprised to come across studies that showed the patients who viewed natural landscapes healed faster than those who viewed abstract art. Web MD explains:

Looking at scenes of nature can produce a decline in systolic blood pressure in five minutes or less, even if the person is only looking at a poster of nature, Ulrich says. Looking at nature, he also has found, can aid recovery from stress as measured by changes in brain electrical activity, muscle tension, respiration, and shifts in emotional states, all of which may be linked to better immune function.

So take time to stop and smells the roses, and take time to look at them, too. Enjoy the view, calm your mind. If you go barefoot, you might also enjoy the benefits of earthing.

#5 – Cure Impotence

I debated about whether to include this one. With sales of Viagra and other impotence medication reaching $807.7 million in 2009 (source), this is a very real problem.

In addition to diet changes (see “Crispy Fries Equal a Limp One-Eyed Monster” in the post “Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods“, gardening may be one of the best activities for treating erectile dysfunction.

The article “Forget Viagra – Why Gardening Boosts Men's Performance in the Bedroom” states:

Scientists have shown that regular bouts of gentle weeding, digging and mowing can revitalize a man's flagging sex drive. Just 30 minutes of gardening, five days a week, is enough to reduce the risk of impotence by around 38 per cent, they found.

Dirt therapy has no side effects, I might add, other than a nice looking garden.

#6 – Heal Your Mind

Gardening has shown wonderful results for reaching children with special needs, stroke victims, and Alzheimer's patients. The interaction with nature, comforting and familiar sights and sounds, different textures and smells provide a muti-sensory experience that stimulates patients in non-conventional ways.

#7 – Improve Your Diet

More than one study has shown the kids (and adults) who grow their own food are likely to make better food choices and eat more fresh produce. It only makes sense that after you've put time and effort into a plant, you're going to appreciate what it produces a lot more and be less likely to go to waste.

My boys ask for certain vegetable varieties by name (like Suyo Long cucumbers). They often beam when they offer “from our garden” produce to guests.

#8 – Build Relationships

I love swapping gardening stories, tips and produce with friends and neighbors. It's become part of my springtime ritual to share excess tomato plants. I first met one of my favorite neighbors when she brought over freshly baked bread and some extra garden produce shortly after we moved in. That's my kind of welcome wagon. 🙂  Since then, we've traded a variety of produce and canned goods, and she now gives piano lessons to my youngest.

My momma and I spent many long hours in the garden together, and in the kitchen preserving the bounty. It was hard work, but I'll treasure those memories forever.

Now that she's gone, I still feel her by my side in the garden and kitchen. It brings a smile to my face every time. I encourage you to share gardening with someone you care about, too, and make some memories of your own.

Recommended Gardening Tools:

If you've enjoyed this post, please pass it along. Hopefully we'll encourage even more people to discover the health benefits of gardening, and spread a little garden mojo. 🙂  Leave a comment and share your garden stories, special memories and things you love about gardening.

Feet in dirt

If you enjoy dirt therapy, you may find these posts helpful:

Originally published 2012, updated 2016.

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  1. I have wondered where you live , Laurie.? You might of said in earlier post , but I must have missed it. It’s always nice to know what areas people live in. Makes it a lot nicer. I live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. It’s a lovely place to garden!!?

      1. The biggest challenge here has been the wind. We’re along the Niagara Escarpment, and get a LOT of wind. The tree line continues to grow, and that is helping created a protected microclimate.

  2. I noticed that our dogs (all 5 of them) will not drink out of a large flat stainless steel pan, but all drink happily out of a flat plastic hospital waterpan right next to it. They will leave the steel pan full of water, and beg for water in the plastic pan if it runs out. I only noticed this, over time, but there is no mistake about it. Then I noticed theories about electromagnetic fields and an almost healing effect if you walk barefoot on the ground, and other similar theories… thinking maybe the dogs were on to something. I am losing my mother right now, who is losing a battle to cancer. To fight my own depression, I feel almost compelled to go outside and work in the dirt, to garden, pull weeds, walk barefoot. I don’t know if the concerns about “electrosmog,” “dirty electricity,” “electrical pollution,” or “electrohypersensitivity” are a threat to us that walking on the ground barefoot, or weeding by hand can help remedy. I do know that for me depression is helped by gardening. The need to go out and get close to the earth is real.

    1. Sorry that your mom is so ill, but thank you for sharing your experience. I know I feel much better after working outside in contact with the earth, no matter what’s bothering me.

  3. YES! I think looking, planting, harvesting and just being in or around a garden is the very best therapy. I get up in the morning and want to see what has changed overnight, and even more so when I come home from work. I take my shoes off at the edge of the patio and walk barefooted to the garden and feel joy and excitement through me to see what the full-day sun has produced. Such simple things make me smile and know I am blessed, no matter what has happened during the day at work!

  4. Growing Roses for my better half is pure pleasure for me. Never knew a woman that did not like fresh cut roses. Gardening is a multi fold therapy for the both of us. Coming home and finding her in our garden is sanity restorer not to mention the benefit of reaping your own food. Ready to get dirty again. Stop and smell the Roses.
    Love your post, got it from my best friend- Carolyn. ????????

  5. My mother taught me decades ago that getting into the dirt with you bare hands has a healing effect on the body. It releases negative energy.

    About 20 years ago I had a job that I didn’t want to have dirty hands at so wore gloves while gardening. I really could tell the difference with my body charge. After about 2 months of gloves I said to heck with it and went back to getting “dirty”.

    The change was amazing! Now if I am feeling a bit off I start weeding and digging with bare hands and am delighted in the zapping of my “off” energy. It is like grounding ones body.

    Also, have eaten my share of dirt over the years by only rinsing my veggies.

    1. I feel the same way about getting my hands directly in the dirt. Gardening with gloves just doesn’t cut it. Weather and conditions permitting, I’m barefoot, too. It just feels better. (Plus, I have big feet, so no shoes makes it easier to squeeze them into small places.)

  6. I’ve always said that being in the garden was my ‘Sanity Time’. My way of letting go of the daily grind and relaxing. So many people hate the thought of ‘having to do the yard work’. They are sure missing out on some great therapy. And as others have mentioned, such yummy treats, I like to put edibles interspersed in the flower garden. Things like Kale, Chard, onions, etc. Love your newsletter.

      1. Sorry to hear that you have snow. Our forecast here in Kelowna, BC (Southern Interior of the province directly north of Spokane, WA) is calling for sunny skies and a high of 68 – 75 degrees for the next week. This is not the norm for this time of year but I’m loving it. Usually our highs are more like 58 – 65 degrees. Being that this region is classed as a desert our night time lows still get down to around 40 degrees so the swing is deceptive and we still need to be careful with what we are planting this early in the year.

        1. Our average high is around 49 this time year, but it looks like we’ll be in the low 30s this weekend instead. I’m just glad the trees didn’t blossom before this hit, or there’d be no chance of fruit this year.

  7. A wonderful article that all dirt lovers should be able to relate to! One of my earliest childhood memories consists of me, as a 9 year old, squatting beside a giant rhubarb, watching with fascination as our 80 year old neighbor dug rotted chicken manure into the soil round its roots while he shared with me the importance of growing a garden. As I approach my 80’s I think of him often with fondness..thanks for jogging my memory again.

  8. Thank you so much for this great article about the benefits of gardening.

    Whether it is the exercise, sharing your love with someone you know, growing your own food supply it is a great idea, and one that I love very much.

    It is a great way to get to talk with the neighbors as well !

  9. Great article! I came across this browsing your (awesome) website. So much good information for every homesteader out there. I couldn’t agree more – gardening is so important for your health, it instantly makes you feel better, even on cold rainy days. Your diet improves tremendously, because what else are you going to do with all that beautiful produce than eat and appreciate it! Thank you 🙂

  10. Too bad my oldest daughter doesn’t like dirt. At least the young one eats carrots directly from the ground. I can barely stop her from eating the greens beans before cooking them. Thats why I love Favas. They never make it to maturity though 😉

    I remember that I had my own little piece of garden as a little boy. I think I never really tended to it properly but now, 25 years later, it’s all coming back it seems. I could never stand cities. While living close is nice for lots of reasons, I can’t go long without green around me. More kids should just dig around in the dirt instead of being disinfected by their mothers every time they touch as much as a leave.

  11. I had a dream this past week — a dream about last summer’s tomatoes and how glorious they tasted. I found a lot of joy in my garden last summer. I’m so looking forward to this year’s. <3

  12. No wonder I feel so energized, peaceful, and clear-headed after working in my garden. Great info – thank you!

  13. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him forever! Love knowing how to cultivate my own food and feed my family with home grown and loved food!

    Thank you for the information.