In my experience, people who garden tend to be optimistic individuals.
I had always put this down to the fact that gardening is, essentially, about looking forward. Each seed we sow is an investment in the future, a symbol of hope to be realised if and when that seed grows into a beautiful, healthy plant.
Gardening also of course provides us with physical exercise, but it dictates the pace. It gently reveals to us an understanding and appreciation of the seasons, but it also compels us to follow nature’s rythyms and tempo when it comes to tasks like sowing, pruning, weeding and composting.
And, of course, one of the best things about growing edible plants is that you get to eat the end results of your labours.
There is a growing body of evidence that gardening can also improve mental as well as physical health.
A study by the University of Essex and the Mental Health Charity Mind confirmed that taking part in nature-based activities like gardening helps people who are suffering from mental ill-health and can contribute to reductions in anxiety, stress and depression.
In recent years gardening has even been prescribed by some doctors as part of the treatment of mental ill health.
Now, research by Bristol University has isolated a soil bacteria called mycobacterium vaccaea, which may have a similar effect on the brain as antidepressant drugs such as Prozac.
It is thought that mycobacterium vaccaea stimulates the production of serotonin, a lack of which is linked to a number of depressive illnesses.
The team that made the discovery has predicted that further research may ultimately lead to the development of a “stress vaccine”, but there is surely no substitute for the real thing: rolling up your sleeves and plunging your hands into that lovely soil.
On to the recipe.
This stunningly vibrant soup is every bit as good as it looks: full of seasonal goodness and very easy to make.
leek, broccoli and chard soup with thyme croutons
150 g organic leeks, chopped
150 g organic sprouting broccoli, including stems and leaves
200 g organic chard, washed and drained
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1.2 litres vegetable stock
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
for the thyme croutons
25 g day-old ciabatta or sourdough bread, cut into approx 1 cm cubes
30 ml extra virgin oil
leaves from a sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp soy cream
Leaves from 2 fresh thyme sprigs
1. Place the bread cubes, olive oil and thyme leaves in a bowl and toss gently. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes then preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F, gas mark 2). Distribute the oiled bread cubes on a flat baking tray and place in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes, turning the cubes periodically, until crisp and golden.
2. For the soup, pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a large pan and place over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot add the onion and chopped leek. Cook, stirring every so often, until the onion has become soft and translucent. Add the broccoli and garlic, and cook for a further five minutes, stirring every so often. Now add the chard, thyme, rosemary, sea salt and the stock. Bring to a simmer then lower the heat and simmer for a further 15 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Remove the pan from the heat and set to one side to cool for a few minutes. Remove the rosemary and thyme.
3. Use a blender to process the soup until smooth (you will need to do this in batches).
4. Return the soup to a clean pan and heat gently. Do not allow it to boil. Serve the soup sprinkled with a drizzle of soya cream, a few thyme croutons, and some fresh thyme leaves.
Tags: mental health