House plants get a big (green) thumbs up on their therapeutic benefits

Because we live in a high-tech world, it’s good to remind ourselves that the some of greatest gifts to humankind come from simple, natural sources. Take plants, for instance.

NASA has been studying the effects of plants on air quality for almost 20 years. What have they found? Plants are natural air purifiers. Why should we care? Because Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, according to Forbes. Our living space is full of toxins or “offgassing” of chemicals from paint, carpet, countertops and dry wall, and more.

Take heart: you can take action
An article on the Eco Watch website, takes a look at research on the benefits of house plants, including studies by Dr. Bill Woverton. He found that common houseplants absorb toxins like benzene and formaldehyde, which are emitted by many of the aforementioned culprits, as well as other offenders like cleaning supplies and fabric (those worn by us and our furniture). Research has also shown plant roots and soil bacteria are also effective in removing toxic vapors.

Top 5 air cleaning plants
Not all plants are created equal when it comes to absorbing toxins. But no worries: The Eco Watch article lists the top five plants, which we share below. For the best 10 plants, and other insights on going green and saving money, check out the book Just Green It!

Best plants for purifying air:

  1. Areca Palm
  2. Lady Palm
  3. Bamboo Palm
  4. Rubber Plant
  5. Dracaena or “Janet Craig”

Despite multiple studies heralding the benefits of plants, there are detractors. Criticism of the NASA research is that it was conducted in a very controlled environment, which does not reflect real life. Hopefully future studies will take this challenge and replicate the research in home environments. We’ll keep an eye of for this research and will report back!

Plants boost mood

Notwithstanding the “plants as air purifiers” debate, we have more reasons to share on why you should include plants in your home.

Studies have shown that people are happier, less stressed and more productive when plants were added to their environment—whether it was an office or a hospital.

A study at Washington State University found that adding plants to a computer lab increased humidity (but not excessively) and reduced dust by 20 percent. Because indoor dry air and dust can irritate a person’s nose, throat and lungs—in both those who suffer from allergies and those who don’t—this is a big (green) thumbs-up for foliage in the office and the home. Plants reduce the chance for symptoms of allergies, including fatigue, coughing, dry throat and runny nose.

Two other studies showed that plants at work offer benefits. When Norwegian researchers introduced foliage plants into an office environment, participants reported better health and a reduction in discomfort from dry throat/hoarseness, coughing, and fatigue. A study in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands found that workers were more productive, happier with their jobs, and had better concentration when plants were added to their offices.

Going green in hospitals

But the therapeutic benefits of plants aren’t restricted to home and office. A 2009 study sought to discover if indoor plants in hospital rooms enhanced health outcomes of 90 patients recovering from hemorrhoid surgery. The patients were assigned to either a plant room or a control (plantless) room.

Data was collected on length of hospitalization, pain medication used, vital signs, ratings of pain intensity, pain distress, anxiety and fatigue. The study’s authors concluded that the study:

…confirmed the therapeutic value of plants in the hospital environment as a noninvasive, inexpensive, and effective complementary medicine for surgical patients. Health care professionals and hospital administrators need to consider the use of plants and flowers to enhance healing environments for patients.

Regardless of your motivation, adding a plant or two or five to your home is a good thing.

All research aside, plants give us enjoyment just by sharing our space. On any day, especially a rainy March day in Iowa, the greenness is a welcome friend.

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