Horticulture for the Health

As the world becomes more and more technologically oriented, horticulture therapy brings us back to our roots. 

Utilizing the mental health benefits of gardening is becoming more popular and may provide relief to many, including students.

Horticultural therapy has a long history of improving mental wellbeing. This practice is said to date back as far as 2000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. Around 500 BC, ancient Persians created gardens specifically for soothing purposes. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, ancient Egyptian doctors prescribed walks in a garden to those with mental illness. It was even used in the Middle Ages on the grounds of a handful of monastery hospitals for the purpose of raising the spirits of unhappy patients. In 1879, the Asylum for Persons Deprived of Their Reason, now known as Friends Hospital, built the first greenhouse known to be used for therapy to help servicemen rehabilitate after World War I. 

Photo Courtesy of Marie Kuhn

“There is much research out there on the significant correlation between time spent in nature and overall health and stress reduction, among other things. So having plants in your surroundings may improve quality of life and mental wellbeing,”  Science teacher Marie Kuhn said. 

For example, a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology about interactions with indoor plants found that results “suggest that active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work”. These effects are caused by “suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotion of comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings.”

“Even just the act of caring for and being responsible for another living organism can have great psychological benefits, especially when that organism is providing us with our own life necessity — oxygen,” Kuhn said.

The benefits go even deeper than mental health. A 2011 study published by SAGE Journals found that gardening after a stressful event improves Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration. A stressful event, such as a test, is commonplace for students. 

On the subject of tests, spending time caring for plants shows signs of improving memory. A study published by ResearchGate in 2019 showed that short-term gardening activity can improve memory by promoting blood vessel growth and neuronal survival. 

Another benefit unrelated to mental health is the physical aspect of gardening. Moving around to get soil, repot, water and more is classified as light gardening. According to the Center of Disease Control, light gardening qualifies as exercise. 

Along with these amazing mental and physical advantages, plants also have more obvious benefits.

“There is nothing like growing your own fresh food, and the attention and problem-solving needed to help plants thrive is fun to figure out. I didn’t always have a green thumb, so it is a feeling of accomplishment to now be able to grow and maintain many plants,” Kuhn said. 

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