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Between the Rows: Achieving a healthy lifestyle through gardening



For The Recorder
Friday, December 15, 2017

Shawna Coronado has shared her gardening expertise in many ways on TV, on lecture tours and in her books like “Grow a Garden Wall: Create Vertical Gardens with a Purpose,” but in her new book, “The Wellness Garden,” she shares her own history with painful osteoarthritis and how she learned to change her lifestyle for better health.

“The Wellness Garden: Grow, Eat and Walk Your Way to Better Health” includes information about foods you can grow in your garden that will affect the way your body functions. There are lists of foods that most commonly cause allergies including milk, eggs, wheat and shellfish, as well as information about anti-inflammatory foods and low glycemic foods.

There are three main sections beginning with Growing the Wellness Diet and Lifestyle. Here are ideas about organic gardening, using techniques like raised beds to accommodate back problems, and choosing crops for their special nutritional values. Then it is on to incorporating exercise in the garden. Strolling and walking through other gardens, through the woods or simply around your own neighborhoods on a regular basis are beneficial. It is also important to take advantage of ergonomic tools to make your chores easier. You might need to find ways to sit or bend that are right for you. I know this from my own experience. I find it less stressful to do a lot of my own gardening on my knees. This means my body is bent in a kind of backward Z shape, and for me this puts very little strain on my back. We all have to try out options to find what is best for us.

The sections called “Therapeutic Gardening and Therapeutic Garden Designs” sounded a little cold and corrective to me. In fact, these therapies are really about reminding us of the healing benefits of fresh air and sun, and being mindful, noticing and welcoming the atmosphere around us — in nature and, I think, in the people around us. As for garden design, there are environmental tips and suggestions of how to achieve your own goals — prioritizing the activities and elements that are important to you.

I was happy that a chapter had been given over to the fragrance garden, because of my own love of fragrant roses. Out in the open air, I love the strong scents of lavender, peonies, lilies and lilacs, but we will all have our favorites.

We do not have to give up gardening as we age or develop physical problems, but we might need to make changes. Heeding the advice and experience of people like Shawna Coronado is helpful.

Coronado talks about especially healthful foods to grow in our gardens, and Brittany Wood Nickerson gives us the information and recipes to make delicious and healthful meals. Recipes from “The Herbalist’s Kitchen: Delicous, Nourishing Food for Lifelong Health and Well-Being” is a wonderful cookbook.

While herbs cannot cure us the way an antibiotic pill can, Nickerson says herbs “almost always help you better heal yourself.” She notes that “a spoonful of sage honey boosts the immune system . . . hot peppermint tea encourages the body to sweat and helps break a fever. . . a dollop of herb pesto alongside a heavy meal, and you can help the body digest fats and ease indigestion.”

While herbs used as seasoning will have some medicinal effect, a ‘medicinal dose” will be needed to specifically act on your system. This comes with the warning that if you are using substantial amounts of an herb you need to know how it will interact with any medications you might be taking.

One section of the book lists a dozen common herbs, from basil to thyme, with the particular ways they can heal. Then comes a section on the various ways that healing herbs can be used in tea, tinctures, vinegars, butters, infused oils, infused honey, pestos, salts and herbal syrups.

Then come the recipes with listed health benefits. I thought this cookbook might have recipes that were too odd or daunting, but, au contraire. I found poached peaches with tarragon, braised chicken with shallots and figs, garlic-stuffed roast pork, spanakopita with fresh herbs and wild greens, hazelnut cornmeal cake with rosemary honey and Nickerson’s take on an Argentinean condiment chimichurri. Hers was made with red grapes, dill and oregano, and it looks fabulous.

Not everyone will love every recipe or technique. There are recipes with lavender and roses. I really cannot tolerate these strong fragrances in my food. Nickerson reminds us from time to time that we must listen to our own bodies, paying attention to the way our digestive and other body systems react to certain foods.

There are recipes for every season, with the reminder that the health effects of sharing our meals with others is also beneficial. I know that having meals with my husband is more pleasant than eating alone, and cooking and eating with the greater family or friends is a real joy.

December is a month of celebrations, of meals and of social activities. It is also a month of gift-giving and both “The Wellness Garden” and “The Herbalist’s Kitchen” make great gifts going into the new year, when many of us may be thinking of the ways we can feel and be heathier.

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980. She lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com