Plants have healing properties not only because of the compounds they contain, but simply growing and being around them has a positive impact on our mental wellbeing, and is used as a form of therapy. The practice started long ago by... the ancient Egyptians. Today, plant therapy has even got its name - hortitherapy.
The therapeutic properties of plants were used by doctors from ancient Egypt several thousand years ago. They advised members of the Pharaoh’s family to take walks in the garden in order to improve their mood. However, it took some time before the therapeutic properties of plants began to be exploited in clinics of the 18th and 19th centuries. The pioneer of American hortitherapy was Dr. Benjamin Rush, who recommended working in the fields and gardens to people struggling with psychological problems. Only in 1936 in England, horticulture was officially recognized as one of the methods of therapy, and a few years later, garden therapy was introduced as an official method of treatment. Another important period was the 1950s, when plant therapy became the subject of studies at universities. Thanks to this, it gained in quality, because the first academic textbooks in this field have appeared since then, and scientists have had the opportunity to develop new methods of working with patients and innovative forms of therapeutic classes.
Currently, issues related to hortitherapy are dealt with by organizations such as the American Horticultural Therapy Association, Australian Horticultural Therapy Association, or Japan Horticultural Therapy Society. It can be divided into two forms: active and passive. The first one covers various types of activities related to work in the garden, greenhouse, or orangery. These activities include, among others weeding, pruning, watering, and transplanting plants. Just being surrounded by plants can be a form of therapy, called passive. It has been shown that even just observing or touching plants can bring some health benefits. These are activities that have a calming and reassuring effect on our senses.
Professional therapeutic gardens are set in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and children’s treatment centers. Everyone can practice this form of therapy in their own garden, but it is worth knowing which plants are suitable for this purposes. Let us remember about a few important rules:
• select plants that suit your own abilities (growing some of them is more engaging and therefore may not be suitable for the elderly or those with mobility limitations),
• reduce the use of pesticides and focus primarily on natural, ecological cultivation.
Below are some examples of plants that can be grown as a form of therapy.
• Herbs and plants with health properties – these include, lemon balm, mint, thyme, rosemary, marjoram and basil. These are plants that we can also grow in our own apartment on a windowsill or balcony, so even people who do not have a garden can use them in the form of therapy. Moreover, these plants possess valuable healing properties due to the compounds they contain.
• Vegetables – growing your own vegetables can be extremely rewarding. People who are just taking their first steps in this activity should focus on species that are easy to maintain, with a short growing season. They include, among others radish.
• Ornamental plants – both growing and just being in their environment on a daily basis can have a positive effect on our well-being. A good solution is to use seasonal plants such as sunflower, pansies, lavender, rose or marigold.
We can reap many benefits from growing and being around plants. In centers where horticultural therapy is used, it has been observed that it has a positive effect on physical fitness, motor coordination, a sense of balance and concentration. Growing or being around plants can also reduce stress levels. Considering how much stress we experience in the modern world, it is worth paying attention to the fact that plants are not only decoration, spice or a source of compounds with health effects. Having them around us and growing them can have a positive effect on our mood and health.
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