When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and honey locusts,
equally the beeches, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily…
~ Mary Oliver
The Land of Is, the home of Living Libations, nestles among forests and lakes. Spring is here at last, the ice on our lake finally melted, and our sun-filled days are spent outdoors. Nature is our playground.
We also respect nature as our medicine chest; after a day outdoors, we feel healthier. Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of forest bathing, harnesses the therapeutic power of botany to harmonize our health. Since 1982, the Japanese government has designated 48 official Forest Therapy trails to encourage citizens to spend more time in the woods to bolster their health.
Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist, studied the physiological and psychological benefits of forest bathing and concluded that human feel most comfortable and are most healthy while in nature, even those who dislike outdoor endeavors. We evolved with and in the natural world, so our cells, systems, and rhythms recognize the cells, systems, and rhythms of nature. Miyazaki suggested that close contact with nature restores our minds and also our bodies.
Li, another Japanese scientist, needed quantifiable evidence of the health benefits of forest bathing so he designed an experiment where 12 businessmen went on a three day hiking trip in the forest. Blood and urine samples were collected and tested on all the men before and after the trip. Their hormone levels, blood pressure, and levels of Natural Killer cells were tracked. Myazaki's hypothesis was confirmed: in all 12 men, blood pressure and cortisol levels dropped, and most notably, the men's Natural Killer cells increased by 40%. A month later, the cells were still elevated. NK cells are a type of lymphocyte vital for immune health. They stealthily kill off stressed and infected cells and tumor forming cells.
It's the Trees!
Li suspected that something more than psychological, a biological process, was influencing these changes, and he thought it had something to do with the aromatic molecules of the trees.
The scent molecules of trees, called phytoncides, are volatile, organic compounds, and terpenes are the main component. Coined in 1928 by Russian biochemist, Boris P. Tokin, phytoncide means "exterminated by the plant." Dr. Tokin established that these substances are part of the botanical self-defense system; they deter insects, animals, and microbes from eating the plant.
To test the phytoncide theory, Li sequestered 12 subjects in hotel rooms. In some rooms, he vaporized Hinoki cypress essential oil, and the other rooms received nothing. The cypress oil breathers had a 20 percent increase in NK cells and reported feeling less fatigued. The control group reported almost no changes.(Li saw the same increase in NK cells in a subsequent petri-dish test.) Li remarked, "This is big. Pharmaceutical drugs makers can only wish that their pills would have such an impact."
A study from China focused on Cryptomeria japonica tree oil (which contains limonene, another type of terpene), and the participants reported improved sleep quality, lower anxiety, and less pain.
Pines and conifers release large amounts of phytoncides into the air to suppress surrounding microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi from invading them. Other plants, including spices, onion, garlic, many varieties of flowers, tea tree, oak, and countless others, release these compounds, as well.
Plants: Our Precious Defenders
Our bodies are deeply influenced by these little plant-powerhouse molecules. When the molecules are inhaled or absorbed through the mouth and skin, they travel in the blood stream, are pulsed through the body, and instruct the brain. Ongoing research demonstrates that phytoncides increase NK cell levels as wells as increase anti-cancer proteins and proteases (granulysin, granzymes A and B, and perforin) that cause tumor cells to self-destruct. They also relax our parasympathetic nervous system, thus reducing stress hormones, which are widely understood to inhibit NK activity.
I wonder if clear cutting and deforestation correspond to increases in disease in those areas and in the world?
Forest Bathe at Home
Terra viriditatem sudat. (The earth exudes freshness.)
~ Hildegard of Bingen
The concentration of phytoncides in the air in the forest is temperature-dependent. It is higher in the summer than the winter, and it peaks around 30 degrees Celsius. Forest-therapy is most beneficial for people who can spend time in nature in warmer weather.
Fortunately, phytoncides and essential oils share a similar constituent -- those precious terpenes. (Terpene is one of only two main components of essential oils; the other is phenylpropanoids.) Essential oils can provide forest-therapy for us at home, every day, all year long regardless of the temperature.
Botanicals are an elegant and easy way to forest-bathe at home. All essential oils have a concentration of a terpene, and there are hundreds of beautiful options. The best way to get started is to pick the scent that you enjoy most.
If you prefer a combination of oils we have created a few delicious blends specifically designed to be inhaled.
• Revive Alive is a purifying blend of eucalyptus, rosemary, inula, oregano, black spruce and lemon myrtle.
• Illume Classic Camphorous drops and balm are a fortifying fusion of hyssop, thyme, ravensara, rosemary, eucalyptus, and oregano.
• Illume Hotberry contains schizandra berry, seabuckthorn berry, ginger, clove, cinnamon, turmeric, and grapefruit.
• Diffuser Blend Hearth Mirth is an uplifting blend of blood orange, White fir, Douglas fir, palo santo, and bergamot.
• Longevity Liquid is an anti-allergenic combination of frankincense, Black spruce, chamomile, niaouli and peppermint.
Diffuse the Situation
You can fill a room or your entire home with these lovely, aromatic molecules by diffusing or steaming the particles into the air.
Nebulizing diffusers are small, artfully designed appliances that disperse a mist of oil into the air without the use of water or steam. The particles of oil are so small that they stay airborne for about 2 hours. My favorite diffuser is the Aquarius Aroma diffuser because it is so simple to use, and unlike most diffusers it is heat-free. In lieu of heat, it uses ionic ultrasound vibrations at a rate of 2.5 million times per second to suspend the aromatic particles in the air.
Hospitals are beginning to employ this technology. Vanderbilt University Medical Hospital's emergency department took the lead in forming an aromatherapy pilot program aimed at lowering the staff's stress, increasing energy levels, and minimizing the typical hospital smell. They began to diffuse oils throughout the department to increase atmospheric oxygen, naturally clean the air of microbes, bacteria, mold, and viruses, and inhibit bacterial growth by increasing ozone and negative ions in the air.
A survey answered by 100 members of the hospital staff both 30 days before the program's launch and 30 days after, produced persuasive results:
Stress: Before the program started, 41% of the staff reported high stress levels. 30 days after they began diffusing oils, stress levels dropped to 3%.
Frustration: Before the advent of the program, 60% reported feeling frustrated in their work. After, frustration dropped to 6%.
Tiredness: 40% reported feeling tired at work, and that dropped to 13% after breathing diffused oils for a month.
Thrilled with how they felt at work, some of the hospital staff began diffusing oils at home, and the hospital administration is working through the protocol of diffusing oils in patient rooms to bolster patient health.
Put it in a Pipe
A salt pipe, or salt inhaler is a positively purifying device that cleanses and fortifies the breath and airways. It is a super-simple way to add some warm verve to your vents and some verdancy to your vibe.
It is so simple and easy to use: Add tree essential oils to the pipe and inhale deeply through the mouth and exhale through the nose for 10 to 20 minutes, making it a goal to use the inhaler on at least every other breath. Alternatively, you can practice alternate nostril breathing, holding the inhaler to each nostril and inhaling deeply, while exhaling through the other nostril.
When you inhale through the mouthpiece, micron particles from the salt and essential oil molecules are dispersed through the airway to bathe the body and spirit. When we added 10 drops of oil to the salt in the inhaler, the aroma benefits are still active after two weeks. The tree essential oils of cypress, pine, and firs are known for their blessing of cleansing breaths.
Steam inhalation of essential oils is a more direct method of receiving oils. It requires no equipment: bring a pot of water to boil, add a few drops of essential oils or blend of oils, and lean over the steam with a towel draped over your head and shoulders to create a cloud of steam. Breathe deeply through your nose and then your mouth for about 10 minutes. You can also add a few drops of the oils to a hot bath or a steamy shower and take deep breathes. For a longer therapy session run a steam vaporizer with a few drops of oil in a small room with the doors and windows closed.
Let Forest Essences Be Thy Feel Good Friend
My favorite way to enjoy the clear breeze of tree majesty is with a spritz of Trees Please Forest Cologne. It contains a full forest of the plant molecules of spruce, Grand fir, Douglas fir, Silver fir, cedar, vetiver, patchouli, and sandalwood. In a pinch, you can also hold an opened bottle up to your nose and take a few long, healing breaths.
Nadine Artemis is author of Renegade Beauty: Reveal and Revive Your Natural Radiance and Holistic Dental Care: The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums, a frequent commentator on health and beauty for media outlets, and her products have received rave reviews in the New York Times, the National Post, and the Hollywood Reporter. Described by Alanis Morissette as “a true-sense visionary,” Nadine has formulated a stunning collection of rare and special botanical compounds. Her healing creations, along with her concept of Renegade Beauty, encourages effortlessness and inspires people to rethink conventional notions of beauty and wellness.
"When I am Among the Trees"
Florence Williams. "Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning." Outside Magazine. November 28, 2012. www.outsideonline.com/fitness/wellness/Take-Two-Hours-of-Pine-Forest-and-Call-Me-in-the-Morning.html
Li Q. "Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function." www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568839
Li Q. "Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568839
Report by National Chung Hsing University Reveals the Secrets of Phytoncides, Campus News, Ministry of Education Republic of China (Taiwan) February, 7 2013. english.moe.gov.tw/ct.asp?xItem=10743&ctNode=11020&mp=1
This experiment gave rats extremely high doses of essential oil without a toxic reaction, demonstrating that these oils are safe.
Peciulyte et al. 2010
"Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20074458
Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum