Jul 13, 2022 - Health

How plants make us happier and healthier

Illustration of a smiley face sprouting from a potted plant

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Our house plants don't just look nice. They make us happier and healthier.

Why it matters: Many of our jobs keep us indoors — away from nature — and the pandemic magnified that problem. But it turns out being around nature is essential to health.

Here are just some of the perks:

"When we have plants in our home or take a hike, we see decreases in anxiety and stress," says Melinda Knuth, a horticulture professor at North Carolina State. "Just being around a plant can decrease the cortisol levels in our saliva."

  • Humans get a subconscious positive jolt from the smell of flowers, the chirping of birds and the sound of rushing water, she says.

What's happening: Plants sales soared during the pandemic as Americans coped with being stuck inside by bringing nature into their homes.

  • Plant nurseries in the U.S. saw sales jump 10%-15% in 2020, per a Garden Center survey. Many of these sellers were small, mom-and-pop shops that are now thriving due to our revived interest in plants.
  • And a whopping 89% of consumers owned at least two houseplants in 2021, according to a Floral Marketing Fund report.

Zoom in: Watering and tending to plants and then watching them bloom is great for our minds.

  • A key sign of poor mental health is losing interest and pleasure in activities. Plants can curb that by bringing passion and routine into our lives, says Justin Puder, a psychologist in Florida.
  • Asiyah Muhsin, a wellness coach and retired nurse, started buying plants to cope with her own mental health after a suicide attempt. "They made me feel safe, heard and seen," she says. Now she uses plant-caregiving to help clients.
  • The Horticultural Society of New York — the Hort — understands the value of people-plant relationships. They offer Rikers GreenHouse — a two-acre plot of land on Rikers Island where experts guide incarcerated individuals through therapeutic horticulture, says Hilda Krus, a director at the Hort.

The bottom line: Consider buying a plant from a local nursery to brighten up your home — or add to your collection if you're already an avid plant owner — and reap the benefits.

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