Tag Archives: heal through nature

Celebrating Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, this month, we have been celebrating Mother Nature by getting outdoors and showing our gratitude in a number of ways. We have been admiring nature’s beauty and curiosities, noting our innate desires to connect with nature (biophilia) and the restorative effects nature has on us, brainstorming ideas of what actions we can take on behalf of our environment and other living things, and then taking steps to beautify our environment for ourselves, each other, and hopefully pollinators (if outdoors).

Check out the gallery of activities:

workingsoil_eatbreathegarden
Cultivating soil can be a sensory engaging and grounding experience.
wateringplants_eatbreathegarden
The act of nurturing a plant through watering and other gardening tasks can be a therapeutic activity.
plantedcontainer_geranium_eatbreathegarden
Limited on outdoor growing space? Plant container gardens.
hangingbaskets_eatbreathegarden
Or, plant hanging baskets to put on display. (Here, they’re waiting to be hung.)
raisedbed_eatbreathegarden
Raised beds elevate gardening activities, making them more accessible for gardeners.
transplantseedlings_eatbreathegarden
Pot up spring seedlings started from seed during winter.
AfricanViolet_propagate_eatbreathegarden
Don’t have easy outdoor access? Propagate and transplant easy to grow houseplants that brighten up the indoors.

Horticulture and Health According to Three Wise Men

By Lesley Fleming, HTR

Hippocrates, Roger Ulrich, and E.O. Wilson…their perspectives on how nature impacts human health brought about seismic changes in medicine, research, healthcare facility design and much more.

Hippocrates, 460BC-370 BC, who is considered to be the father of medicine, introduced Vis Medicatrix Naturae — the concept of the healing power of nature. It became a guiding principle across disciplines and is still considered today to be powerful and relevant, linking nature (including horticulture) to human health.

Roger Ulrich, 1984, conducted research which revealed that views of nature influence faster health recovery in hospital patients. Frequently cited for this research and his work on evidence-based healthcare design, Ulrich has had global influence on nature-health connections.

E.O. Wilson, 1986, popularized the hypothesis that humans have an instinctual need to connect with nature. This concept — and Wilson’s book of the same name — Biophilia has come to signify the need to integrate nature into our lives…using it to find balance and understanding of the inter-relatedness of all living things.

A Daily Dose of Vitamin “N”

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a memory care community and a local plant nursery on a special planting of a new renewal garden. A group of Girl Scouts, from age 3 (sibling of a Girl Scout) on up, and the general public came out on a lovely Texas Saturday morning to help the residents and staff plant their beautiful garden.

I worked with the three-year-old on planting a ring of pansies and dianthus around a tree. We worked as a team – I pushed the short handled shovel into the ground with my foot and provided moral support and encouragement, and she wiggled the shovel to loosen the soil and then planted each plant in the ground. We exchanged a High-Five of Pride when we finished.

While some of the residents planted the raised beds, others came outside to sit and watch the little ones in action. They got a kick out of the carrots that kids had eagerly harvested from an earlier summer planting of the root vegetable. Everyone was interested in tasting the harvest…though the carrots needed a good wash before that was gonna happen.

Watching the generations of gardeners work together reminded me of an article by Anne Harding that I read earlier in the year. It talked about why gardening activities – or a dose of Vitamin “N” (for Nature) – are good for us. And on Saturday, I saw these benefits in action.

Here are a few highlights from the article (with a few additions):

Gardening exercises the body…and the mind.

Get your body moving by working out in the gym…and tending the garden. General gardening tasks, like weeding and digging, are good examples of low impact exercise. And, by the end of the “workout,” you can reap the visual benefits of your physical efforts – an inviting garden. The garden is a safe place to “get lost,” exercise your muscles while allowing the mind to wander, and stimulate the senses, which may trigger memories of childhood play or tending a grandparent’s garden plot.

Nature has the ability to help renew our sense of wellbeing.

The more plugged into technology and removed from the outdoors we are, the more likely we are to be stressed out, tired, and generally cranky. Research suggests that immersing ourselves in nature helps to clear the mind, reduce mental fatigue, and improve mood. In fact, doctors in Japan have been prescribing shinrin-yoku – or “forest bathing,” which involves a relaxing walk through the woods – to patients as a means for reducing stress, alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, and restoring a sense of self efficacy in daily life.

Gardens naturally bring people together.

Enjoy a family picnic under the shade of a tall tree. Bring an arrangement of garden grown flowers to a friend in need. Share the bounty of homegrown tomatoes or freshly divided iris with neighbors and coworkers. Plants can be the vessel to connect people and form social bonds.

Cultivated landscapes promote a sense of security & community pride.

Research studies have suggested that areas with an abundance of well maintained vegetation have overall lower crime rates of certain types. Why? The researchers think that the people living in these areas have a deeper sense of pride and connection within their community and are involved in increased surveillance of their surroundings.

Plants (and soil) can help improve our overall health.

Gardeners involved in growing their own food, including kids, are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables than their peers. New research also suggests that coming into contact with a certain type of soil based bacteria can help to release serotonin in our brain, thus improving mood.

Credit to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. for popularizing vitamin “N” for Nature.

Horticulture and Health

I am thrilled to host our first guest post from Lesley Fleming, MA, HTR. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who has worked with elder, youth, veteran, rehab, and inmate populations through her private practice in Florida. She served as editor-in-chief of the AHTA News Magazine, a publication for the members of the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA), and is a former AHTA board member. Lesley continues to be a prolific and passionate writer and public speaker on a variety of horticultural therapy and people-plant related topics. Here, in her eat|breathe|garden guest post, she addresses the benefits of nature and horticultural activities on human health and wellbeing. Enjoy!

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By Lesley Fleming, MA, HTR
Cover photo: L. Fleming

How does horticulture impact human health?
HandholdingfernHorticulture, defined as the art and science of cultivating flowers, vegetables, ornamental plants, and fruit, can encompass a wide ranging variety of activities that can span all of the health domains: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual. Health practitioners from across disciplines shed light on the scope of impact horticultural elements can have on human health and well-being. Substantiated by a growing body of evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, society seems intrigued by connections between horticulture and health in our current technology-heavy lifestyle.

What are some of the connections between horticulture and health?

The healing power of natureVis Medicatrix Naturae concept attributed to Hippocrates, refers to healing powers of nature (including horticulture), as a guiding principle for human health and medicine. Ecotherapy, ecopsychology and nature-based therapies are emerging as viable treatment approaches. Rooted in what E.O. Wilson emphasized as the biophilic need for humans to connect to the natural world, these nature-based therapies are often mentioned as antidotes to society’s increasing reliance on technology, environmental decline, increasing mental health issues, and low levels of contact with nature. Environmental psychologist Stephan Kaplan’s 1995 research on the restorative benefits of nature have been embraced by many in the medical and therapeutic communities and are the basis of attention restoration therapies used for treating many patients, especially those dealing with cancer.

Physiological benefits from plants and gardening – Research continues to demonstrate the health benefits from growing, being near, and even breathing in fragrances from plants. Research conducted by Qing Li, Nippon Medical School, Tokyo has provided data that blood pressure, cortisol levels and NK (cancer fighting) activity can be improved through ‘forest breathing,’ where aromatic compounds called phytoncides release chemicals that when breathed in, can improve physical well-being. Research published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society suggests that walking a reflexology path, which stimulates the feet’s pressure points, can improve blood pressure when done on a regular basis. Smelling lavender and rosemary can address the body’s ability to fight disease and decrease levels of cortisol. Research continues to explain other physiological benefits from plants and gardening activities.

The emergence of gardens in healthcare settings – Gardens in hospitals have a long history dating back thousands of years. In the last 15 years, more and more healthcare facilities have integrated green spaces into their physical facilities. In part responding to the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospitals Organization’s 1999 report calling for opportunities for patients and visitors to connect with nature, as well as a response to client-based preferences for views of, and access to plants, both of these reflect Ulrich’s (1984) research conducted in a hospital setting where patients with views of nature had faster recovery time.

Social movements rooted in gardening activities – These include community and school gardens, World War II victory and allotment gardens, permaculture communities, community social agriculture (CSA), fair trade, poverty and social justice concerns, social groups–garden clubs, master gardeners, 4-H, Future Farmers of America clubs, and high school environmental clubs, to name a few. Often correlated to food security, social movements involving gardening activities have been able to sustain themselves because they address a basic human need—growing food—while providing social, educational, recreational, and political connectors.

Horticultural therapy and other treatment modalities – including recreation, physical, occupational, and eco- therapy have incorporated gardening and plant-based activities (assessment and treatment) into their disciplines. Though the historical roots of gardening for rehabilitation can be traced back to the 1800s, the popularity of therapeutic practices using horticultural activities has dramatically grown in the last decade and a half. Newer approaches like nature-based therapies (NBT), ecopyschology, and wilderness therapy have broadened how nature and horticulture are used to improve human well-being and target specific health deficits.

Veteran to farmer programming – Integrating vocational, therapeutic, educational, social enterprise, and rural community restructuring elements into innovative programs for those transitioning from military to civilian life, it is the connection between horticulture and health that has spurred the development of alternative approaches for addressing the mental, physical, social, and economic challenges faced by Post 9/11 soldiers. Likened to European care farms, this hybrid model of social, vocational, and health programming has as its core value, connecting human to nature. Few of those who have initiated veteran to farmer programs use terms like horticultural therapy or therapeutic outcomes to describe their programs or the changes observed in participating veterans, but this is another example of how horticulture (one aspect of nature) connects to human health. (The author’s research, titled “Veteran to Farmer Programs: An Emerging Nature-Based Programming Trend” was published in 2015 in the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture 25 (1) pp.27-48. )

In summary
The positive health outcomes attributed to contact with nature, specifically horticulture, continue to be recognized and validated through empirical research in a wide array of health disciplines. Linking horticulture to health – be it through treatment, social engagement, improved nutrition, garden design, or other – speaks to the impact plant-based activity can have in all health domains. The sense of hope for cancer patients growing their own healthy food, reduced recidivism rates for incarcerated individuals who participate in horticultural therapy programs, greater parent involvement in their children’s school gardens, active aging populations who socialize at community gardens—all serve as examples. No longer relegated to the narrow category of fiber, food, or medicine, plants and their related plant-based health services broaden the scope of impact horticulture is having on human health and well-being.

References
Atsumi, T, and K Tonosaki (2007). Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol level in saliva. Psychiatry Research 2007; 150:89–96.

Farmer Veteran Coalition (2014a). About Us. http://www.farmvetco.org/about-us

Fleming, L. (2015). Veteran to farmer programs: An emerging nature-based programming trend. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture 25(1) 27-48.

Grahn, P. et al. (2010). Using affordances as a health promoting tool in a therapeutic garden. In C. Ward Thompson, S. Bell & P. Aspinall (Eds.), Innovative research in landscape and health (pp.116-154). London: Taylor & Francis.

Hiroshi, H. (1998) “On Vis medicatrix naturae and Hippocratic Idea of Physis” Memoirs of School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Kanazawa University 22:45-54 http://sciencelinks.jp/j-east/article/199907/000019990799A0162403.php

Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefit of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology 15(3), 169-182.

Li, F., Fisher, J. & Harmer, P. (2005). Improving physical function and blood pressure in older adults through cobblestone mat walking: A randomized trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 53(8), 1305-1312.

Ulrich, R. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science 1984; 224:420–21.

Wilson, E.O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.