Healing power in a ceramic pot
Indoor plants decorate your personal living space, but they’re so much more than pretty potted objects. Houseplants can relieve stress and brighten your mood. Having indoor plants has also been linked to creative thinking, says Sally Augustin, the head of Design With Science. (So consider keeping a plant at your workplace, too.) Leafy green plants with rounded leaves make ideal houseplants, says Augustin, who is also a fellow of the American Psychological Association. “Humans generally find curvy lines more pleasant to be around,” she explains. Avoid sensory overload with a single well-placed plant or two. An indoor-jungle effect can make people tense up without realizing it, she says, as survival instincts kick in. “But nor do we want to be in stark and alien places,” she adds. Consider the following indoor plant types for their healthful benefits.
Even the name “peace lily” has a soothing sound, but there’s more to like with this smallish plant. The peace lily, part of the philodendron family, owns a major claim to fame: It made NASA’s list of top indoor air-filtering houseplants. Specifically, the peace lily reduced levels of the toxic chemicals benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde and ammonia when tested in a landmark 1989 NASA study. Garden mums, Boston ferns and bamboo palms are among other plants packed with oxygen-boosting, air-cleaning, photosynthetic power. If plants like these can enrich the air inside spaceships and shuttles, imagine what they could do for your apartment.
Ficus plants, like weeping figs, are low-maintenance houseplants with uplifting appeal. They can also spend time outdoors in warmer weather, allowing you to enjoy their restorative properties in your backyard or on your balcony. Gerbera daisies, bamboo palms and “dumb cane” or dieffenbachia, too, are among “the very best at enriching the indoor atmosphere and filtering out toxins, while also giving our brains a beautiful set of leaves to look at,” says Joel Flagler, a registered horticultural therapist, Rutgers University professor and agricultural extension agent. “We do respond to the patterns and the presence of tropical plants as feel-good benefits.” Some tropical varieties, like snake plants, have leaves that although visually striking, appear more blade-like than rounded and graceful.
Aloe vera, part of the succulent plant family, yields a gooey gel often touted for its skin-healing properties. While evidence of effectiveness remains inconclusive, aloe is a common ingredient in moisturizing lotions, sunburn ointments and creams. If you’re interested in using aloe and have the plant at home, you can carefully extract gel from the leaves to get it straight from the source. Peppermint plants are handy for people who like brewing homegrown tea. In addition, peppermint aroma may affect stimulatory areas of the brain, Flagler says. More research is needed, he adds, to provide strong evidence supporting the immense potential of plants’ cognitive benefits.
Jade plants, also succulents, appeal to the senses on several levels. Like the jewel, jade plants are green with oval leaves and thick stems that make them seem like miniature trees. Jade plants are also stimulating to the touch. Because they’re filled with water to help the plant survive in dry climates, jades have “plump leaves like little pillows,” Flagler says. Purple passion plants have a distinctly soft feel. “It’s more about the leaf than the flower, which can be quite ho-hum,” he says. “But the texture and the touch — it’s like touching velvet.” High-touch flowers can be great choices for people with reduced vision, as the olfactory and tactile senses become even more important. Purple passion plants seem to make everyone smile, he says. (If you’re looking for touchable plants, a cactus is probably not the best option.)
Lavender is a highly popular plant and you can find the fragrance in a slew of scented products such as soaps and bath gels. “There is research that confirms its ability to calm,” Flagler says. Lavender scent has been shown to reduce anxiety in several studies, including a February 2010 comparison study of dental patients waiting for their appointments. Citrus trees, particularly dwarf varieties of lemon and orange trees, can grow indoors if they can receive enough daily sun. In Rutgers-based studies, Flagler says, researchers found evidence of cognitive improvement and increased memory retention when people were exposed to orange-blossom and grapefruit fragrances.
Receiving flowers can boost your spirits and so can growing your own flowering plants. A small study in the December 2017 issue of Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that women who looked at fresh red roses for a mere three minutes experienced “physiological and psychological relaxation.” Besides brightening your surroundings, cultivating blooming plants also confers subtle psychological benefits. When you maintain challenging houseplants like gardenias, that can bring a sense of accomplishment, Augustin says. If you snip off some blossoms to give to a loved one, she adds, you get a good feeling inside. “There’s nothing like a flower in bloom, because the sheer aesthetic is so stimulating, beautiful and captivating,” says Flagler, who grows orchids in his home and provides horticultural therapy to people in many settings. “Flowers can draw someone’s attention, and provide a sense of wonder that really transcends their disability or pain.”
Granted, indoor house plants aren’t ideal for everyone. Allergies, gnawing pets, lack of indoor sunlight and hectic travel schedules can be too challenging for would-be indoor gardeners. And, let’s face it, some people just don’t have a green thumb. Scraggly plants trailing dead leaves have the opposite effect of what’s intended. “It does bring negative thoughts to mind,” Augustin says. “If you’re really going to kill it, don’t do it.” Instead, she suggests, bring nature into your home in other ways, such as placing restorative images of greenery-filled areas on your walls.
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