Gardening for Health

An Ikarian herbal tea of dandelion, sweet marjoram and sage.

Blue Zone Gardening

By Maria Price

My vegetable garden has succumbed to the cold for the season. So now is the time to start thinking about what to grow for next year.

For inspiration, I turn to Blue Zones, the areas around the globe that have the world’s longest-lived people. Dan Buettner is the founder of Blue Zones, an organization that helps Americans live longer, healthier, happier lives. His groundbreaking work, funded by National Geographic, led to his New York Times bestsellers, The Blue Zones, The Blue Zone Solution and the Blue Zones Kitchen.

The Blue Zone designation is for several places around the world where people live to be centenarians but with many fewer ailments compared to people in the United States. The areas around the globe are Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; the Ogliastra region of Sardinia (Italy); Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Buettner has found that something is wrong with the way of life in most of our nation. “Something about the foods we consume, the frantic pace of life we keep, the relationships we make, and the communities we create, that keep us from being as happy and healthy as we could be.”

The diets of the people in these regions consist almost entirely of minimally processed plant-based foods, mainly whole grains, greens, nuts, tubers and beans. People in the zones eat meat on average only five times a month. They drink mostly water, herbal teas, coffee and some wine.

A healthy diet is just one part of the longevity-promoting factors that include a circle of lifelong friends, a sense of purpose and an environment that makes you constantly move. Growing a vegetable garden helps to fill many of these criteria.

My garden will focus on Ikaria, Greece, since my ancestors came from this island. The top longevity foods from Ikaria are; olive oil, wild greens, potatoes, feta cheese, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lemons, Mediterranean herbs, coffee and honey.

Wild greens such as purslane, dandelions, arugula, kale and lettuces, as seed, can all be mail ordered and can all be started in late winter to get your garden going by early spring. Potatoes should all be planted by mid-March.

Determine where your garden will be and add 2-3 inches of compost, chopped leaves, wood chips and any organic material to decompose over the winter. Beans like to have a trellis to climb. Herbs such as rosemary, sweet marjoram and mint can all be grown in individual pots. These herbs can be used to flavor food or made into tea. You can start growing the herbs now on a sunny windowsill and they will be ready to transfer to larger pots outside in the spring. Just be careful not to overwater.

Plan now to create your own Blue Zone-inspired garden: