Gardening is a healthy outdoor activity that reaps more rewards than just the food you grow for yourself. One study1 by Dutch researchers found gardening produced a reduction in cortisol levels significantly stronger than those who did not garden after a stressful experience. Cortisol is excreted when your body is under stress; chronically high levels have been linked to obesity,2 cognitive ability3 and heart disease.4
Working in the garden is another way to help achieve 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise every week.5 However, unlike biking or walking on a treadmill, gardening produces edible results. One study6,7 found those who regularly enjoyed formal exercise and were physically active, including gardening, experienced a 30% reduction in risk of death from all causes.
Gardening helps improve hand strength and dexterity. One study8 following 3,000 older adults found the incidence of dementia was reduced in those who enjoyed daily gardening. Gardening boosts your mood9 and offers a productive way of getting sensible sun exposure and boosting your levels of vitamin D.
If you’re ready to get started planting a unique and wholesome edible garden, you may not need to run to the garden store for starter plants or grow your garden from seed. Starting with non-GMO, organically grown produce may only require a quick stop at the grocery store to get just what you need to fill your garden with fresh vegetables and herbs to last you all summer long.
Ginger might be the least difficult plant to grow at home. You can plant it in the ground or in a pot depending upon your location and temperatures, and you’ll easily get enough to plant for the following season and eat through the year.10 The ginger foliage is a single stem with long slender green leaves. The part you eat are really rhizomes, although they are commonly called ginger root.11
Amend the soil with plenty of compost.12 Ginger loves filtered sunlight, warm weather and rich moist soil since it’s a tropical plant. Temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit may trigger dormancy in the plant and even lower may kill it.13 Keep your ginger away from frost, direct sunlight and strong winds. Although your plant enjoys moist soil, they do not like soggy or waterlogged soil.14
Get a large ginger root from the grocery store 2 inches wide and 2 inches long.15 You may have better results if you soak your ginger overnight as it may have been treated with growth retardant.16 Split it in half and place it in the soil about 1 inch deep. Within a couple of weeks you’ll start to see the foliage appear from the ground.17
Ginger root is used as a seasoning or may be sliced and boiled in tea. The antibacterial power in ginger may help reduce your risk of periodontal disease.18 and ginger tea is commonly used to calm nausea during pregnancy or chemotherapy.19 Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to reduce swelling and pain in those with arthritis, either orally20 or as a compress over the area.21
Ginger may help improve blood sugar22 and lower LDL cholesterol levels.23 Loaded with antioxidants, ginger may help normalize blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease24 and promote healthy aging.25
Garlic loves a sunny location in free-draining, fertile soil. Amend your soil by adding plenty of compost or organic matter a few months before planting. Garlic is best planted in the fall months in a sunny location so the cloves can put down roots before the ground freezes.26 Use a large head of garlic from the grocery store and break it into cloves. Only use the large cloves for planting.27
Put them about an inch deep and 6 inches apart leaving about a foot between each row.28 If you live in a cold area, you’ll want to plant the cloves in trays and keep them under cover until spring. Don’t worry if you see some green shoots in the fall as this does not harm the plant.29
If you’d like to plant in containers, be sure the container is at least 8 inches wide and plant the cloves so there’s 4 to 6 inches distance in each direction.30 Your garlic needs a little attention until it’s time to harvest. Keep the area weeded and add organic mulch occasionally. This also helps to retain moisture and keep the soil cool. If the weather is dry, you’ll also need to water.31
Determining the time to harvest might be the trickiest part about growing garlic since if you harvest too soon the immature cloves maybe usable but not as big. However, if you wait too long, the cloves begin to dry and separate.32 Harvest often occurs when the leaves begin to turn brown in mid-July to early August.
Dig up the bulbs but be careful not to bruise them. They can be tied, with the leaves braided or the stems maybe cut just a few inches above the bulb. Hang the braided garlic or store the loose bulbs on screens to allow for drying.33
For centuries, people have used garlic for the flavor and health benefits. In test tubes, it appears to kill cancer cells34 and may help to boost immunity.35 Garlic is a natural anti-inflammatory36 and although the verdict is out on cholesterol, research has found a positive effect on your arteries and blood pressure.37 The antioxidant and antifungal properties may help fight athlete’s foot.38
Carrots are another vegetable you can regrow from the produce you purchase at the grocery store. Use non-GMO organically grown carrots and begin by cutting off the end, leaving approximately 1 to 2 inches where the greens had been cut from the plant, the thick end the carrot.39
The ends of the carrots may then be planted in well-draining soil with the cut end down. Leave the top of the carrot exposed to air and water the soil. In approximately one week the carrot will start to grow leaves.40 The plant will not grow another root carrot but will produce plentiful leaves that are tasty and a good addition to your salad.
Carrot greens may also be added to a number of dishes including curried frittatas, roasted vegetable broth41 or a chickpea and carrot top salad.42 Organic Facts43 includes vitamin A, calcium, iron, fiber and vitamin C in the nutritional content of carrot greens. These nutrients contribute to your immune system, kidney function, digestion and bone density.
Once you’ve cut off the ends of your romaine lettuce, you may just toss it in your compost pile or the garbage. But, did you know you can regrow lettuce at home? Lettuce begins growing more easily when started in water but once the roots take form, the plant will perform better when planted in soil.44
Cut off the end of your romaine lettuce leaving approximately 1 to 2 inches of lettuce. Place the bottom end into about 1/2 inch of water. Most importantly, change out the water every day. Usually within a week you’ll notice the leaves growing.45
You’ll want to transplant this into the soil after roots have developed. Although you can leave them in water, the plants usually never reach full size. Make a hole in well-composted, well-draining soil and plant the lower ends and roots, leaving the leaves exposed.
Lettuce grows well in a container46 and may be grown indoors when given plenty of sun.47 You can start harvesting the outside leaves as they get larger, leaving the inside leaves to grow bigger. Lettuce is low in calories and high in vitamin A, C, K and potassium. Like all leafy green vegetables, it provides multiple health benefits.48
Starting herbs from your grocery store is simple and easy. Some take a little longer to take root and grow but all can be grown in containers outside in your garden or indoors near a window. All herbs require soil with good drainage and most grow well in typical garden soil.49
Rosemary is a woody plant50 that prefers slightly gritty soil and good drainage as it is prone to root rot. Your herbs will do best in six hours of direct sunlight each day.51 A south to southwest facing window works well. If you don’t have an available window sill for your herbs, you may need to use a grow light for the additional lighting.52
While outdoor temperatures in spring and fall can get tricky, most herbs do well in indoor temperatures, between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Herbs will tolerate it if indoor temperatures dip to 60 degrees at night. Just keep the foliage from touching the glass to protect it from cooler temperatures.53 Use these simple strategies to start your herbs at home:54
|Oregano — Before adding to water, take off all leaves except two to three sets at the top of the stem. Cut the stem at a 45-degree angle with sharp, clean scissors and place the stem in water. Oregano takes about four weeks to develop roots before you can plant in a container.55 Fresh oregano has antibacterial phytonutrients and is loaded with antioxidants.
The leaves are a good source of vitamin K, E, tryptophan and calcium. Consider drying the leaves to extend use. However, they must be stored in a dry, glass container; they will lose flavor and health benefits at around six months.56
|Rosemary — Choose a green-colored rosemary stem and strip off the lower leaves. Place the stem in water next to a window in full sun. The plant may even begin growing new leaves as it’s rooting. Once a good root system has developed, plant it in well-drained soil.57
Rosemary plants live about two years.58 The plant has health benefits associated with improved concentration59 and digestion.60 However, too much of a good thing is not better. Purposefully taking high doses may trigger pulmonary edema, vomiting and coma.61
|Mint — To start mint, strip off the bottom leaves from a tender young shoot of mint that has not developed flowers or seeds, and place it in water. Once rooted, plant in a container or raised bed as mint grows like a weed,62 sending seeds and root rhizomes. It can quickly become invasive.63
Mint contains menthol, which works as a natural decongestant64 helping you to expel mucus more easily. The cooling effect may be soothing to a sore throat. One study65 found peppermint water may help nipple cracks and pain in breastfeeding mothers. Mint is likely best known for the calming effect on indigestion and upset stomachs and is a common remedy for intestinal gas.66
|Basil — Strip the bottom leaves from a stem that has not become woody. Place the cutting in water. If you water is heavily chlorinated, use filtered water. The plant will begin to grow roots after two weeks. Transfer this plant to a pot of well-draining soil to your garden or window sill.67
Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and contains a unique combination of flavonoids that offer protection against cellular damage.68 The leaves also have antibacterial properties and may have anti-aging effects.69
|Sage — After removing the lower leaves, cut the stem at a 45-degree angle and place in water. The sage plant may take up to a month to grow roots before you can plant it in a container.70 Sage has traditionally been used for pain relief and antibacterial properties.
In one review,71 researchers found sage had a positive effect on memory and cognition, sage tea could improve lipid profile and may be as effective as Metformin to reduce liver glucose production in people suffering from diabetes, exerting a hypoglycemic effect lowering blood sugar. Additionally, application of sage extract showed positive effects in easing menopausal hot flashes.72
|Thyme — Choose a green stem of thyme to root. Take off the lower leaves and cut the end at a 45-degree angle, being sure to remove all the brown areas of the stem. Once the plant has developed roots, plant it in your container.73 As noted by Medical News Today, thyme has a distinctive phytonutrient profile that may offer antibacterial, antifungal and insecticidal properties.74
Thyme has been effective against several garden pests including ants, spiders, ticks, mosquitoes and grasshoppers.75 Researchers have found thyme showed strong activity against clinical strains and good results against antibiotic resistant strains of Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia and Pseudomonas genera.76