What Even Is Plant Therapy?

plant therapy

Do you feel pleasure staring at a gorgeous potted plant or look forward to coming home to your plants at the end of the day? There is a reason for this. Being around plants is good for us, and some studies show that just looking at greenery can reduce anxiety and have a calming effect. Beyond the mental health benefits, indoor houseplants can improve air quality and brighten up any room. Perhaps you already take advantage of these benefits, or maybe you are discovering the mental health benefits of plants for the first time⁠ — in any case, the act of caring for plant life is therapeutic.

What is Horticultural Therapy?

This technique relies on plants and gardening to help people overcome health issues such as high blood pressure, memory disorders, depression, addiction, and survivors of abuse. This form of therapy is connected to the concept of “biophilia,” which is the idea that people are genetically connected to nature and plant life. The goal of horticultural therapy, or “plant therapy,” is to help patients build self-confidence, social connections, get outside into nature, and increase compassion. This practice is generally leveraged in combination with more traditional therapy approaches, including talk therapy and medication.

Besides making a room or garden look brighter, plants are proven to have therapeutic effects on people. One clinical study found people who care for plants tend to be more compassionate and empathetic towards those around them. Additionally, further research reinforces that this form of therapy has a positive impact on anxiety and can improve overall mental health and wellness. These findings are just a few reasons why some universities continue to see positive results in research that gardening is a way to improve mental and emotional health.

How Plant Therapy Improves Mental Health

Research illuminates the positive effects of gardening and maintaining plants, but what exactly makes horticulture so healing? There are some key factors:

  • Gardening encourages relaxation
    Tending to plants and a garden can provide an escape from other people while providing a person something pleasant to view and care for. The tasks required to maintain healthy plant life are routine and repetitive — such as weeding, trimming, and watering — allowing a person to free up thoughts and clear their minds. The rhythmic, mindful nature of tending to plant life has been compared to meditation.

  • Looking after plants releases feel-good hormones
    Our bodies crave exercise and the outdoors — something that gardening can provide. Whenever we exercise, our levels of serotonin and dopamine rise, helping us feel good, and it can also result in helping promote healthy sleep habits, and ultimately, feel more refreshed.

  • Gardening promotes a sense of responsibility
    When you are on the hook for making sure another living thing can develop and flourish over time, it helps promote a feeling of appreciation, ownership.

  • There are opportunities to vent anger and aggression
    Release your frustrations when weeding, chopping down a bush, and cutting unwieldy plants. Gardening also provides a great analogy to emotions, if you don’t take the time to tend to them, cut back the unruly ones, a garden can be overtaken, just like your emotional well-being.

  • It is easy to do
    When you gaze at a friends beautiful flowers or an impressive indoor orchid, the idea of keeping plants may seem intimidating. The key is to start small with just a few pots or one hanging basket. Opt for plant life that is easy to maintain rather than no plant life

The hardest part about exploring plant therapy is actually starting, but fortunately, tending to plant life is affordable and simple to start.

The Future of Horticultural Therapy

The interest in gardening and plants continues to grow rapidly as there is more recognition of the health benefits of being in and around nature. This is an impressive leap forward from the origins of plant therapy, which was initially used following the first World War. It was leveraged as a treatment for veterans experiencing PTSD and then later was added as a therapy program at the Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine and has been used ever since.

Today, the American Horticultural Therapy Association carries the torch forward, with the rallying cry that a person’s quality of life is directly related to their relationship with plants. Their work serves as the foundation for many current plant-based therapy programs, and provides simple ways to incorporate plant life in a person’s day-to-day activities.

If you are interested in reaping the benefits of gardening and tending to plants, there are some simple ways to get started right away. Taking the leap with a plant or flower that is easy to take care of can help open the door to being around more shades of green — and just looking at plants can help reduce anxiety and have a calming effect. Buying a plant is a small, affordable act that can have a positive impact on improving overall mental health with the added bonus of brightening up your home. Now get planting!

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