From improving sleep and indoor air quality to reducing anxiety and fatigue … houseplants are powerful allies.
The state of the world seems a bit wonky lately, and the way I’m feeling, it’s all hands on deck in the “boosting wellness” department. We all have our different approaches for self-care and resiliency, but one way in which everyone can benefit is by accepting an assist from Mother Nature – namely, by having some houseplants.
Now I realize that this may sound a bit like New Age woowoo, but there has been loads of research extolling the health benefits of greenery in the home – more about which you can read here: 5 health benefits of houseplants. Houseplants are little workhorses, doing everything from releasing oxygen, bringing indoor humidity levels up, filtering indoor air contaminants, speeding up healing, and even increasing focus. And that’s just for starters.
So with all of that in mind, here are some of the specific plants called out for their bevy of benefits.
Lavender (pictured above) has a long-held reputation as a natural remedy for sleep and relaxation – and it’s got the science to back the claims up. Among a lot of other research, one single-blind randomized study investigating the effectiveness of lavender odor on quality of slumber showed that lavender improved sleep quality in a wide array of study participants. If you’re prone to insomnia, you know how rotten it feels to sleep poorly – it’s hard to feel well when you’re living in a fog of grogginess. A pot of lavender in the bedroom can do wonders.
A study from the University of British Columbia concluded that if people simply take time to ponder the nature around them, it will increase their general happiness and well-being – and even houseplants can fill that bill. Which is where the superstar ZZ plant steps up to the plate. Why? Because Zamioculcas zamiifolia is super pretty and practically indestructible. It can take all kinds of light situations and can go for long periods of time without water. When I was first learning how not to not kill plants because of being a too-busy working mom, this was my gateway plant – I set a calendar alert to water it once a month … ten years later and my stalwart beauty continues to flourish and make me happy.
Because NASA has a vested interest in improving air-quality in sealed environments, the agency has given a lot of time to studying how houseplants (or spaceship-plants?) can remove indoor air pollution. They have concluded: “Both plant leaves and roots are utilized in removing trace levels of toxic vapors from inside tightly sealed buildings. Low levels of chemicals such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde can be removed from indoor environments by plant leaves alone.”
Spider plants are one of the group that performed especially well in this task – and it gets bonus points from me because it is so easy to grow more from cuttings. Spider plants shoot out little plantlets, which can be snipped off and started as new plants.. Plus, they’re just so cute.
In a study working off the NASA findings, researchers set out to compare how various houseplants could remove a number of different types of VOCs from indoor air. They found that of all the plants tested, bromeliads were the most powerful – removing six of the eight VOCs, taking up more than 80 percent of each over a 12-hour sampling period. “Inhaling large amounts of VOCs can lead some people to develop sick building syndrome, which reduces productivity and can even cause dizziness, asthma or allergies,” notes the researchers. It’s hard to feel happy when you’re dizzy and getting asthma from off-gassing in your home.
Another plant from the “Fighting Insomnia” file – orchids! Really? Really. Orchids, as well as succulents and bromeliads, improve air quality at night. Photosynthesis stops when the sun goes down, at which point most plants start absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. However, orchids, succulents and bromeliads flip the script here and take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen once the sun goes down. Having them in the bedroom – or anywhere else you spend evening hours – can give you an extra dose of oxygen. And who doesn’t love oxygen?
Plants help improve healing. In fact, so effective are plants in helping surgery patients recover that one study recommends them as a “noninvasive, inexpensive, and effective complementary medicine for surgical patients.” The researchers found that patients with houseplants had lower systolic blood pressure, and lower ratings of pain, anxiety, and fatigue as compared to patients without plants in their rooms.
One super great all-around plant is the jade plant. It is generally included with the plants that help clear indoor air pollution, but it’s also just really beautiful with its thick shiny leaves and delicate blooms – I get a boost just from looking at one. But it may have a secret superpower as well. While I can’t cite a study on this one, in the practice of feng shui, jade plant is a good luck charm, symbolic of growth and renewal, and especially for bringing financial wealth. While we all know that money can’t buy happiness (or so they say), a little bump in the income certainly can’t hurt. And if the plant is lowering levels of pain, anxiety, and fatigue at the same time, it’s sure to be adding to one’s wellness, even if it’s not adding to their wallet.
Note: Just a reminder, if you have pets make sure that your houseplants are safe for them. See: 30 garden plants harmful to pets for more.