Anyone who gardens knows that plants only thrive when they’re in the right environment, in a soil that is structurally sound with the right amount of water and appropriate nutrition. Just like humans, plants should ideally be able to get all its nutrition from the soil, but like the environments we live in, the soil often doesn’t carry enough nutrients. A plant requires an environment where the soil contains a good microbiome (colony of small micro-organisms), and an extensive mycorrhizal(fungal) network for the exchange of minerals for sugars. It needs sunlight and rain.
It is no different for us. We need to live in a healthy environment with community and connection. We need our gastrointestinal system to be structurally sound to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. We need an acidic stomach, optimal digestive enzymes and bile production, healthy epithelial mucosa to line our gut, and a diverse microbiome. Structurally we need to be able to chew, to move food through the gut via gastric motility and for our liver and kidneys to expel toxins. We also need sunshine and water.
When a plant looks sick, it’s not enough to observe the physical signs. Instead, it’s always better to zoom out to consider the wider environment and try to identify the causes of sickness and the factors driving it. A plant living in a balanced healthy environment should be able to cope with the odd insect infestation without becoming sick but in a parched soil, with lack of water, poor drainage in an overcrowded weedy environment, it may give over to sickness. Again, no different for humans! We can use pills to ease the effects of acid reflux or a headache, but health as opposed just the absence of disease means finding out what is causing the symptoms and - why they are occurring. Then it’s possible to correct the insufficiency and this might be a nutritional, structural, emotional, or environmental deficiency.
A good gardener looks at soil quality, pollutants, trauma, and environment. The plant that is constantly buffeted by a strong wind is not unlike someone who experiences trauma. For some people, their roots remain strong because of it and they become resilient. For or others, though, their roots are insecure, and they fail to thrive. Unresolved physical and emotional trauma can have a negative effect on our health if we fail to digest it properly.
If you don’t water a plant, you can see it wilt. Yet it will have been in a state of stress before this happens because hormonal messages have slowed down the plant’s metabolism to conserve water loss. If water loss has been persistent watering doesn’t revive the plant. In this condition the plants chemical processes are inhibited. Again, it’s much the same for humans. If we wait to feel thirsty before drinking, we have already put our cells under stress. Similarly, what we eat as humans we need hydration to survive. Constant underhydration causes our health to suffer - we don’t die because we do drink, some water, but we fail to thrive, and our metabolism is under constant stress. We make ourselves vulnerable to disease.
The way gardeners prepare and fertilise the ground doesn’t only affect the plant that is growing in the soil, but also the microenvironment. Plants have a symbiotic relationship with soil microbes and fungal networks (mycorrhizae) via their roots - the more diverse that system the better for the plants survival. Similarly, what we eat as humans affects our gut microbes. The greater diversity of nutritious foods in our diet, the better for our gut bacteria that help us and so our health. The environment we live in also affects our gut. If we absorb too many negative chemicals via our eyes, skin, nose, and digestive tract, we damage our chemical and bacterial balance. Our environment also needs to be fertilised with community, stress-free times, purpose, love, and laughter.
Good health and vitality is about balance.
A garden that thrives has balance and diversity. The garden may experience adverse weather, the odd virus, insect, bird, or animal assault but if it has a sound ecology and few chemicals to disrupt its balance it will still be beautiful, it will not succumb to disease.
I was a plant gardener in a previous life. Now, as a “Gut Gardener” my job is to zoom out and look at the persons whole environment. Only then is it truly possible to restore balance and vitality.