The Health Benefits of Plants

June 28, 2020

Creating an interior ecosystem can improve the air we breathe and the feelings we experience.

can still picture it. It was like walking into my favorite fairy tale and The Jungle Book, all rolled into one, only I got to be a part of the story.

They were everywhere, and in every shape and size: hanging, sitting, short, tall, pointed, round, and everything in between. And they were arranged so artistically, so beautifully, that you wanted to just sit among them, and enjoy sharing the same space with them.

Yes, walking into my aunt Kimber’s house was a magical experience. She worked at a local greenhouse at the time named Hauge’s, which I also loved going to, so perhaps this explained the jungle of plant life that filled her house. As a result of her green thumb, she grew the most lush, varied, and vibrantly green plants I’d ever seen. Not only were they lovely to look at, but they just made you feel good—happier, somehow.

It should come as no surprise then that I developed a love of plants from my aunt, something that I carried into adulthood.

Walking through the maze of life that decorated her house, or as I relaxed in one of the comfy wicker chairs nestled among them, the air felt somehow easier to breathe, just cleaner, fresher. It seemed to have a special energy about it.

At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was just my imagination.

Improved Air Quality

As it turns out, plants are indeed natural and inexpensive options for improving the air we breathe.

According to WebMD, certain houseplants help purify the air by removing volatile organic compounds and other toxins from the air. Asparagus ferns, English ivy, and dragon tree plants are great options for this task.

In addition, plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, which benefits us all. Putting a few plants in your bedroom can even help you sleep better.

Plants also put moisture into the air while removing allergens, such as mold and dust. Spider plants are particularly good at adding moisture to the air, raising humidity levels from 20 percent up to 30 percent in one study, while plants such as peace lilies, Chinese evergreens, and violets are great at trapping allergens.

As a good rule of thumb, NASA’s Clean Air Study, which demonstrated the air purifying effects of plants, recommends one plant per 100 square feet in your home or office to help improve air quality.

Elevated Mood

The simple act of growing and caring for plants, in and of itself, has been shown to improve mood. After all, as we care for another, it helps to nurture our own soul at the same time.

The beauty and life plants bring to our homes also elevates our mood. When we walk into a room that contains plants, we not only feel lighter, but our day just seems a little brighter. It’s no surprise that plants have been shown to help alleviate depression.

A Korean study published in Psychiatry Investigation in 2009 found patients diagnosed with moderate to severe depression responded significantly better to cognitive-behavioral therapy when it was performed in an arboretum with a forest-like setting compared to a hospital.

Decreased Anxiety and Stress

Plants have been shown in a number of studies to reduce stress and anxiety, helping people stay calm and relaxed.

A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology compared people’s reaction to two types of work: one with plants, one with a computer. It found that “active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work. This is accomplished through suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotion of comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings.”

So the relaxed and peaceful feelings I experienced in my aunt’s house weren’t just in my head.

Plants have even been shown to help improve PTSD. The Journal of Environmental Horticulture has composed a four-part series on the many benefits of plants, stating, “When victims of natural disasters, who are at a high risk of PTSD, participated in horticulture therapy (HT) programs, they showed an increase in regional gray matter volume (rGMV) of the left subgenual anterior cingulate cortex and left superior frontal gyrus compared with the stress education (SE) group.” That’s a pretty impressive change.

According to Tarun Kapoor on the site McGill Media, researchers in Germany conducted mice studies showing the scent from the jasmine plant has a significant calming effect, so much so that it caused the mice to stop their activity, and sit quietly. Brain scans demonstrated this change was due to an increase in the neurotransmitter GABA, which essentially acts as a calming agent. Researchers point out that the scent of jasmine is more effective than many sleep aids, sedatives, and anxiety medications.

But what if jasmine isn’t for you? Well, aloe vera and lavender plants are two great alternatives that have also been shown to calm and relax the mind and body.

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