They give us the air we breathe and make our world the vixen of the solar system, but the power of plants doesn’t end there.
Some are delicious to eat, others are lovely to look at, and some smell so damn good we shove our noses right up in their grills – there’s no doubt about it, plants are a talented (not to mention obliging) bunch. They also contribute to our wellbeing in many quietly astounding ways. From drinking herbal tea to taking tinctures, humans have used plants to aid healing for centuries. Some of us even use them to escape reality and go on spiritual journeys (we’re looking at you, peyote). They are constantly, silently working to make our lives better. In short: plants deserve to be elevated to hero status in our lives.
CLEAR THE AIR
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that having plants in your office, home and study is a good idea. Given the choice between being surrounded by green ferns or flowering orchids in comparison to a bunch of grey, standard-issue filing cabinets, we all know which scenario we’d prefer. But it appears that you do have to be a rocket scientist to measure the impact that indoor plants have on our environment. According to the boffins at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), indoor plants are capable of removing toxins from the air. As a part of its Clean Air Study, NASA confirmed that indoor plants were able to neutralise the effects of airborne toxins like benzene and formaldehyde. According to the study, some of the best plants for air filtering include the peace lily, the spider plant and the snake plant (also operating under the mildly offensive name of mother-in-law’s tongue). A number of other studies have indicated that patients in hospital rooms with plants recovered faster and experienced less pain than patients in rooms without plants. While you don’t have to turn your study into the Amazon, it appears that a few plants could make a difference to the quality of air that you breathe.
The good news is you don’t have to go bush to harness the healing power of plants, as your own backyard (or balcony) is probably home to a number of common plants with healing properties. According to folk wisdom gathered over centuries, fresh parsley slays bad breath, mint soothes tummy troubles, coriander alleviates seasonal allergies, and sage is an overachiever that does just about everything including (but not limited to) relieving mouth ulcers, improving digestion, killing fungal infections and calming sore throats.
Some common species of flowers also aid in improving our wellbeing. While there’s limited scientific evidence to prove the benefits of camomile, its flower and leaves are regularly used in tea to alleviate insomnia, while the root of the dandelion plant can be used to make a coffee alternative, providing a caffeine-free option for those brave warriors among us trying to kick the coffee habit (good luck with that).
Sally Mathrick, a Melbourne-based naturopath, harnesses the healing power of plants in her work at Sparkle Wellness and Detox, where she gives diet advice and herbal medicines to support the natural healing process of the body. “… We’re so incredibly fortunate to have a large pharmacopoeia at our fingertips. Herbal teas are highly accessible and adding herbs to your cooking is so simple to do,” she says. Not all herbs are created equal though, with Mathrick naming tulsi (also known as Holy Basil) as one of the shining stars of herbal medicine. “Tulsi is a remarkable herb that hails from India, where it is revered as a sacred plant. Studies have shown it has incredible healing properties. It’s anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and anti-bacterial. It’s also an adaptogen that helps the body adapt to stress and is recognised as a great herb for women because it assists with fertility, menstrual and reproductive issues. We can incorporate tulsi into our daily lives very easily because you can get tulsi tea in most health food stores,” Mathrick says.
While not gifted with the art of speech, flowers have a language of their own. A bunch of roses can say ‘I love you’ (or ‘I’m sorry’ if you’ve been a jerk). A field of wildflowers can magic up some instant joy while a vase of fresh flowers can transform a dreary hospital room into a happier place. But there’s much more to flowers than their good looks, with their essences being used by many to balance the mind and body.
Using some of the oldest flowering plant species on earth, Australian Bush Flower Essences are sold at chemists and health food stores (although homeopaths and naturopaths can also mix up essences tailored to specific needs). Although there have been no scientific studies that prove the efficacy of flower essences, Australian Bush Flower Essences work on the premise that flowers contain unique vibrational healing signatures that can be used to bring about emotional and spiritual balance within us. Each bottle contains a few drops of stock flower essence, mixed with a solution of purified water and brandy (to preserve the essence, not get you drunk). The makers claim that a few drops under the tongue each day can assist in everything from gaining clarity to being more confident.
Sally Mathrick has not only seen flower essences work in the lives of her clients, but also in her own life, as she used flower essences to assist with quitting smoking. For many smokers, giving up ciggies is a punishing journey along a road to hell paved with good intentions (and that road is littered with lozenges, patches and gum). Yet for Mathrick, flower essences made the transition a smoother one. “The concept of flower essences is quite esoteric, but I use them because I find they work. They’re amazing because they support this emotional side of us. When I first heard about flower essences, I was sceptical but it was only when I finally stopped smoking – and I was a hardcore smoker – that I started taking flower essences seriously. I had tried to quit smoking many times but when I took flower essences made especially for me, I finally broke that pattern. It’s like I had a new understanding about why I smoked and why I didn’t want to continue smoking.” Mathrick explains. While flower essences don’t have the support of the scientific community, anything that helps a smoker in their time of need deserves a look (and perhaps a tickertape parade).