Skip to content

Have you heard the news “Dirt is the new Prozac”

Just think dirt is the new Prozac! Yes, creating a garden in your city lot can help with depression and anxiety. There is scientific proof that it heals our mind! It is evident to those of us that grow plants or spend time outdoors that we feel better, but now we have scientific evidence that it really does happen! It is not a figment of our imagination.

I grow it as an annual in our urban potager to attract pollinators and it is very drought tolerant

Before I was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, I started suffering from panic attacks about 4 months before my official diagnosis. My first attack was when my husband and I were grocery shopping at a local store with our kids. I had never suffered an attack before that first attack. It started with this terrible feeling I was going to die right there if I did not get out of that store. It was not a general frustration with hating shopping, which I do, but a feeling I was going to die right there in the store!. I left the store immediately and waited for my family in the car.

 Where did this come from was my first thought! It was a terrifying experience, and if you have never had one, then you can’t possibly understand how crippling it makes you feel and how it affects everything you do in life; from that point on since you live in fear that you might have one again. It is depressing. It is a vicious cycle because you start avoiding the places you have attacks. I remember hearing about this happening to friends.I never gave it much thought to our discussion since it was not an issue in m life. I felt genuine compassion for them, but I never knew what they were going through. I do now! It is real to them, they are not faking it.

Echinacea purpurea " coneflower" are all over our urban potager

Over the years,  I have tried many things to deal with stress/anxiety, but the best medicine for me was when I started my urban potager 10 years ago. It made me happy to be digging in the dirt while spending time out in nature. My urban oasis keeps evolving each year.I have found that it heals my body, but this winter has been a challenge. We started an early winter in October and it does not seem to be letting us get our cole crops out in the soil. 

The past few months I have been feeling a bit stressed inside, but as I started growing many of my annuals and perennials from seed; I noticed my mood was changing! It got me thinking about the research that I have read about how working with soil will “lift your spirits”. My hands are in the soil daily which explains my mood change. Also, seeing green instead of white is pretty uplifting! The first day of spring for our zone 5 area is March 20th just when I will be putting out all my spring cole crop annuals + perennials. If you are feeling a bit down get some soil and start your own annuals inside. It will lift your spirits!

Here is the article from Discover Magazine – Give it a read it will change your life

Is Dirt the New Prozac?

Injections of soil bacteria produce serotonin—and happiness—in mice.

By Josie Glausiusz|Thursday, June 14, 2007
In a stained mouse brain section, blue indicates serotonin-releasing neurons activated by soil bacteria.
Image courtesy of Christopher Lowry

THE STUDY  “Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al., published online on March 28 in Neuroscience.

THE MOTIVE  Some researchers have proposed that the sharp rise in asthma and allergy cases over the past century stems, unexpectedly, from living too clean. The idea is that routine exposure to harmless microorganisms in the environment—soil bacteria, for instance—trains our immune systems to ignore benign molecules like pollen or the dandruff on a neighbor’s dog. Taking this “hygiene hypothesis” in an even more surprising direction, recent studies indicate (read article here)


49 replies »

  1. What a wonderful post Robbie – thank you for sharing a bit more of your journey with us. You have certainly been there and back! I concur absolutely with you and the ‘scientific studies’ ….. isn’t it amazing how we have to have some academic proof before we feel able to trust our own instincts – making a garden, putting your hands into the soil, walking barefoot on the earth are all things that work far better and more quickly than anything the drug companies can come up with! Also the side effects are more about carelessness [not looking where I placed my feet for example 🙂 ] than about internal damage to ones body!

    I lived in the UK for a bit in the early 90’s and suffered the most horrendous homesickness – for the land of my birth, the place I walked upon, the air I breathed and the quality of the light. These are all aspects of the natural world that I simply took for granted and only recognised when they were lacking. These days I am just a bit more aware of how connected I am to the land and I know it has helped me in my journey!

    As always the photos of your flowers are so bright and cheerful…. I do love tagetes – no idea why, they just sing to me Whilst I’m a bit reluctant to see my erstwhile summer fade into Autumn, I know you guys in the north have had a long hard winter and are holding out for Spring. I hope it comes to you soon! xoxo

    • I know you asked me about some of this stuff I have learned:-) This is a problem I had that I don’t talk about with too many people( tee hee-put it out there in cyber space to share-but you inspired me to talk about it) because they think “anxiety” is all in your head, yes it is, but you can’t always make it go away so easily. It takes time + a garden is the best place to heal. I have a post I will write later about how creativity is sparked by nature-you will love that one because they have some tests that prove nature raises your creativity IQ-lol, duh…we always knew that us creative souls:-)
      Isn’t it grand we all can share + be inspired by one another over the cyber fence and not feel alone in our battles:-)

      • I am so glad you shared! I spent much of my first forty years in a state of anxiety and got quite adept at hiding it from others. It took a toll though!

        I think we all suffer on so many levels, each in our own ways. If society was more supportive and recognised what is commonly called ‘people with mental illness’ as ‘people in need of love and support in finding a way through’ we would sure have a better world.

        I once was given a wonderful opportunity to work with a friend of mine who was a mental health counsellor. She had been asked to step in and take on a woman who had been hospitalised on and off for years and who was currently facing lobotomisation. She said she would do it if I moved in and worked in tandem with her. Having no idea what I ws in for I happily agreed and went on a gigantic learning curve that has stood me in good stead for all the years since.

        I learned that when you allow someone to go to the places they need to go without drugging or sedating them, when you walk there with them and stand beside them and show no fear, and then very gently take their hand and lead them back out you return them to sanity.

        It was a miraculous and wonderful interlude in my life that I will never forget and which informs how I feel about ‘people with problems’.

        I think it also helped me very much in my own journey in coming to terms with, and freeing me from, the events of my early years.

        I’ve wandered off subject – I was going to add in that part of the daily activities I did with this woman was gardening and crafting – these were the places where she consolidated her self discoveries and her journey back to sanity.

        We are very fortunate to find in the www community the understanding, support and friendship that is so often lacking in the physical community.

      • wow…Pauline you have such a way with sharing + making everyone around you feel like they have known you for their whole life. You put into words what so many of us are afraid to say:-) And you are also able to express it through your art…You are a gem!!!
        They do have a career called “horticulture therapy” and I do believe it helps people find their way back..and you are so right just being with people is sometimes all they need…to just be there…
        I worked for Special Arts back in the 80’s on various grants. I had teens with problems + all kinds of other special needs students. I would travel from school to school + I loved working with the kids.Speical Arts was a program that reached kids through the arts + it was one of the best jobs I ever had back in the days BK(before kids-lol).
        You are so right I am finding that through the blog community we support each other + I believe this is the future. The world is not just where you live, but where you all meet.. I believe when we write/blog it is easier to communicate. People are more likely to share if they feel safe…and I do believe we are creating that kind of community over our cyber fence….we are growing it just like our gardens:-)

    • Oh I thought that comment was on your blog, oh my goodness I was responding to your post today on your Yes, you will feel better planting your seeds. I just need some more recipes for swiss chard and kale from you this summer. PLEASE. I know you are the food artist + creative with recipes!!! I’ll be bugging you for some new ones since I get tired of just plain old stir fry! I do have a swiss chard quiche, but I need some more + I know you would have a bunch. Maybe a cucumber one too! I’ll be asking:-)

      • Kale, swiis chard, and cucumbers will all be planted in my garden this year, so there’ll be a lot of experiments going on with those, I can assure you. Remind me again when it’s time to harvest. My favorite kale, btw, is Red Russian Kale. The best, isn’t it? Unless you know of another kind that’s better.

      • Yipee!!!Oh do try Blue Scotch Kale it is a dwarf and ohhhh so good! You would have fun with that one since it has a lovely color + curly leaves. It is dwarf( under 12-18 inches) and makes a lovely ornamental plant in the garden you can edge with it.

        Keep me posted about your recipe trials. I will be stoppping by and really excited to see what you create! I was so impressed with your egg plant dish! I grow a white one that you do not have to skin it! An heirloom Casper Egg plant:-)

      • That’s a pretty plant! I haven’t had white eggplants. I stick to the long Japanese purple kind mostly. I was hoarding Ichiban eggplant seeds when I heard Monsanto was going to discontinue it, so I still have a few. Hope they’re still viable. White eggplants sound so fancy! 🙂

      • I like the purple ones too, but I am lazy cook and like the fact I can eat the skins!:-) I understand hoarding seeds
        I put them in my freezer! Good thing seeds are tiny:-)

  2. Great post. I found the Discover article quite interesting, it confirms what we gardeners already know – the earth is what sustains our health on all levels, mental and physical. I would go insane without my daily walks! All weathers, no matter what. If I don’t, I pay dearly (or should I say my family does LOL!). It would be interesting to study gardeners, folks that are drawn to working the soil and see if they suffer mood issues. It could be the reason why so many garden. We do it because it makes us feel better. I know it works for me. Nothing is so satisfying as seeing the product of your labor, whether it be flowers or food on the table.

    • I could not of said that any better! Good point about why we are in the garden. I have always been an outdoor person, and when I was a kid my mother could never get me to come inside! There is a wonderful book about children today and how they suffer from not being outside. It was a book called “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. He coined the term ” Nature deficit disorder”. He feels this lack of being outside to contribute to the increase in a wide range of behavioral problems. It is his “hypothesis”,but I feel it also includes depression. Kids need to play outside + dig in the dirt at all ages!

      • I agree! I read that book a while back and it really makes it clear we have a national problem. If kids aren’t in touch with nature, how can we expect them to care about the environment when they get older? Electronic distractions are part of the problem and many parents worry about safety, so kids aren’t allowed to range free like we did when we were young. There are some good programs through environmental conservancies and wildlife agencies that promote getting outside. I like Cornell’s Feeder Watch for kids in schools and summer camps through Audubon, but more could certainly be done. One year I went into the kindergarden class every Friday for an hour to teach them about nature and gardening. (It was actually that book that inspired me to do it.) It was pretty exhausting for an old gal like me! I had a parent helper and she ended up carrying on the next year when I was unable to continue. They still keep a garden, though a bit weedy. At least they are in the dirt, getting their dose of micro-bacteria!

      • 🙂 you are so wise + what a gift you were to those kids. You started something in their school:-) I can remember when my kids were young + I often wondered why mother that lived in another state was not able to have all the grandkids at one time! What goes around come around-now I do:-)

  3. What a wonderful story–not the article (haven’t read yet) but you–your story! Wonder if your training as an artist helped you find this path? The attention to detail which feeds you, body & soul? I suggested this to someone the other day–that artists make good growers. I think everyone can be helped by spending time getting their hands in the dirt but you get a bonus from seeing what happens, noting it and reveling in it even further. That’s gotta be extra good!!!

    • Lori-you are so right! I agree we are more sensitive us creative types. I use to HATE it when I was younger because people always would say, “Don’t be so sensitive”.Well, I believe we are + sometimes that attention to detail can be a bit of stress in our daily life-lol!!! Our sensitivity to life is what makes us have compassion + can feel things a bit more deeply which we express in our medium. I think of your posts about the swans and the attention to detail you take when you photograph. Us creative souls are wise people + isn’t it grand we have found each other over the cyber fence. I do believe you are right about us being good growers + now we know why it heals our creative spirits to be outside in nature growing!

  4. Wonderful post Robbie! I find it amazing the stuff science is discovering that has been right in front of us all along. One day we may get a tiny glimpse into this incredible world that we live in. For 25 years the outdoors and my garden have also been a lifesaver for me because I also suffered from panic attacks. The can’t breathe know I’m going to die kind. I inherited them from my mom and had them really bad through my 20’s and early 30’s. I’ve always thought there is a physical reason to them as I have 2 other sisters and they weren’t affected. I can so relate to your experience at the grocery store! Been there many times. I thought I had just willed myself out of having the attacks, but now that I think of it, it correlates with the time I started really gardening. Also explains why we get edgy in the winter, huh? Wow. Wonder if there is an addiction to this M vaccae? 🙂

    • LOL…I do believe there is an addiction to M vaccae! I know I am because if I don’t get my fix of playing outside/ or in the dirt I get edgy! It has helped growing all my annuals for the garden. I guess some people might find it easier to go buy them from the store, but I don’t. I also find it saves a lot of money, I get to pick the ones I like + I get my “uplifting” feeling from having my hands in the dirt with all the T lights filling my plant room-lol.
      Annie- I am so sorry you suffered from panic attacks in your younger years because since I had one I really can’t imagine being in my younger years with that going on in my life. I had a family and my youngest was in 2nd grade when I had my first one, so I spent a lot of my teens, 20’s and 30’s panic free. What is it about grocery stores that brings them on, but it does. I also found Tulsi tea ( Holy Basil tea) to help a lot with my panic attacks. I was going to post it , but it is a tea you have to be very careful with since it also lowers blood sugar. I never drink it on an empty stomach either. I grow it in my yard and fix my tea fresh in the summer, but I often tell people to realize it is an “adaptogen” herb and helps with stress. The monks use it in India. I will write a post about it in the future when I have it growing out in my garden. I also have found lemon balm to be very useful, too, but often it makes me sleepy , so I use it at bedtime. I have wonderful dreams!

      • Oh my gosh Robbie, I do believe we’re nature addicts! 🙂 Yea, my 20 and 30’s we’re kind of rough as far as the panic attacks, but I was lucky I had my mom to talk to. I called her many times in the middle of the night. It helped me to know she had been through the same thing and she was the one person I knew completely understood. Dave always tried to help, but sometimes I felt like he probably thought I had 2 heads. The stories I could tell. 🙂 I always thought the attacks were hormone related. Not sure, but I often felt a warm “wave” come over me before I had a really bad one. My mom had tried taking estrogen for menopause and it brought on the panic attacks even though she hadn’t had them in years. Needless to say, she stopped the estrogen therapy. She would have rather dealt with the hot flashes verses the panic attacks.

        The Cape Daisies are beautiful!!! I have never grown them….must add them to my list…..which keeps getting longer! 🙂 Like I need more plants! hahaha We’re suppose to warm up this weekend. I can’t hardly wait. I’m adding a couple sections of split rail fencing to plant some more flowers for the bees under it and also it will serve as a kind of loose border for my veggie garden. Hope I don’t run into too much rock with the post hole diggers! Love all your pics….makes me feel warmer just looking at them! 🙂

      • Two heads, you are so right! I am much better now since I gave up some of my triggers that seemed to aggravate my attacks. I had to quit coffee about 5 yrs ago + herbal teas help a lot! I found sometimes in the start of one of these attacks a person does not breath-crazy-but I have to learn to breath through them! I am so glad you are doing better. I really don’t have them much anymore since the stress in my life is less. The joys of being older:-)
        Cape Daisies have a beautiful gray foliage, but are a bit lanky, so I mixed them in the border. They have an orange + white mix through Seed Savers Exchange. I am saving seed for the white this summer, so e-mail me if you want some next year:-) I just can’t get into going outside and taking photos of white snow right now, so I will be using my photos from years past!

  5. Oh Robbie, I have never had a panic attack but know people who have and it seems terrifying. I am glad you are starting to garden right there indoors. As I write this it is snowing here again and I have had it! AHHHH! But I am comforted by the fact that we will be spending 2 MONTHS of winter next year in Cedar Key. So, I look at this as my last. I have my seed station ready to go but don’t want to start too early. I will order some new seeds this weekend hopefully. I cannot wait to get out in that dirt again – I need Prozac! I have been looking at pictures from years past trying to comfort myself that it was quite green in just a few short weeks that will stretch out longer and longer as Spring approaches and then, the race is on!

    • Isn’t that the place you were this winter with all those amazing places? WOW! I am so happy for you!!!! This winter has made everyone on edge it has been awful, but at least spring is around the corner. Yes, I started a lot of cole crops which will be given to others as well as myself. I start them early so we can enjoy having fresh green salads in late March/early April. I also have pansies, stock plants and others which don’t mind a bit of frost. I have loved having my hands in the dirt and working with the little seedlings. I will start my warm summer vegetables, herbs and flowers towards the middle of March about the time I want to harden off the cole crops, but the way it has been going I don’ t know if I will be hardening them off in March-lol! We have 5 degrees here today + blowing winds all night, but the sun is out right now so that is hope. Shoot when it gets to 30 degrees around here we think it is summer!! We will get our natural prozac soon because I have hope spring is around the corner since our birds are singing every morning,but still have to heat their frozen water!:-)

  6. You’re so right about this Robbie. Dirt is really the way to heal yourself without the use of chemicals. I suffer from a lot of illnesses and do take meds for them but gardening is still the best way for me to feel good about life and myself. I wrote a post on my other blog about it last year: and it describes my own journey with healing thru gardening. it’s really a good way to get ‘Grounded” in a literal way. I’ve had panic attacks and many other mental afflictions and gardening so important to me because of it. I know it’s being a Long winter for you folks and I just hope that it gets better soon. We’re lucky here to have the nice weather we have tho we’re due for some snow soon. Not much like you get tho. Good luck to you in keeping your spirits up during this hard time of year! I know what it feels like and I wish you the best…

    • I just read your post on your other site, I had no idea you suffered. Your garden truly is a place for you to heal. It is your paradise here on earth! I can’t even imagine how you lived those years without putting your hands in the soil since it was a part of your soul. I know hospitals will have gardens on site for people to walk in when they are dealing with difficult times. There is a reason, but the best healing is when you get your hands dirty + I can’t imagine being away from my garden for too long. Yes, it has been a long winter, but the birds are a singing in the morning! Spring will be here soon, and I sure hope we don’t see a winter like this any time soon in the near future! Thank you for sharing your post from naked nerves:-)

  7. Thank you for this most interesting article. I am sure the garden does a great deal for us besides of course keeping us in better shape. On top of that, gardening is also supposed to increase longevity. The panic attacks sound awful. I hope you never experience them again.

    • I really don’t have any problem anymore since I started working more often in the garden + I enjoy my herbal tea:-) I only had them for a short time in my life, but after posting this article + sharing my story I have heard from people that have suffered many most of their lives with panic attacks. I know being in the garden makes me happy, and right now in our zone 5 I am eager to see the dirt:-) The dirt is way under the snow here right now, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will be melting after these last few weeks of below freezing weather:-)

  8. What a lovely post! Panic attacks truly are something we can only sympathize with until we feel one for ourselves. I’m sorry you get them! I find that if I’m ever feeling down or trapped, a little dirt under my nails often does the trick.

    • I am so with you on that ” A little dirt under the nails” does do the trick! I don’t get them that often anymore since I have a huge garden that give me a lot of time with dirt in , on and around me all the time:-) lol!

  9. I think most gardeners know instinctively that working in the garden or just being in the garden is the best therapy for anxiety or stress of any kind. I feel sorry for people who don’ t have this resource.
    Your photography is fantastic Robbie.

    • Thank you Chloris:-) I feel most sorry for people that never had the opportunity to learn from those before them about how
      wonderful it is to dig in the dirt. I grew up with grandparents (and their parents before them etc), my father and mother all gardening around me. I think the further people get away from working the dirt/land they own the sadder they will become because everyone needs a walk in nature, but to grow is where the real healing begins:-)

  10. Reblogged this on The Lady's Garden and commented:
    As an extra post I would like to share Robbie’s blog – Palmraeurbanpotager as they talk about recent research into gardening and depression. I believe in gardening as therapy in a deep down visceral level because I know how much digging in the dirt has helped me overcome my own mental and physical health issues. Enjoy the post!

  11. Hiya, neighbor!

    *hugs* I love reading your posts and I’m so glad to get to know you. It seems we share a lot in common. (I suspect you hear that more and more often.)
    I plan on sharing the article in my blog and I look forward to the next step in your journey!

    • Hi Sarah- I don’t always hear it:-), so it is pretty special when people tell me:-)-big hug!!!+ huge ear to ear smile! I look forward to watching you develop your space! All that community building you are an inspiration!

  12. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and inspiring post Robbie! Yes gardening is very therapeutic and healing. Plants are amazing and gardens are a great way to express our creativity.

  13. Your urban paradise is so worth taking a stroll 🙂 Many thanks for visiting my blog and I enjoyed every single moment spending on your blog. Lovely, unpretentious pictures, rhythmic narratives …. fabulous!

    • Thank you:-)I really enjoyed visting your blog + your amazing food art:-) I do not know much about food art, but through Novice Gardener’s Blog I found your beautiful blog + enjoy learning from you both about “food art”:-) I will be back to visit again:-)

%d bloggers like this: