One of my favourite passions is gardening, or more specifically, to work on our allotment.

This is my fourth year of being an allotment owner and I love it.

It's very mindful, I love eating the food we grow ourselves and research has shown that gardening could be good for your gut microbiome!

Research suggests increasing contact with nature (vegetation, plants, greenery and the soil) may lead to increased gut microbiome diversity, which may influence immune health.


Our allotment successes

We've had some wonderful successes on our allotment (broccoli, kale, squashes, pumpkins, peas, radishes, potatoes, strawberries, raspberries).

But we've also had some sad failures (carrots that never grew and spinach - it grows then bolts!)

But our biggest (undesired) success so far has been with nettles.

Our allotment backs onto woods, and it's nettle central amidst the shady woodland. The nettles always find a way to wind their way into our allotment.

It's a constant battle. Up until now, we've mainly regarded nettles as weeds. But I have tried nettle tea (nice), and nettle soup (not so nice).

Nettles grow fast, they often sting us, we cut them back, then they seem to grow back even faster!

But maybe we've got the common nettle plant (Urtica dioica) all wrong.


New research:

The University of Maryland has received a new three-year, $431,000 grant from the USDA (National Institute of Food and Agriculture) to study the potential functional health benefits of nettles.

The research led by Dr Diana Obanda, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, is looking into the role of nettles in supporting the health of the gut microbiome.

According to the University of Maryland press release, the scientists will explore if "nettle can help fight chronic illnesses and prevent weight gain and insulin resistance by causing healthy changes to gut bacteria"

Dr Obanda’s project will find out how nettle influences changes in the gut microbiota to affect the mechanisms of obesity.

To quote Dr Obanda from press release: “The species of bacteria that increase or are reduced because of nettle in the gut—what do they do to affect the immune system and obesity? How do the phytochemicals in the nettle change or affect these bacteria species, and how do those mechanisms function to affect indicators for obesity and diabetes?”


My take-home message:

Maybe it's time for me (and perhaps you too) to change our mindset over nettles.

Nettles are far more than just weeds. They could improve our gut health and even, depending on the results of this research, they may even play a part in reducing obesity!

I pledge to change my ways. I will nurture our nettles. They could be the microbiome-friendly star of the allotment!

And maybe I need to try again with nettle soup. Maybe I could try some nettle pesto.

Any other nettle recipes I could try?


Scientific articles:

Press release about research into nettles:

Parajuli A, Hui N, Puhakka R, Oikarinen S, Grönroos M, Selonen VAO, Siter N, Kramna L, Roslund MI, Vari HK, Nurminen N, Honkanen H, Hintikka J, Sarkkinen H, Romantschuk M, Kauppi M, Valve R, Cinek O, Laitinen OH, Rajaniemi J, Hyöty H, Sinkkonen A; ADELE study group (all additional members of the ADELE study group in Lahti and Tampere). Yard vegetation is associated with gut microbiota composition. Sci Total Environ. 2020 Apr 15;713:136707. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.136707. Epub 2020 Jan 15. PMID: 32019041.

Ottman N, Ruokolainen L, Suomalainen A, Sinkko H, Karisola P, Lehtimäki J, Lehto M, Hanski I, Alenius H, Fyhrquist N. Soil exposure modifies the gut microbiota and supports immune tolerance in a mouse model. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2019 Mar;143(3):1198-1206.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2018.06.024. Epub 2018 Aug 7. PMID: 30097187.

Robinson, J.M.; Mills, J.G.; Breed, M.F. Walking Ecosystems in Microbiome-Inspired Green Infrastructure: An Ecological Perspective on Enhancing Personal and Planetary Health. Challenges 2018, 9, 40.


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