More Than Our Story

The Hidden Health Benefits of Houseplants

Table of Contents

Houseplants are definitely having a moment. I have close to 20 plants in my house right now, and they represent an irreplaceable link to nature for me. Together we will explore the hobby of looking after houseplants – how it can not only be a great hobby that teaches you something new, encourages self-expression and provides a sense of fulfillment – but we will investigate the hidden health benefits of caring for houseplants, and having them in your house or office.

It has been proven that living near green spaces, and spending time in nature, can improve mood, reduce stress, enhance cognitive skills, encourage physical activity and other positive behaviors, reduce aggression, and enhance overall well-being in people of all ages. Likewise, it’s been shown that not having access to nature can have a damaging effect on our health – linked to depression, anxiety, as well as other health conditions.

Together let’s look at the psychological and physical benefits from nurturing indoor plants, and discover that not only can you improve the air quality in your house, but the mood in it as well.

Health Benefits

Indoor plants have been shown to improve mental well-being as well as our physical health. Let’s take a deeper look.

The Psychological Benefits Of Houseplants

Research suggests that people who surround themselves with plant life and other forms of nature experience emotional and mental health benefits, positively impacting their social, psychological, cognitive, environmental, and spiritual well-being. Even the act of caring for plants is considered a meditative practice linked to self-care, called horticultural therapy.

Some of these benefits include:

  • Improved mood. Being around, and caring for plants has repeatedly been linked to positive changes in mood, and reduction of physiological and psychological stress. Some notable benefits include:
    • Reduced stress levels. Spending time in natural settings has been linked to increased recovery from mental fatigue, a slower heart rate, and a reduction in high blood pressure.
    • Decreased levels of anxiety. Horticultural therapy calms and relaxes people, decreasing their level of anxiety.
    • Reduced symptoms of depression. A study found a bacterium in plant soil that triggers the release of serotonin – often referred to as the “feel-good hormone”, or “the happy molecule”.
    • Better self-esteem. With reduced stress, anxiety and depression, comes an improvement in how you feel about yourself.

RELATED STUDY
A 2007 study found a bacterium in plant soil called Mycobacterium vaccae that triggers the release of serotonin, which lifts mood and reduces anxiety.
Read more >>

  • Increased productivity. Acknowledging the connection between your environment and your mind, studies have shown a correlation between added plants and both productivity and creativity in school and office settings. You may experience the same benefits – reduced stress levels, being able to focus better/think more clearly, and increased creativity – from adding plants to your home as well.
    • Increased memory and concentration. Plants have a calming effect, helping you focus on retaining a specific task related to memory.
    • Increased creativity. People are more creative when surrounded by greenery and natural elements.

RELATED STUDY
A research study from the University of Michigan concluded that spending time outside around plants can increase memory retention by up to 20 percent.
Read more >>

The Physical Health Benefits Of Houseplants

We just explored the psychological benefits that plants can bring, now let’s take a look at the direct physical benefits that can arise from keeping and caring for houseplants:

  • Improved Air Quality. Data suggest that every year over 4 million people worldwide die prematurely due to indoor air pollution. Pollution levels are often higher indoors than outdoors – for people that spend the majority of their day indoors, indoor air quality is hugely important. Prolonged exposure to other indoor pollutants can cause health problems, from minor irritations to long-term issues, including respiratory problems and certain types of cancer. Plants help improve the indoor air quality in the following ways:
    • Adding humidity to the air: Plant increase the humidity level in your house, which can help alleviate dry skin and eyes.
    • Reducing carbon dioxide and increasing oxygen levels: As plants photosynthesize, they remove carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen, which may help to reduce fatigue and headaches.
    • Removing pollutants from the air. Plants can remove toxic chemicals and pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, fine particles and volatile organic compounds. Plants absorb these airborne pollutants from the air and either metabolize them or incorporate them into their own tissues.
    • Removing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the air. VOCs are a large group of substances which are emitted from a variety of sources, including furnishings, paints, detergents, varnishes, flooring materials, smoke, air fresheners, cooking, cleaning products, and can have adverse health effects on humans. 

RELATED STUDY
The 1989 NASA Clean Air Study, which was formally known as A Study of Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, famously found that some plants could remove toxins from the air through the process of photosynthesis.
Read more >>

Indoor Pollutants

Data suggest that every year over 4 million people worldwide die prematurely due to indoor air pollution. Pollution levels are often higher indoors than outdoors as indoor air represents a mix of:

  • Outdoor-derived compounds such as nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and dust-particulates.
  • Indoor-derived contaminants, predominantly Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – a large group of substances (including toluene, xylene, benzene) which are emitted from furnishings, detergents, paints, and other sources, and can have negative health effects.
  • Bio-aerosols – fungal spores and bacteria, that can add to indoor pollution.

The Negative Effects Of Houseplants

Very few negative effects have been reported related to houseplants – and they are usually mild, such as minor skin and respiratory irritations. Something to remember is that some plants are toxic to pets and children, so make sure to read up on your chosen houseplants before purchasing. Lastly, flowering houseplants produce pollen and floral scents, which isn’t always suitable for people with plant and pollen-related allergies, and remember keep them out of the reach of children and pets.

What Plants Should I Grow?

If you’re new to plant care, relax, we’ve got you covered. Below are some of the best indoor plants to improve your mental and physical health and liven up your home. These plants are all good indoors, easy to care for, and best at purifying the air around them. 

  • English Ivy (Hedera helix) is often seen outdoors, but makes for a great, albeit picky house plant, but watch out if you have young children or pets, as it is poisonous if ingested. The plant thrives under fluorescent light but not direct sun, so it’s the perfect houseplant for darker than normal bedrooms with artificial light. They are known for absorbing harmful pollutants in the air, including VOCs like benzene, xylene, and toluene from the air, can purify up to 90% of airborne mold that can trigger allergies, and can help people with asthma breathe better at night. Use a container with good drainage, and water these plants thoroughly, allowing the soil on top to dry out before watering again.

  • Gerbera Daisies or Transvaal daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) are actually related to the sunflower native to South Africa. Gerbera daisies like full sunlight, but they don’t like too much heat. Recently NASA called Gerbera daisies the best plant for removing benzene from indoor air and producing oxygen at night, which can help people suffering from insomnia and sleep apnea. They need to be watered each week, but make sure you only water them when their soil is completely dried up.

  • Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), or Devil’s ivy is native to the Society Islands of French Polynesia and can reach 40-60 feet in the forest, in your house however, you can expect a maximum length of 5-10 feet. Known for its heart shaped leaves, and its abilities as a natural air purifier, capable of removing chemicals like trichloromethyl and VOCs from the air, as well as lowering indoor ozone levels. Extra hardy, the golden pothos is great for first time plant owners. They like bright and indirect sunlight, but they can tolerate a range of conditions. Water every 1-2 weeks, so the soil can dry between waterings. Keep in mind that the golden pothos contains oxalate, which can be harmful to pets and humans if ingested.

  • Jasmine refers to a genus of shrubs and vines in the olive family (Oleaceae) that has a great effect on our mental health due to a chemical that relieves anxiety, stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and, in larger quantities, can raise immunity and increase libido. Easy to maintain, plant jasmine in a pot of well-draining soil, in the partly sun spot. Make sure to water your jasmine multiple times a week, adjusting to make sure the soil dries between waterings – be careful not to overwater.

  • Lavender (Lavandula) includes 47 known species of flowering plants in the mint family, renown for its gentle, pleasant aroma. Lavender – as a plant, cuttings, or scent – is best known for its mental benefits, including soothing restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, anxiety and depression. It’s often found in spa products like bath salts, skincare creams, soaps and candles. You can place a lavender plant anywhere in your home, but putting it in your bedroom is a great choice for its natural ability to soothe and calm down the mind. If you have a garden outside, it’s best to plant your lavender there, but it also grows well indoors in containers. For indoor growing, lavender should receive as much light as possible. Water thoroughly and allow the soil to become slightly dry between waterings. Prune occasionally to promote new growth.

  • Peace Lilies (Spathiphyllum) are beautiful evergreen plants native to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia. Known for their beautiful white flowers and acceptance of dark places such as offices and bedrooms, hence their other name: “closet plants”. Peace lilies have a reputation for being easy to grow, and can thrive in both low and bright light, but do best in shaded areas. They are known for absorbing harmful air pollutants, including ammonia, benzene, xylene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene, CO2 and the VOC formaldehyde. Plant them in soil that is great at maintaining moisture and dries out slowly; keep the soil moist but do not overwater them. Since this is a flowering houseplant, it will produce some pollen and a floral scent – which isn’t always suitable for people with plant and pollen-related allergies – so keep them out of the reach of children and pets.

  • Philodendron (Philodendreae) is a perennial flowering plant renown for its typically large, green, and glossy leaves. Philodendrons are also well-known for filtering out toxic chemicals like xylene and formaldehyde from the air. Low-maintenance, and generally easy to grow, try to make sure they don’t get too much light, as this can make their leaves become yellow. Let the soil dry out on top between watering, being careful not to overwater. Be careful as philodendron are toxic to pets and people if consumed.

  • Rubber Plants (Ficus elastica) are an evergreen tree native to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia that can grow up to 50 feet tall outside under the right conditions. It has large leaves that should be wiped clean of dust. Easy to maintain, rubber plants like bright light, but can also grow in shade. They are known for absorbing harmful pollutants in the air, including VOCs. Tolerant to drought, water them a minimum of once weekly and make sure the soil is able to drain well, but be careful of overwatering, as the leaves can turn yellow and even fall off.

  • Spider Plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are a perennial plant known for their long, narrow leaves, resembling spiders. Low-maintenance, hardy, and easy to grow, spider plants prefer bright to moderate indirect light, and are known for absorbing harmful pollutants in the air, including formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and other toxic air impurities. If you don’t have much of a green thumb, a spider plant could be perfect for you, as it doesn’t require much care – just keep the soil moist and re-pot every other year. They also do well in hanging baskets.

  • Snake Plants (Sansevieria trifasciatai) or “mother-in-law’s tongue”, is a succulent plant known for its tall, green leaves resembling swords. Low-maintenance, extremely hardy and easy to grow, snake plants prefer indirect sunlight, and are known for absorbing harmful pollutants in the air – including trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, and xylene – and for converting carbon dioxide into oxygen as you sleep. To optimize the air purifying process, you’ll want more than one plant. Often considered to be one of the easiest plants to care for – just let the soil dry between waterings and the snake plant will thrive.

Once you’ve chosen a few plants, make sure to take note of any instructions about light and drainage requirements. If you’re looking for more advice, talk to the people at your local plant store or nursery, they may have some great suggestions on other plants well suited to you.

Recap

Never discount what a simple looking houseplant can do for your health. Caring for your plants is essentially a reminder to care for yourself, and houseplants can have a huge impact on our mental and physical health. Don’t think you need a green thumb to enjoy success with houseplants – gardening is all about trial and error, and learning as you go – even the most experienced gardeners make mistakes. Collecting and caring for houseplants is a great hobby that always teaches you something new, encourages self-expression, and gives you a sense of fulfillment.

Tips

  • If you’re new to plants, stick to simple, low-maintenance plants and let your collection, and knowledge grow.
  • If you’re looking for more advice, talk to the people at your local plant store or nursery, they may have some great suggestions on other plants well suited to you.
  • To truly purify the air in your home, consider adding an air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter that can trap allergens and irritants.
Picture of Daniel

Daniel

Daniel is an extremely curious person, a wealth of random knowledge and facts. Extremely passionate about a vast array of interests ranging from health to history, science to athletics, everything culinary and the list goes on. Trust us, you would want to be on his team for Trivial Pursuit. Daniel is also years into his battle with brain cancer. He experienced a seizure while on a Zoom call at work in late 2020 and quite literally, his life changed within minutes. After his operation he started to talk about his story but had always known it was more than just him. From then, More Than Our Story became a PROJECT that has evolved into the starting point it is today.

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