I grew up mostly outdoors surrounded by plants. Our house sat on a hill covered with blueberry bushes, daffodils, flowering crabapple trees, and an asparagus patch. I spent those years playing in the orchard behind the house, exploring nearby brooks, and scouring the woods for salamanders and other treasures.
Some of my best memories were when my parents packed up the car with us kids and a picnic lunch and headed to a local state park. There, we hiked wooded trails, explored waterfalls, or kicked around a soccer ball. As an adult, when I’m stressed and struggling with the realities of life, my default is to go outdoors. Plants and forests and burbling brooks are what pull me off the ledge.
I understand the power that nature has, specifically plants and trees, to heal. Here are a few ways they can improve your health:
Food. The Chinese say that food is medicine that you get to eat three times a day. This is especially true if most of your food comes from plants, in the form of fruits and vegetables. Nutrients from the soil are delivered to you through plants.
Through your digestion, those plants are converted to energy and nutrients that your body needs to power every biological system that propels you through life. You could say that plants are the conduit between the earth and every cell in your body. (Eating animal protein is also a conduit, but indirectly. The nutrients make a few more stops and tend to be altered in the process.)
Gardening. Along with being medicine you eat, growing food, flowers, or herbs is good for your soul. There’s something so fulfilling about watching tiny sprouts pop through the soil in the spring, or seeing the seedlings that you started indoors take off and actually produce tomatoes or peppers.
Getting your hands dirty in the garden also helps boost your immune system. All those microbes in the dirt make you hardier and more resistant to outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and allergens.
Aromatherapy. Lilacs blooming, freshly cut grass, or newly picked basil all have distinctive smells which affect your brain in different ways. Smell is also considered the strongest sense when it comes to evoking memories.
The theory behind aromatherapy is that different scents are used for different purposes based on how they affect you. Lavender is relaxing and promotes sleep. Citrus scents are uplifting and energizing, and floral scents are calming. Eucalypts, such as mint and menthol, open up your sinuses. The power of smell to heal may be subtle, but it is also effective.
Herbs. Many herbs, whether Chinese or otherwise, are the basis for a number of medications on the market today. Researchers and drug companies are exploring what the traditional cultures have known for millennia; herbs are medicine with a powerful ability to heal.
Many of those herbs are growing right outside your door. For example, mint can benefit your eyes, calm irritability, and soothe your liver. The bitter and cold properties of dandelion can help to clear heat, and can also be used for urinary tract infections. Tea made from chrysanthemum flowers can ease a cold or the flu, especially if you’re running a fever. They can calm down red, dry, and painful eyes, and soothe headaches and dizziness.