Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting high (legally) in the forest

 Whenever I tell people about my research with veterans who find that they feel better when they interact with nature, whether it’s farming, gardening, hiking, canoeing or just sitting by the river, the common reply is: “Of course they do!”
As my family doctor told me, “We could all do with getting outside more often.”

This common sense view is located deep in history. Ancient Greek healing places and temples were located on hilltops in the countryside with views of the ocean. Around the same time, Taoists in China were building greenhouses and cultivating gardens as part of their approach for maintaining health and wellbeing. During the Victorian era, gardens were often found in hospitals. These are but a few examples of how healing has been tied to nature throughout history.

What is it that makes us feel so good?

Medicinal properties in plants and trees    
One of my son's favorite play spaces - a small grove of pine trees
To me, some of the most interesting research is about the biochemical properties of plants and trees being done by Canadian botanist and medical and agricultural research Diana Beresford-Kroeger

In addition to the soothing sounds of the wind blowing through tree boughs, she notes that taking a walk in a mature pine forest is known to:
  • “exert a stimulant effect on breathing”
  • have “mild anaesthetic properties”
  • possibly produce a “mild narcotic function”

Despite this research, however, there is relatively little attention in the wider research on human-nature connections to the medicinal properties released by plants and trees (more to come about this other research in future blog posts).

My recommendation
Take a walk in a pine forest today, and you might just find yourself feeling a little bit higher on life. And it’s completely legal!

Beresford-Kroeger, Diana. (2003). Arboretum America: A philosophy of the forest. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

1 comment:

  1. That's a beautifully designed and written book (Arboretum America). Thanks for reminding us to go for a walk and to breathe...