How many people do you know who are affected by depression, anxiety, stress or other emotional illness? Or maybe the better question is: Who do you know that is not affected? The pressures of today’s increasingly fast-paced, high-tech society that demands you know all things at all times and learn to do them all at once has brought many to the brink at one time or another. Luckily, gardening therapy has become a highly recognized agent for healing. The even better news is that there’s science to back what we’ve all sensed the entire time: gardening therapy makes us FEEL better.
The American Horticultural Therapy Association compiled this research based list of benefits that horticultural therapy and therapy gardens bring psychologically: “Improve quality of life, increase self-esteem, improve sense of well-being, reduce stress, improve mood, decrease anxiety, alleviate depression, increase sense of control, improve sense of personal worth, increase feelings of calm and relaxation, increase sense of stability, improve personal satisfaction, and increase sense of pride and accomplishment.” 
Real Stress Release
Just this year the first experimental evidence to show that gardening helps relieve acute stress was released. Significant drops in a stress hormone called cortisol were demonstrated after 30 minutes of gardening and the positive mood of the participants in the study was considered fully restored. It’s not just a remedy, but a cure for acute stress.
Happiness that’s Infectious
Microbes in soil have proven to have mood lifting effects according to studies conducted by University of Bristol and University College London. A bacteria in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae has been found to effect the same neurons as Prozac via the release of serotonin in our brain. Serotonin is a natural anti-depressant and strengthens the immune system. In short, smelling soil as you turn over your garden and “play” in the dirt helps you feel happy.
A Natural High
Another study has shown that harvesting food from the garden results in a release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain. This release of dopamine “triggered a state of bliss or mild euphoria.” The theory is that this evolved from the days when we were hunter gatherers and our relationship with food was more immediate and directly correlated with survival.
Organic Maintains the Benefit
It’s important to eat organic or homegrown foods to make sure you aren’t negating the emotional healing capacity of your food.
Full list from the American Horticultural Therapy Association  http://ahta.org/sites/default/files/DefinitionsandPositions.pdf
Author: Stacey L. L. Couch