We are now more aware of how beneficial it is for us to spend time in nature and particularly with trees, both for our mental and physical health. Trees of course give off oxygen. But the main cause of these health benefits are chemicals called phytoncides.
Phytoncides are antibacterial and antifungal chemicals that plants emit to create a field of protection around themselves against harmful bugs, bacteria, and disease, but they also protect and help us. The oils boost mood and immune system function; reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress, anxiety, and confusion; improve sleep and creativity; and may even help fight cancer and depression. When we breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumour- and virus-infected cells in our bodies.
Exposure to green space also reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death and preterm birth. In comparison to the urban environment, walking in trees lowers people’s blood pressure, cortisol levels, pulse rates, and sympathetic nervous system activity (related to stress), while increasing their parasympathetic nervous system activity (related to relaxation). Hugging a tree also increases levels of the hormones responsible for feeling calm and happy, and for emotional bonding (oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine). So go and enjoy your local green spaces as often as you can.
The hazel and hawthorn trees dapple the foxglove and campion. The bracken breaks through like a bishop’s crook, the brambles arch and the nettles gather. They hold silence like a living quality of air, broken by birdsong and bees hum, and the river stroking stones in the hollow. There is a magic quality to wild places that restores the soul.
So what of ourselves? Do we allow wild places to grow in rampant chaos, or do we cut and control our inner being? Is there room for birdsong in our plans and processes, do bees visit our memories? Do we allow nettles and spiders as part of our harmony, or do we prefer manicured thoughts and concrete paths? Can I breathe in an inner silence, can I trust the pillars of trees that border my feelings? Are there rivers I listen to although I can’t see their source or destination? Am I green, can I make my own oxygen?
And when error or disaster have bulldozed pain through my orchards, can I give it time to heal, can I let new growth cover the scars and enjoy the wild flowers that thrive in new-made clearings? Can I trust that the chaos of wild places is as important to my creativity and sanity as my carefully constructed buildings?