Happy Dirt


Seratonin-booster Mock Orange is beginning to bloom.

Seratonin-booster Mock Orange is beginning to bloom.

My decades as an alternative health practitioner leads me to varying reading that might not be readily available, and sometimes I find priceless little tidbits. A study in the Neuroscience Journal from 2007 found that exposure to the bacteria found in dirt boosts Seratonin levels in the brain. Gardeners already know this, even if they don’t know the science behind it.

Seratonin is the neurotransmitter that boosts feelings of serenity, peace, joy and happiness. Seratonin also balances Dopamine, the excitability neurotransmitter that makes us nervous, edgy, irritable and sharp. Digging in the dirt literally is an anti-depressant. Studies also have shown that kids that dig in the dirt are exposed in a healthy way to bacteria that improve their immune systems. You don’t have to dig barehanded; sitting, kneeling, and as you know – scooting and crawling sometimes – will do it. Once you start digging and planting, the bacterium spores are available airborn as you breathe.

But no need to tell anyone reading this blog; if you are having a bad day, go out into the garden! No wonder sending kids outdoors to play helps so many things. And perhaps the dramatic rise in antidepressant medication prescriptions might have to do with the urbanization of our culture, travelling in vehicles, using electronics instead of playing outside, and the lack of connection to the earth. Many times I would ask a patient: “When was the last time you walked barefoot on the earth?”, and many times that person couldn’t remember. Amazing!

Even when I didn’t have time to “garden” and only planted annuals, containers or the occasional hardy evergreen, I couldn’t get through the day without sitting outdoors and breathing the plant-cleansed air. I think if I hadn’t been in the healthcare industry for so long, I would never have realized just how many people don’t do these basic things. People go on vacation to rejuvenate; oftentimes these vacations are the only connection people get to the earth and mother nature. I can’t imagine living in a city like New York or Hong Kong, where asphalt, conrete and dirty air is a way of life.

And though I haven’t yet seen a study on it, I’m convinced that water, especially ocean water, contains the same seratonin-boosting qualities. I’m never as happy as when I’ve spent a week on the ocean. I think I need a vacation!

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15 thoughts on “Happy Dirt

  1. Thanks for the info; of course it makes perfect sense to anyone who loves gardening, but scientific evidence is always helpful! (Although isn’t it sad that in this day and age it takes scientific evidence to prove something that makes so much common sense? Our culture has lost it’s mind!!)

  2. So that is why I can’t wait to get out in the garden and dig in the dirt. I must say, I am always very contented when I am in the garden, now I know why.
    Happy Easter.
    Jennifer

  3. What’s funny, Katharine, is that those scientists who studied the soil probably never got out and actually dug in the dirt themselves for pleasure. They were probably busy indoors in the lab, wondering why they were so stressed!

  4. Heredity has brought the darkness of depression down through many generations of my womenfolk. I’ve been on an anti-depressant for years now. But then, we’re not talking “just slightly depressed” here. I’ve suffered that since early childhood. But every hour or so finds me out in the garden, digging in the dirt. It does cure most whatever ails you. (Unless what ails you is just too chemically-inclined to be mastered by it altogether.) I agree with you though. If parents could get their children outside and away from the easy indoor electronics, they would benefit greatly. Happy Easter to you! And may we both be digging in the dirt tomorrow!
    Brenda

  5. Brenda, hormone imbalances can indeed create genetic body types predisposed to depression and anxiety, and for those folks, modern anti-depressants are a god-send. No wonder you’re a gardener! And a wonderful one, to boot. Happy Easter to you, and we are forecasted to get some blessed much-needed rain tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll be indoors watching it rain, if I can remember what that looks like. I did go to a nursery and to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center native plant sale today, so I do have handful of things to plant. I found something new and wonderful that they definitely don’t have at the Whataburger – a Clerodendrum Ugandense – supposedly a great shade-blooming plant. You’ll see pictures if it does well for me!

  6. That is interesting to know. I have had my share of those bacteria. I wonder what I would be like if I didn’t go out in the garden every day. Not worth living with probably.

  7. LOL! Isn’t that the truth, Jenny? How many times have I worked out my frustrations out of doors? I can remember napping on the earth when I was especially upset and waking up feeling quite differently. Hooray for dirt!

  8. Great entry, Robin. This is another excellent reason to get outside and enjoy the garden. I have anecdotal evidence that it helps. Right after my son was diagnosed in the autistic spectrum, gardening seemed one of the only things that would cheer me up. When I felt down and had a few moments to myself I would sit outside in my (then Florida) garden and pull weeds. I’d never been much of a weeder and still don’t care for the task, but during that time I had pretty weed-free beds in my private backyard garden. Garden therapy — along with “purr-therapy” from my cats — has been a very helpful aspect of my life.

  9. Purr-therapy; that’s something I am totally in agreement with! My pets have gotten me through the worst times in my life and I can’t imagine life without them. I’m glad you have your garden for therapy as well.

  10. Robin, I liked this post. I am living proof it is true. I never gardened much other than planting herbs in a pot every year, but my parnter of 25 years died unexpectedly and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Last year, he made me a memory garden to honor both our moms and my sister and my friend paula who died way too young. He put in a stone patio and a flower bed on three sides. We put a few hostas and ferns out, but it was September and too late for much more. He died in December.

    I picked up the mantle, I have expanded and added annuals to the memory garden which is now named after him, and I have drawn strength to go on from the soil. I now do things I’d never thought of doing, as I had a bad back, but doing things little by little has helped strenghten my back and made me be active and lose weight. I can now wield 50lb bags of soil and fertilizer.

    I started on the front porch now, which is a good old large Southern porch, and I’ve made it an oasis. I’m happiest in the garden with dirty hands. A friend also says “The best therapy is dirt under the fingernails”. Thanks for the great post!

  11. What a great comment, Kevin. And what a miracle the dirt has done for you, to go on through such difficult times. And I’m really envious of that good ol’ Southern Porch! Post pictures soon, so I can see it.

  12. Ah, yes, the beautiful Amore Felinus plant in bloom! He was so cute – he ran ahead of me on the path and first he jumped in head first and all I saw was his backside sticking up out of the pot. Fortunately, he turned it over so I could take a cuter shot!

  13. Pingback: Dirt: The Gardener’s Drug of Choice

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