Around a month ago I sat down with Elaine Stechisen from Shelmerdine Garden Center to talk about planning your herb + flower garden. During our conversation, we veered off track and she began telling me about studies done on the healing properties of plants. And I don’t mean taking a herb supplement (though, that’s great for you, too.) I mean, mindfully placing a little succulent on your nightstand! Elaine told me about one specific study which compared patients recovering from surgery in a room with plants and ones in a room without. The ones that had plants around them during recovery needed less pain medication, had lower heart rates and blood pressures, and less anxiety and fatigue. Consequentially, they were released sooner from the hospital. We stuck to garden talk the rest of the time, but I ended up calling Elaine again to talk more about how and why plants are actually good for your health.
The real name for the study of this is horticultural therapy. It’s a formal practice using plants and horticultural activities to improve one’s physical and mental health. Here are ten ways that gardening, nature, and plants improve the quality of your life, besides by looking pretty.
1. PLAYING IN THE DIRT = PROZAC
There’s good bacteria in soil that is proven to be more effective than Prozac! So if your parents were the type to boot you outside to go play in the mud, they were onto something. (As long as it hasn’t been sterilized; the sterilization process kills the good and bad bacteria.) You absorb it just by working with the soil with your hands and your feet, so ditch your garden gloves and sandals, and let yourself get a little dirty.
2. Nature focuses your thoughts on something outside of yourself
Not only are you moving your body and enjoying yourself at the same time; your mind is engaged. It gets your mind off your internal issues and focused on the environment around you, which is extremely grounding and therapeutic. A horticultural therapist would recommend gardening to a senior who has lost a life long partner or is battling dementia or depression, for it gets their mind onto something else. Something much more life-giving than watching television.
3. The right amount of house plants remove most of the toxins from your air.
Plants release moisture, increase humidity, and purify the air, all by going through their natural process: photosynthesis. This is especially great for people who have breathing problems or asthma.
According to Elaine, studies have shown that keeping the right quantity of plants in your home, they remove 87% of the volatile compounds in your air! That means toxins like formaldehyde and benzine (surprisingly high amounts of both of these are in all homes) will be filtered away. These studies instruct you keep one eight inch pot or larger for every 129 square feet. If you have plants of all sizes, you can simplify this formula by keeping one plant for every 100 square feet. They say this formula also works if you're looking to fight fatigue, improve your health, and de-stress.
All plants purify the air, though some are better than others. Spider plants are the best. It actually filters better than an H-VAC. English ivy and snake plants are two others that are extremely effective. Check out these five plants, what toxins they remove from the air, and where to place them in your home.
4. Tending to your garden gets you moving
Like most people, I struggle to add exercise to my life. I know the benefits, but I still find it tedious and time-consuming. So, when Elaine mentioned gardening as a form of exercise, I was elated. Spending an afternoon in your garden keeps you moving and can even be quite strenuous, bending in the heat. Working outside in the sun like that has the same type of benefits of doing yoga in a heated room. The warmth aids your muscles and is great for mobility. Just remember to practice sun safety!
5. Nature engages all the senses, which puts the mind at ease
Nature does wonders for resting the mind. Getting your exercise in a green area or a park means your mind will get to rest while you’re putting your body to work. Nature engages all of the sense and keeps your brain stimulated. All of this results in an increase in pheromones, giving you a natural uplift.
Forest Bathing, a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku, recommends just 20 minutes outdoors in nature to receive the benefits. Read more about Forest Bathing benefits here.
Making a ritual of moving your body and breathing deeply while outside in the fresh air is one of the most effective ways to care for yourself. It’s great for hormonal balance, clearing your mind, and the well-being of your body. It's been proven time and time again by horticultural therapists working with clients who have dementia or children with autism. When they bring their clients outside, they are suddenly calmer. They can process and hold the exact same kind of conversation much better than they would indoors. Especially, when they are guided to engage with their surroundings by touching leaves, noticing smells, or paying attention to the breeze. It triggers positive feelings and restores balance.
Elaine practices what she preaches and spends most of her time outdoors. She spends the whole summer out in her garden or yard. If she's having a melancholy day in the middle of winter, she'll head to the conservatory or Shelmerdine's and wander.
6. You eat healthier
Eating home-grown food is much better for you (and cheaper) than most of the food at the grocery store. You are doing your body a huge favour by filling it and by feeding it food grown right from your backyard. Or, from inside your house! It really is incredible what you can manage to grow inside if you have the time to dedicate to it.
7. Caring for your plants can replace negative habits
Habitual candy-eating or Netflix-bingeing aren't things we necessarily feel good about after. But, the routine of caring for house plants or tending to a garden is a habit that's good for the body, mind, and soul. There's always tending that can be done and it's a ritual that forces you to slow down.
8. Certain plants can help you sleep better
There are plants, like lavender, that have soothing scents and are known to lull one to sleep. But, even better than that, are the plants that give off oxygen at night, rather than taking it. Those are the ones you definitely want in your bedroom. Snake plants, aloe vera, succulents, and orchids are a few that are great for this! Read some of our other favourite bedroom plants here.
9. Your success is incredibly rewarding
Planting a seed, watching it grow, then harvesting it to eat is SATISFYING. Noticing that the plant on your dining room table is standing a little taller than before makes you feel good about yourself. Or bragging rights earned by throwing a dash of the rosemary you grew into a meal. It doesn’t matter who you are, successfully nurturing a plant is uplifting.