How nature can bring us back to balance
The science behind the healing power of plants. How do woods kill virally infected cells?
Our bodies have an innate connection to nature. A connection that has been around for millions of years. After all, we evolved in nature.
I think everybody feels better after a spell in nature, whether that’s a walk in the woods, playing games on the beach, kayaking down stream or cycling along the rugged cliffs of our North shores. But do you know why we feel better?
It is partly because being in nature switches on our Parasympathetic Nervous Systems (PNS). This system also known as the “rest and digest” state is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response. It is the system responsible for bringing our bodies back to balance, back to homeostasis. Spending time surrounded by the beauty of Mother Nature can reduce blood pressure and lower your heart rate. Whereas urban environments tend to raise blood pressure, even just looking at pictures of urban scenes. By activating your PNS, nature can help you sleep and improve your memory.
The happy hormone serotonin is also enhanced by sunlight. This is our body's pain-relieving system and can help us feel tranquil and at peace, so it is also a natural antidote to anxiety and depression. Sunlight makes us happy!
Because of this synthesis with the natural world our bodies crave to be in the great outdoors.
Biophilia - “Philosopher Eric Fromm called this longing for nature “biophilia”, which translates from the Greek as ‘love of life or living systems”.
“Plants heal us through biological communication that our immune system and consciousness understand.”
Clemens G. Arvay
If you’re anything like me you will want to know how this actually works! How on earth do plants have the ability to cause physiological changes in our bodies?
Well it all starts with plant communication. Plants have their own vocabulary. They can actually converse with each other via chemical substances, that each have particular meanings. They have the ability to “tell” each other that they’re under attack from a predator, warning each other to protect themselves. These amazing substances not only alarm other plants they can also attract the natural enemies of these pests. They can act as the plants natural sunscreen & they can deter pests from eating the plant by producing a nasty taste. Pretty cool huh?
This is where it all links up. So a lot of these chemical messengers are actually fragrances that belong to a group of substances called terpenes. Terpenes seep out of tree leaves and pine needles, they flow from tree trunks and bark and the plants in the forest understory. Even mushrooms, mosses and ferns emit them.
Terpenes permeate the forest air with their healing properties.
A forest is a living, breathing hive of activity and communication that we are unable to consciously perceive. A hotbed of terpene infused air. When we spend time in a forest inhaling this healing potion, this is where the magic of botanicals really comes into play. I am a plant scientist so I geek out about the amazing abilities of plants anyway! But when it comes to how they interact with us humans then it becomes pretty mind-blowing.
Some of these incredible substances can also communicate with our immune system in a highly health-promoting way. Author of Nature Based Therapeutic Interventions, Ulrika Stigsdotter describes them as “anticancer terpenes”. Breathing in forest air and these magic molecules significantly increases the number of cells known as Natural Killer cells in our bodies. They are an innate part of our immune system and are best known for killing virally infected cells, and detecting and controlling early signs of cancer.1 Inhaling the terpene infused forest air actually increases their activity and can also lower stress hormones in our bodies. Essentially we react to terpenes in a very similar way to plants, by increasing and strengthening our defences. 2
“Biological communication with the trees just happens without our conscious contribution.”
Clemens G. Arvay
Not only do we have the ability to get into nature and breathe in this medicinal elixir but we also have another way of infusing our bodies with these healing substances. Because terpenes are frequently found in essential oils. Monoterpenes, one of a group of three kinds of terpenes are found in some amount in almost all essential oils. There are believed to be well over 2,000 varieties of monoterpenes, each with its own unique biological activity.
Essential oils containing the most common monoterpenes (limonene, pinene, terpinene, and cymene) include Frankincense, Wild Orange, Fennel, Lemon, Lime, Bergamot, Rosemary, Black Pepper, Grapefruit and Tea Tree. Some of which have cleansing or antioxidant properties. Some of these oils are protective to cells and promote normal cell growth. Some repel insects, whilst some have stimulating and enhancing effects on mood and cognitive health. 3 All being very similar to the effects that terpenes have on plants. To have these incredible substances bottled and on our shelves as an added way to bring ourselves back to balance excites the hell out of me!
I don’t know about you but I find this stuff fascinating, hence I did my degree in the subject! But equally as fascinating as the science behind nature's healing properties is the spiritual side. I love marrying the two together. I am a rare breed, a spiritual scientist! If this kind of thing gets your pulse racing and you would love to know more then be sure to stick around as I share my love of the magic of botanicals with you.
2 The Biophilia Effect Clement G.Arvay