Everyone knows that plants are vital to the environment, and that they provide a lot more for us than just pretty flowers and summer shade. But it can be easy to lose sight of just how important plants are to us, and all the various positive ways they impact our lives.
Food and Medicine
Let’s start off with the most obvious, that plants provide us with the majority of our food. Not only do the plants themselves make up a large portion of the typical human diet, don’t forget that plants are behind the various animal-based foods like meat and dairy too.
And don’t forget the medicinal benefits we can get from so many herbs as well. Though today’s modern medicines are far removed from their plant-based origins, simple herbs can still be used to treat a number of common ailments.
A cup of mint tea can settle an upset stomach, and chamomile is still a favorite for a good night’s sleep. An aloe vera plant in your kitchen can provide a natural burn ointment by snipping off a spear.
Plants giving us food isn’t just about commercial agriculture either. You can do a little vegetable or herb farming right at home, even if you only have a windowsill to work with.
Many culinary and medicinal herbs will grow very well indoors, and a cherry tomato plant can bring you a tasty harvest of food.
If you are lucky enough to have some outdoor space, you can grow a lot of edibles without having to take up your whole yard. A few containers with tomatoes, peas, beans or even zucchini can produce a lot more food than you might think.
On a similar note, plants are harvested for materials other than food. The most obvious one is wood from trees.
As a raw material, nothing has been so important to humanity and the growth of civilization. Wood is used for building, as fuel for fire, and for making tools.
People eventually realized that the wood could be processed further, to provide the cellulose pulp for paper. Today, even more sustainable options have been developed for paper fiber, such as hemp or bamboo.
Cotton plants have given us fiber for clothing, and the flax plant provides fiber for fine linen. And many of the early dyes used for all of this fabric also came from plants.
This is a bit of an overlooked benefit, that certain plants are known to drive away insect pests (both inside the home and out). Citronella is famous for its lemony scent that keeps mosquitoes out of your yard, and fragrant lavender can do the same even as a houseplant.
If you plant onions or garlic around your outside flowerbed, you’ll have a lot less to worry about with insects or even rodents.
Plants are truly the lungs of the planet, scrubbing out carbon dioxide and replenishing our oxygen on a global scale. Now we’re talking about some of the prime benefits of plants that are present in living ecosystems.
In other words, benefits that living plants provide for us rather than a harvest.
You can also consider this benefit on a much smaller scale, using plants to help improve the air inside your home. Home air quality is known to be an issue for many people, due to the various chemicals in our cleaning products, upholstery and wood finishes.
Reports have shown that it’s not unusual to have pollutant levels in your home that are 2 to 5 times higher than outside. If you want to improve the environment in your home, invest in a few more houseplants.
While all potted plants will improve air quality and add oxygen and moisture to your surroundings, some plants are especially good at it.
A well-known study was done by NASA, looking at air contaminants like benzene, formaldehyde and other common home toxins, and they found that several houseplants are excellent at filtering the air.
- Devil’s ivy
- Peace lily
- Snake plant
- Spider plant
- English ivy
- Gerbera daisy
- Boston fern
- Date palm
- Bamboo palm
Two or three of these plants can help clean the air in a typical large room, ideally where you spend the most time like the living room or bedrooms.
Improve Mental Health
Some ways that plants help us are a little less tangible, but nonetheless very important. Improving mental health is one of the more personal reasons why plants are so lovely to have around.
It goes beyond just having something pretty to look at too. There are proven therapeutic benefits to living with houseplants.
First of all, having plants around is very relaxing and does reduce stress and anxiety in a significant way. They have a peaceful effect on anyone in the room, and can bring a lot of calm to a household.
That’s not all. It’s been shown that having green plants nearby can improve memory, focus and concentration. You can make this work for your benefit by keeping a few plants close at hand near your desk or at the office.
There is a strong sense of pride and accomplishment from seeing the plants you tend grow, bloom and possibly even produce a little food for you. Taking care of plants can be an easy way to introduce a little responsibility to children too.
One catch is that you do need to keep your plants healthy and thriving for there to be much mental health benefit. Brown or wilted plants will have the opposite effect, and can be quite depressing.
As you can see, there is practically no end to the good plants do for us. Some of the global benefits, like keeping the planet alive, are outside your personal scope, and you are unlikely to want to harvest your own trees to make paper.
But for the smaller scale benefits, like air quality or having some tranquility in your home, it can be time to add a few extra plants to your space.
For cleaning pollutants out of your air, we’ve already mentioned the most effective ones above. If you don’t have a lot of light, the Peace lily grows well in low-light and both the spider plant and the ivys are very easy to care for.
A few other good choices would be:
- Hen and chicks
- Jade plant
- Cast iron plant
- Any sort of cacti, if you have the light for it
Adding a few of these to the rooms of your home will change your life for the better, without a lot of extra work or expense.
So far, we’ve been talking about houseplants, especially in the area of fixing up your indoor air quality. But to just add a relaxing and stress-relieving atmosphere to the outside of the home, there are easy-to-care-for bedding plants you could choose instead.
Annuals like petunias or snapdragons, or save the yearly planting chores with perennials like black-eyed Susan or scented lavender.
If you are thinking that you need to have brightly colored flowers to get the mental health benefits of plants, that’s not the case. Even non-blooming plants will cheer you right up just the same.
As you can see, you really should never take plants for granted considering all they do for us. Whether you respect the rainforest, or give a little extra fertilizer to the ivy on your desk.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.