Why are Treehuggers Happier and Healthier?
Terpenes and Phytoncides are the Answer
Have you been for a walk through the forest lately? Did you notice the leaves rustling in the wind? And the spicy smell permeating the air? Did you take in a deep breath of that aromatic scent? If you did, you did yourself a great favour because with it you were inhaling countless different types of healthy components, and besides them only clean, fresh air. One square kilometre (or 0.38 square miles) of forest can absorb up to 7,000 tons of particles each year, the majority of them being man-made pollutants. Forests are great filters, and the air beneath their trees’ branches is much cleaner than anywhere else.
Forests are not only one of our last refuges of clean air, a place where we can escape the pollution that cars, chimneys, planes and so many other things impose on us every day, no, they are also a real treasure box of terpenes and phytoncides. A variety of plant-produced substances fall into these categories, and other plants, besides trees emit them as well. Yet, in a forest, you get the maximum effect of these little miracle workers. Plants have developed terpenes and phytoncides for reasons such as deterring herbivores and attracting beneficial animals instead, to heal themselves, and even to communicate with each other, for example, to warn their neighbours about an attack of some insect. But some of them also have a very positive effect on our health and mental wellbeing. So far, scientists have discovered more than 8,000 terpenes and more than 30,000 substances closely related to them. Let’s find out what they can do for you!
Surprisingly, terpenes and phytoncides do not only protect plants from harm but also us humans. They are bioactive, which means they cause our bodies to react to them. One of their dominant effects is how they act upon the human immune system. Science has shown that people who spent time in a forest had a lot more natural killer cells in their bodies. Natural killer cells are your bodyguards against any germs or viruses that might enter your system. The more you have, the better your chances of staying healthy.
There is only a small catch to it. Usually, conifers emit more of healthy terpenes and phytoncides than broad-leaved trees. When, however, trees are planted in climate zones where they don’t belong, things change. Some conifers such as spruces and Scots pines naturally belong into nordic regions and not into countries such as Germany – but there, the majority of trees are, as you might have guessed, spruces and Scots pines. By 1800, most of Germany’s forests were gone, cut down by the growing population which needed more and more wood and space. During times of war, even more, wood was needed. When reforesting began, people planted mostly spruces and Scots pines instead of native broad-leaved trees because they grow faster and supposedly produce more wood and profits. The problem nobody thought of was that Germany’s climate is too warm and dry for spruces and Scots pines. During the summers, especially in recent years with the summers becoming much hotter and drier than ever, these trees have been in a lot of distress.
Trees in distress send out terpenes and phytoncides as well, but different types than healthy trees. As Peter Wohlleben, a renowned tree expert, writes in his book “The Hidden Life of Trees”, these trees are always close to dying from heat and lack of water, something that also makes them prone to attacks from parasites, and they “cry out” by sending out terpenes and phytoncides which communicate danger and stress to their neighbouring trees. Experiments have shown that these types of terpenes and phytoncides also adversely affect humans. People standing under suffering trees react to it with a rise of their blood pressure, whereas people standing under a healthy oak tree get the benefit of a drop in blood pressure. So, head out into the woods to get your dose of healthy terpenes and phytoncides, but inform yourself first which trees are native to your area and where to find them.
Terpenes Even Help Curing Cancer
In 1982, the Japanese government introduced the concept of “forest bathing” to encourage Japanese citizens to spend more time in nature and harness its positive influence. Since then, the therapeutic effects of trees have even made their way into medicine. For example, rehabilitation hospitals in Bavaria have started to incorporate forest bathing into their care programs. It’s not just the small things trees help curing. Spending time in forests speeds up healing processes after surgery and there have been several studies that have shown the anti-cancer effect of terpenes in both in vitro and in vivo in Mice.
Are You Happy? No? Then Hug a Tree!
Connecting to nature is essential for being happy and for maintaining a balanced life. Many of us have lost this connection or don’t maintain it regularly. Being outside in nature stimulates your body to produce more of the hormones that make you happy. Remember that everything is connected, everything is part of the same universal mind, and everything has an energy that vibrates at a certain frequency. Trees are strong beings and some of them have been around for hundreds of years or even longer (a few even in Germany). Hug a healthy tree or at least touch it or lean against it, and you will feel some of that energy flowing through you. A tree in distress surely would appreciate a hug as well, but healthy trees seem to have a more positive effect on our happiness than trees fighting for their lives. Peter Wohlleben suggests this again is due to the different types of terpenes and phytoncides they emit. In my opinion, purely energetic vibration plays an additional role. Just imagine how it feels when you are comforting a sick cat or dog. Although you love it, the vibrations it gives off don’t make you happy but rather sad because you feel with them and might worry about them. Here, changing the roles would apply: You should place yourself in a positive mindset and be the one sending out positive vibes instead.
Get a Room with a View
By the way, at a hospital in Philadelphia, it was found that patients who were given a room with a view of trees instead of buildings recovered much faster than the other group of patients and also had much fewer problems with depression after surgery. So, if you are about to move houses, you might want to pay attention to where your new home is located. The best thing would be to move out of the city. In any case, at least try to have some trees in front of your living room window.