How to Get Stoned on Soil

It’s long been thought there are things in the soil that are out to kill us. Right? Everything from soil-dwelling bacteria to disease-causing pathogens seem out to get us if we so much as dug our hands in the dirt and didn’t wash them afterward.

But along with those bad microbes are the good microbes: the ones that reduce allergies and asthma in children who grow up on farms, boost our immunity, and regulate our emotions.

The Japanese call this physiological and psychological benefit shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.

Shinrin-yoku is the process of slowing down and immersing yourself in the smells, textures, tastes, and sights of the forest (or anywhere outdoors that surrounds you in nature—it could even be a quiet local park).

In productive garden soil, there can be anywhere between 100 million and 3 billion bacteria in a gram (about a teaspoonful). These hard-working microbes do everything from fixing nitrogen to decomposing material in the soil.

Now, they’re even responsible for lifting your mood and making you smarter. (And if those experiments with mice are any indication, these natural effects may last up to three weeks after smelling, touching, or getting M. vaccae bacteria in your bloodstream through a cut.)

These same antidepressant microbes in soil are what make us so happy when we’re gardening. (Yep, there’s a new study on that too.)

In fact, Princeton researchers found that household gardening was the only activity where women and people with lower incomes reported higher emotional well-being than men and people with medium and higher incomes—a high equated to biking or dining out.

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