The healing power of ornamental plants

I have always had plants in my office since day 1 I started my first job 20 years ago. I cannot explain why, but something is missing in my décor if no plants are around. I also enjoy walking my dog on the Bruce trail (on the Niagara Escarpment) after a long day at work to unwind and slow down my creative busy mind. However, I never investigated why plants had such an effect on my “self” as a human being.

I got some insights while attending the 2010 International Horticultural Congress in Lisbon (Portugal) from Dr. Virginia Lohr. Her keynote presentation dealt with “Greening the Human Environment” and the beneficial impacts of plants on human health. Her research for the last decade has focused on the connections between people and plants. More details can be found on her website.

Lohr started her talk by reminding the audience that physicians in the 1600s recommended their patients to garden to stay healthy. Human responses to nature, landscapes and plants have been studied for the last 35 years. The major findings are highlighted below.

1-Health improvement A study was conducted in a hospital where patients are randomly allocated to rooms depending on availabilities. Researchers showed that patients staying in a room with a view on trees stayed significantly less time at the hospital and required fewer drugs as a treatment, compared to the less lucky ones seeing a brick wall from their hospital bed.
Presence of plants in people’s environment was also shown to reduce pain sensations, although the authors do not know what mental mechanisms produce such an effect.

2- Stress reduction Studies showed that respondents who were subjected to a stressful computerized task recovered quicker than those in the control condition (i.e. no plants).
I finally understood why walking in the woods was such a relief: it was shown that walking in a forest for 30 minutes reduces cortisol production (the stress hormone), lowered pulse and blood pressure. My dog’s tail was waggling when I informed her about this finding.

3– Mental function Walking in a garden 3 days a week was shown as a great remedy for patients recovering from cancer treatments. Kids suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) were described by their parents as less hyper after playing 20 minutes outdoors in a park. The effect was described as similar as the ADD drug effect.

Medias and governments alike are stressing the importance of a balanced diet for staying healthy and hopefully for reducing the cost of health care in the future. The findings presented by Dr. Lohr suggest also that ornamental plants, whether indoors or outdoors, have beneficial impacts on physical and mental health.  So my advice to you is: Green your environment and take a walk in a forest or a park as often as you can.

Do you have personal anecdotes or stories on how ornamental plants impact your life?
Please share with us. The more we know, the better we will feel.

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