Monthly Archives: August 2023

The Garden Within

“The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of soil in order to nourish it. You just need to know what it likes to eat- basically organic matter- and how, in general, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants.  The gardener also discovers that, when pathogens or pests appear, chemical interventions “work”, that is, solve the immediate problem, but at a cost to the long-term health of the soil ad the whole garden.”  -Michael Pollan The New York Times May 19th, 2013

While this quote may seem like it is from an article about organic gardening, it is from an article entitled “Some of My Best Friends are Bacteria” in which author Michae Pollan compares the microflora of our gastrointestinal tract with the soil microbes of a garden.

As an avid gardener and as a naturopathic doctor with a strong interest in gastrointestinal health, this comparison is one that I frequently think about while I have been tending my garden beds this summer.

In gardening we learn that if we nourish and build good soil the plants will grow well, and we will have a good harvest year after year. Plants tend to be resilient to diseases, and pests are often controlled by the beneficial insects that are attracted to a healthy diverse garden. In industrial agriculture (as well as in many backyard gardens), the focus is on getting the plants to grow as quickly, uniformly, and in as high of a volume as possible.  The soil is depleted and does not contain the diversity of soil nutrients and microbes and so high levels of synthetic fertilizers must be given to the plants.  The plants are susceptible to many diseases and pests and so they have to be treated (or genetically modified) in order to survive.  This practice needs a high level of input, produces food deplete in nutrients and is not sustainable.

Our gastrointestinal tracts can be thought of in a similar way to the soil of the garden.  The trillions of bacteria that inhabit our intestines play an integral role in promoting the health of their host (us).  If we create an optimal environment for them to grown in, provide them with the nutrients that they need to survive, and ensure that we are growing a diverse population we will be rewarded with vitamins, decreased inflammation, optimal weight management, balanced immune function, and production of calming neurotransmitters to name but a few of the benefits. 

If we create a less hospitable environment by starving them of the nutrients they need, killing them off with antibiotics from varied sources, and live our lives in such a sterile way that we don’t allow for diversity in our gut microflora, we may end up with many negative health consequences including increased inflammation, obesity, diabetes, allergies, gastrointestinal illnesses and autoimmune diseases to name but a few.

Our knowledge of the importance and influence of our gut microflora is in its relative infancy.  While there is a great deal of research being done to learn more, we do not know enough to always have certainty as to what bacteria are “good”, what bacteria are “bad”, and what the effects of differences in the diversity of the bacteria may have on our health.

We do know enough to know that it is important to nurture and foster our garden within.  While it can be changed by external influences, the microbial community is relatively stabilized by the time we are three years old.  Exposure to bacteria through vaginal birth and breast feeding seems to have the major influence on how this community develops.  While we can’t go back and change what occurred before we were three, there are steps that you can take to “help your garden grow.

  • Eat food, mostly plants, not too much”.  While this quote is from an earlier Pollan work, In Defense of Food, its wisdom holds true for creating a healthy microflora population as well.  The fibers and other polysaccharides in plant foods serve as the prime food supply for our bacteria.  The parts of the plant foods that we can’t digest, our gut microbiome can.  People consuming a diet high in plant foods and lower in animal foods seem to have a greater biodiversity of gut bacteria.
  • Limit intake of processed foods. Processed foods tend to be void of the polysaccharides and fibers that feed our gut bacteria.  Foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugars seem to feed less beneficial species of bacteria as well as encouraging the overgrowth of yeast species.  Processed foods can also contain chemical compounds that can inhibit the growth of our gut bacteria and create a less hospitable environment for them to grow in.
  • Eat more fermented foods.  Naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kim chi, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha contain beneficial bacterial species that can help colonize the intestines and promote the growth of the good bacteria already present.
  • Eat foods high in prebiotics that help to feed your gut bacteria including garlic, onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, asparagus, bananas, legumes, oats, and avocados.
  • Don’t eat on the run or when you are under stress.  Eating quickly or when you are stressed can decrease your ability to digest your food and can lead to overgrowth of potentially problematic gut bacteria.
  • Engage in stress reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, journaling, walking or exercise.  High levels of stress hormones can decrease the population of beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Consider taking prebiotic and probiotic supplements.  Prebiotic supplements can help to feed and diversify your microbiome. Probiotic supplements can help to modify the environment in your gastrointestinal tract to help to encourage the growth of a healthy microbiome.  You can find my recommendations for prebiotic and probiotic supplements for general health at Fullscript.
  • Go slow when introducing prebiotic foods and supplements.  Consuming large amounts of prebiotics can cause an increase in intestinal gas production.  To prevent this from happening, it is best to start with a small amount and gradually increase it.

If you would like to know more about the ecology of your gastrointestinal tract, there are stool tests that can identify the bacteria, yeasts, and parasites present.  Based on the results of these tests I can make more specific recommendation on how to optimize your “garden within.” 

For more information or to schedule an appointment call (207 805-1129) or email my office.

More Summer Recipes from the Omnivore’s Delight Archive

Tomato Salad


  • 2 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes, preferably of different colors coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic minced or pressed
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves

Mix tomatoes with salt, place in a colander and allow to drain for 15 minutes.

Combine olive oil, vinegar, pepper flakes, oregano, and pepper in a small jar. Shake well to combine.

Place tomatoes and basil in a bowl. Drizzle with enough dressing to coat tomatoes evenly.  Adjust seasoning as necessary.

This salad is great on its own, or can be served with fresh mozzarella and stale crusty bread chunks to make the Italian salad panzanella.



  • 2 large eggplants
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 medium cloves garlic minced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A dash of tobacco (optional)

Preheat oven to 400.  Using a fork, poke holes all over the outside of the eggplant.  Place on a baking sheet and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until soft.  Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.

Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and scoop contents into bowl of a food processor. Add garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil and pulse several times to combine.  Add parsley, a pinch of salt and pepper and process until combined.  Adjust seasoning.  Can be served with mixed greens as a salad or as a dip or spread.

Verdure a Scapece

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 4 bell peppers, preferably red, yellow, and orange
  • 2 zucchini (1.5 pounds)
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for brushing the vegetables.
  • ¼ cup balsamic or white wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 oil-packed anchovies, chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp fresh mint or oregano, minced

Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, anchovies, and mint in a small bowl or jar and mix until well combined

Cut eggplant and zucchini into slices about ½ inch thick.  Cut each pepper in half lengthwise, removing and discarding the membranes and seeds. Cut each half in half again.

Prepare a medium hot charcoal or gas grill, or preheat the oven broiler.  Brush eggplant and zucchini slices lightly with olive oil and grill on each side for 5 minutes, or until the slices are dark brown on both sides.  If using broiler, broil directly under element for 5 minutes on each side or until dark brown on each side.  Remove to a deep dish or platter.

Place pepper halves skin side down on grill or skin side up under broiler.  Cook until the peppers are slightly blackened and the skin is starting to blister. Remove to platter with eggplant and zucchini.

Pour dressing over hot vegetables, cover, and set aside at room temperature to marinate for at least two hours before serving.  Can be refrigerated overnight.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Jicama Mango Salad

  • 1 medium jicama, peeled and chopped into ¼ inch cubes
  • 1 small white onion chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 medium mango peeled and cut into ¼ inch cubes  (Can use frozen mango)
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves

In a colander, toss jicama and onion with salt.  Allow to sit for 15 minutes. Rinse and put in a large bowl.  Add mango, lime juice, lemon juice, cilantro, and pepper.  Toss to combine, adjust seasoning to taste.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving.