The Happy Gardener: Naturally Occurring Soil Bacterium Helps Depression

By Andrea Jackson, HSA Contributor

IMG_0140Digging in the dirt provides a different experience and reward for each gardener.
For some, it’s the creative expression involved in designing a garden. For others, it’s nurturing new plants and watching seeds grow. There is enormous satisfaction to be found in the herb garden because all our senses are aroused by the scents and tastes and textures in which we are immersed.

For me, working in the garden is meditative. Sometimes I will find something truly wonderous like butterflies mating or a baby bunny so small it will accept a tentative stroke from my fingers. I wonder why the hydrangea flowers on the side of the shrub where the deer grazed are so much smaller. I am amazed by the borage that comes up every few years in the same spot when I haven’t planted it in a decade. I puzzle over how the bloodroot moved itself from one side of the garden bed to the other. I grit my teeth and wonder why I ever planted mugwort in an already overcrowded bed. This year I will make mugwort vinegar.

I am grateful that my volunteer dill doesn’t quite take over the whole garden but provides me with enough to make an abundance of vinegars, salts, seasoning mixes, and salads. I can’t remember ever planting motherwort although I must have and yet here it is, year after year providing me with good medicine.

But more than that it is the solace. It is the smell and feel of the soil between my fingers and sometimes my toes. Do try barefoot gardening for a true connection to the earth.
I wonder if there is more than just the pleasure of herbs that explains the joy in the garden.

Well, it turns out there is a bacterium that is naturally found in soil all over the world that actually improves depression and anxiety. This wonderous “bug” is Mycobacterium vaccae and it has been shown in many studies to have numerous health benefits. It improves immunity, helps with asthma, and has even demonstrated an ability to treat tuberculosis among many other things.

You can get a dose just from holding soil in your hands and inhaling the aroma. It seems that M. vaccae acts like a mind-altering drug once it is in the body, boosting the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, chemicals responsible for mood. This is the same mechanism by which antidepressant drugs works.

Nature is not something to be appreciated from afar but rather something that is a part of who we are.

Perhaps we should get back to what we have always known playing in the dirt is good clean fun and good for our health too.


The Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment.

One thought on “The Happy Gardener: Naturally Occurring Soil Bacterium Helps Depression

  1. Pingback: The Happy Gardener: Naturally Occurring Soil Bacterium Helps Depression – Human Health

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s