This week we opened our new allotment at the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit, which will grow vegetables for a healthy gut microbiota. The project is named “From Plot to Perfect Poo” and supports residents to grow their own vegetables in the open green space at the Bethlem Royal. The allotment was opened by Dr Sue Stuart-Smith, author of the book “The Well Gardened Mind”, and staff, residents and guests heard from Dr Stuart-Smith about the growing importance of horticulture for mental health. 

The vegetables we’ll grow at the allotment will be high in fibre and polyphenols, to improve gut microbiota and so optimise mental and physical health. These are known as prebiotics. 

If you’d like to give this a go at home, the top twenty vegetables for fibrous content and polyphenols are; Jerusalem and Chinese artichokes, asparagus, globe artichokes, cardoon, yacon, oca, chicory root, dandelion, beetroot, garlic, leeks, fennel root, salsify, scorzonera, beans, courgette, kale, cabbage and red onion.

Most of them are relatively easy to grow although some like the globe artichokes need plenty of sun. Others like the Jerusalem and Chinese artichokes can spread easily and need to be contained. I find the gardening book “Grow Yourself Healthy” by Beth Marshall to be particularly inspirational. 

Pro-biotics (not the same as the prebiotics already mentioned) are commonly referred to as ‘good bacteria’ in the gut microbiota and support the immune system. They are nourished by the vegetables mentioned above and include kefir, kombucha, kimchi, mature cheeses and sourdough. Special thanks to Vanessa Kimbell at the Sourdough School for helping the unit to develop our sourdough skills. However my forte is more in the allotment! 

For more information on the relationship between the gut microbiota and mental health, read our blog