The Healing Power of Plants

Getting outside and feeling the natural world offers a long list of health benefits
By Lynn Jaffee,
June 17, 2019 Updated: June 17, 2019

I understand the power that nature has, specifically plants and trees, to heal. Here are a few ways they can improve your health:

Food. The Chinese say that food is medicine that you get to eat three times a day. This is especially true if most of your food comes from plants, in the form of fruits and vegetables. Nutrients from the soil are delivered to you through plants.

Through your digestion, those plants are converted to energy and nutrients that your body needs to power every biological system that propels you through life. You could say that plants are the conduit between the earth and every cell in your body. (Eating animal protein is also a conduit, but indirectly. The nutrients make a few more stops and tend to be altered in the process.)

Gardening. Along with being medicine you eat, growing food, flowers, or herbs is good for your soul. There’s something so fulfilling about watching tiny sprouts pop through the soil in the spring, or seeing the seedlings that you started indoors take off and actually produce tomatoes or peppers.

Getting your hands dirty in the garden also helps boost your immune system. All those microbes in the dirt make you hardier and more resistant to outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and allergens.

Aromatherapy. Lilacs blooming, freshly cut grass, or newly picked basil all have distinctive smells which affect your brain in different ways. Smell is also considered the strongest sense when it comes to evoking memories.

The theory behind aromatherapy is that different scents are used for different purposes based on how they affect you. Lavender is relaxing and promotes sleep. Citrus scents are uplifting and energizing, and floral scents are calming. Eucalypts, such as mint and menthol, open up your sinuses. The power of smell to heal may be subtle, but it is also effective.

Herbs. Many herbs, whether Chinese or otherwise, are the basis for a number of medications on the market today. Researchers and drug companies are exploring what the traditional cultures have known for millennia; herbs are medicine with a powerful ability to heal.

Many of those herbs are growing right outside your door. For example, mint can benefit your eyes, calm irritability, and soothe your liver. The bitter and cold properties of dandelion can help to clear heat, and can also be used for urinary tract infections. Tea made from chrysanthemum flowers can ease a cold or the flu, especially if you’re running a fever. They can calm down red, dry, and painful eyes, and soothe headaches and dizziness.

Outdoor Therapy. Also known as forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku by the Japanese, dozens of research studies have documented that getting outside and spending time in nature is good for your health. Scientists have discovered that outdoor therapy can lower your blood pressure, decrease your stress, improve your immunity, and ward off depression.

One of the theories as to why walking in the woods has health benefits is because there are subtle scents given off in nature, most notably from evergreens, but from other trees and plants as well. The effects of spending time outside is so compelling that some doctors are now writing nature prescriptions—instructions to spend time in a local park or woods.

My back deck looks out over a small oak forest that I can watch as the seasons change. Throughout the year, I hear owls, wild turkeys, and songbirds that are sheltered by the trees. For me, sitting on the deck and looking into the forest is therapeutic. It’s calming after a busy day and good for my soul. And it’s a testament to the healing power of plants.

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on