When we bought our mini-farm in 2010 I found a great place to learn about plants through the Chicago Botanic Garden. The Master Gardener Program is offered through the University of Illinois Extension Office, and each county has its own division. I attended a once a week seminar from January until March in 2011 and volunteered my 60 hours time at the Chicago Botanic Gardens between Evening Island and the Green Youth Farm. I felt that the terrain of the Evening Island was very similar to our land; water features, grasses, fields, shrubs and bulbs. The CBG rents land in several places and hire inner city children to work four hours a day at minimum wage to teach them organic gardening, how to harvest the vegetables, and sell them, and also how to prepare yummy meals.
During an annual conference, CBG brought in many speakers to tell us about some of the recent projects around how plants influence our lives. In an apartment complex in Chicago, for instance, more people would gather around the trees growing on the grounds. Children who lived just a couple of miles from Lake Michigan had never even been to the lake. Even photographs or prints with scenes of nature have a profound affect on office buildings, especially where there is no view to the outside world as in a basement or completely bricked siding. In Britain a study of children who spent time in nature saw increased math and reading skills. Besides calming our mood when we are stressed, breathing oxygen rich air that plants provide can have many benefits to our health and sense of well being.
Bach Flower Remedies were created while Dr. Bach noticed how the mood of patients changed when they were exposed to the floral fragrance molecules in a garden setting. Peppermint Essential Oil was used in scientific research for its ability to improve athletic performance and found to be very effective. A 2014 study that was reported in the Journal of Phytomedicine, and in 2013 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine both stated the benefits of ingesting just a few drops of Peppermint oil in water before exercise enhances the athletic performance by increasing oxygen flow as the components in peppermint oil relax the smoothe muscles of the body. What is more is it also reduces lactate levels, which contributes to soreness after exercise.
Basil plants emit a wonderful aroma that repels mosquitos; they don’t like it one bit. The essential oil of the Basil plant benefits humans, however, including anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and high in anti-oxidants. Basil is the King of plants. Most savory herbs like Basil, Thyme, Oregano, black pepper and Clove, to name just a few smell wonderful when we use them in cooking, and add delicious flavors to our food. They are the primary medicinal herbs that many cultures use for health benefits like Basil. As a long time herbalist, I would rather use a natural herb or essential oil to get my vitamins and healthy nutritional intake compared to supplementing with pills.
Growing herbs at home can be very satisfying and picking your own fresh herbs for the kitchen is the best way to add flavor to your home cooked meals. Check out the publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on “Savory Herbs: Culture and Use.” A new concept among Master Gardeners is the Edible Garden. Grow flowers along with savory herb plants, and vegetables and within this “companion” garden comes many benefits. Herbs ward off certain insects and disease and deter predators that might otherwise invade your vegetable garden. Plus the aromas when you walk through your garden will add to the beauty and charm of your experience. I have Idaho Blue Tansy growing near my wooden bench swing, along with other flowers and trees. It is a beautiful cluster of yellow flowers that sends a relaxing aroma into the air when I am out at my swing relaxing with my favorite book and repels mosquitos, too!
While we distill Tansy and make a beautiful essential oil from the plant, we can benefit from its light fragrance in the garden by just crushing some leaves between the fingers and applying it on the skin. Have you ever taken the Rosemary leaves and crushed them to enjoy their fragrance? I love when restaurants plant a barrel full of savory herbs out front for their visitors to enjoy! A little rosemary, some basil, perhaps a thyme or parsley! Wow, my word is complete!
I also think growing the flowers and herbs in a vertical garden right outside your back door is the absolute best way to let nature help improve our mental and physical well being. There are lots of designs, some made of wood and others made from cinder blocks, that are inexpensive and easy to make. I have a wooden one that I fastened to the wall on the back of my home. There are no windows there and I even added a water collector to the design. The planters can be removed and replaced each year with varieties that you either plant every year, or bring in to the green house and keep enjoying during winter. My basil is a prime example; I love love love pesto. I make up a batch and put it in ice cube trays with a silicone bottom and freeze. Pop them out and place into a freezer bag and add a few to dishes for the wonderful basil flavor that is very fresh and delicious.
Water is an important feature to the outside garden that helps add a unique quality of adding oxygen and negative ions from a bubbler into the air for improved mental health and relaxation. When water explodes over the surface and on rocks it releases particles we call negative ions. These help lift our mood because we inhale them easily. Plants natural emit negative ions especially on a warm sunny day through their process of phytosynthesis; take a walk in nature and along babbling brooks or create your own water feature in your garden to enjoy the benefits of negative ion therapy.
Being close to nature also keeps us grounded. What does this mean for our health? Being grounded means we are not “flighty” and we stick close to the moment in our experience with life and living. I use a grounding technique, Grounding essential oil, and I enjoy fresh air daily to help me stay grounded.
Touching the earth is the absolute best way to get grounded. Negatively charged particles that are emitted from the ground are in essence blending and neutralizing the excess particles floating around in our body, those pesky free radicals, and bringing our body back into balance in our internal electrical field. Touching the earth means to go barefoot occasionally on either ground, or very old concrete and maybe asphalt, but especially a beautiful yard of green grass. What is even more impressive is these free electrons that boost our health are, well, free!
Have a wonderful blessed day!