I've been working in the greenhouse with students a lot recently, teaching about soil sciences, and exploring how vital a healthy soil food web is to our environment and internal ecosystems. When we look to restorative agricultural techniques, soil is the foundational element in which most of our attention is given. The priority is to nourish the soil with a whole host of nutrients that are in turn used to build up the microorganisms and biology within the soils - with the goal of the soil ecosystem to begin to auto regulate itself.
Just like the soil, our bodies have the same biological inclination to want to auto-regulate themselves. To create homeostasis when things are out of balance. The state of our gut health is liken to the status of the soil -- both require a tremendous amount of biological diversity of microorganisms and bacteria to thrive!
Did you know that "In just 1 tsp of soil, there is 1 BILLION individual bacteria, several meters of fungal hyphae (mycelium) thousands of protozoa, and dozens of nematodes!" - Elaine Ingham, Soil Scientist, author, and Founder of Soil Food Web, LLC.
When cultivating plants and botanical medicines from seed, having a full profile of nutrients within the soil is of necessity, as a healthy soil food web will help the plant grow strong and accumulate biomass within its structure! This includes having higher levels of calcium, organic matter, humus, and local bacterial and fungal inoculants to help support the protein synthesis, and metabolic efficiency of the plants. Additional supplements like fish emulsion, calcium sources (eggshells, oak leaves, etc,) oxidized worm casting tea, and compost are all tremendous resources to create an oasis teeming with biology.
The Biomimicry of Soil and Gut Health
Our bodies operate similar in function, as our overall gut health and active gut flora help to ensure a balanced and stable body - preventing symptoms and diseases such as depression, anxiety, IBS, leaky gut syndrome, fatigue, digestive disorders, and more. Pre and probiotics, as well as high calcium supplements (especially for women!) are vital to ensure a stabilized nervous system and digestive health. The vagus nerve is also deeply effected by gut health, as it is the main communication line between the gut and the brain!
That being said, having a health protocol that NOURISHES both the gut and nervous system is a tremendous way to overhaul existing stress response cycles, imbalanced cortisol or hormone levels, compromised immune systems, and to create more ease. Immuno-nutritional therapy gets at the crux of this issue by using foods and botanical medicines that help to support gut health and flora. The main goal of this immuno-modulating nutritional therapy is to hone in on:
1. The gut biome
2. Cellular Defense
3. Local or Systemic inflammatory // oxidative stress
You may be thinking, "that all sounds wonderful, but what does that look like?" Translated into action, we can look to pre and probiotic rich foods such as dark rich leafy green vegetables, fermented foods, dandelion and burdock root, beets and root vegetables, kefir, yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut to help adjust our guts. Adaptogenic and nervine botanical medicines such as albizia, ashwagandha, skullcap, magnolia, licorice root, lemon balm, St. John's wort, cinnamon, reishi, rose, and milky oats also swoop in to support the endocrine and immune system during times of radical change!
When working with plants - whether in the greenhouse, implementing garden or farm design, or research - there is always a lesson to be learned about their holistic and systemic ways of their biological behavior. Often times, reductionist science has a hard time capturing the deeply holistic ways in which our bodies and ecosystems operate! Therefore, it is up to us to embrace new lenses and perspectives in which to view our surrounding environmental and personal health. Our gut flora is one such example, as it serves as an indicator to our overall well-being. If we can learn to stabilize and form an intimate relationship with our diets and digestive responses, many doors will open to understanding ourselves and the world around us.
I believe in learning through total immersion. As an experiment, try tending to your own garden soils, as there is an intuitive science that builds from such practices! Being able to understand different textures, scents, insects, and plant responses to imbalances within the soil not only ushers you past theoretical knowledge, but it can enrich a deeper sense of connection between you, your body, and the environment. Pair that with cultivating a daily supportive nutritional therapy for your gut -- and the benefits and changes you will experience will be ten fold!
Cheers to your gut and local soil health,