Many people may be surprised to discover the lesser-known benefits of indoor gardens, but experienced horticulturalists and gardeners have been advocating for the expansion of home gardens for decades.

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Planting, watering, healing – surprising health benefits of indoor plants

By: Associated Press//September 26, 2023

Since the early ‘80s, scientists have studied the biophilia hypothesis – that seeing plants is beneficial to our physical and mental health. With increased urbanization, exacerbated by lockdowns due to a global pandemic, it’s becoming harder and harder to “go out and get some air.”

The indoor plant market, already spiking in 2019, continues to surge – expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

A study released by Data Bridge Market Research estimates the indoor plant market will reach $26.23 billion by 2029. The physical and mental health benefits of succulents and other indoor houseplants are important factors.

Many people may be surprised to discover the lesser-known benefits of indoor gardens, but experienced horticulturalists and gardeners have been advocating for the expansion of home gardens for decades.

plants in a house

Stress and anxiety reduction

The addition of real or artificial indoor plants has become a standard practice in many offices, hospitals, schools, and other institutions. According to researchers, just seeing a living plant in the otherwise sterile hospital waiting room environment has been shown to reduce stress levels.

In another study, subjects were asked to report a living plant or complete a computer-generated task. Those who handled the plants reported feeling more at ease and also experienced lower blood pressure. Participants who performed the computer-based task reported higher levels of anxiety and elevated blood pressure.

Maria Failla, Garden Expert and host of the Growing Joy with Plants podcast, shares, “When I was struggling with depression, it was helpful for me to keep plants indoors that helped me get out of my head and drop into the present. I’d see how many senses I could engage while taking 3 mindful breaths alongside my plants. Scented plants like herbs and geraniums are amazing for this. I love the rose-scented geranium for its romantic scent and the fuzzy leaves I could rub, pinch and take deep inhales with.”

Speed up healing

A number of indoor houseplants, such as snake plants, orchids, and spider plants, have natural air purification qualities. Others improve a room’s humidity level or deliver a soothing fragrance. Microgreens also provide essential nutrients, making them ideal for patients in recovery.

Even seeing an indoor houseplant can improve a recovering patient’s mental and emotional state. One study concluded that installing indoor gardens in hospital rooms and public areas positively affected overall recovery times and patient satisfaction.

Improve mood

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent household quarantines created a spike in indoor plant sales as many consumers discovered the natural air purification benefits of succulents and other plant species. Indoor gardening also provided isolated households with an activity that could be performed safely while under quarantine.

A study conducted in Bulgaria concluded that participants who maintained a home garden or raised houseplants had fewer incidents of anxiety or depression during enforced lockdowns than others who did not invest in plants or other greenery.

Cassidy Tuttle, gardening expert and owner of Succulents and Sunshine, observes, “Succulents are great plants for people who have depression. They don’t require as much work as other plants, so they can tolerate the ups and downs that frequently come with depression. They stay looking healthy even if they’re not watered regularly. Haworthiopsis fasciata, Zebra Plant, is an especially good option for indoor plants because it doesn’t require a lot of light or water.”

Best entry-level houseplants

Annie Schreck, Research Director at Mountain Crest Gardens, offers some insights and recommendations for beginners. “At Mountain Crest Gardens, we hear back from customers all the time that filling their homes and offices with succulents brightens their mood every day. The studies I have seen in this realm indicate that having plants around can correlate with improved student performance in classrooms and reductions in stress and sick days in workplaces. I certainly hope more researchers investigate these complex human-plant interactions.

Schreck adds, “There’s something about having other living creatures in a room that makes it feel cozy and inviting. Caring for them and seeing them respond is just so rewarding. And the great thing is, everyone gets to explore which varieties lift their mood the most! If you’re not sure where to start, I’d recommend indoor succulents like Haworthia, Jade plants, and Gasteria.”

• Snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata ) – also known as mother-in-law’s tongue – are thick-leaved succulents prized for their resilience and tolerance for drought. They grow well under low-light conditions, which makes them ideal for indoor gardens and room decor. One major health benefit of snake plants is natural air purification. This goes beyond the standard absorption of carbon dioxide, however. Snake plants also remove and filter toxic gases such as benzene, xylene, and formaldehyde. They are also said to reduce headaches, improve respiration, and reduce eye irritations.

• Microgreens such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale offer a wide range of health benefits, and their compact size makes them ideal for indoor gardens, especially hydroponics. Microgreens and fresh herbs provide home gardeners with flavorful aromatics and salad ingredients. Among the many health benefits associated with microgreens are blood sugar regulation, vision protection, body weight reduction, and protection from anemia. Growing microgreens is also a highly recommended activity for those recovering from substance abuse since the plants provide the nutrition many addicts lack.

• While some orchid varieties have earned a reputation for being a challenge to grow, there are many varieties that require only minimal to moderate care. Besides their exceptional qualities as flowering plants, orchids are also natural air purifiers and oxygen generators. As part of a floral arrangement or as individual blooms, orchids have been shown in studies to reduce stress and improve mood. Orchids are also recommended for people with sleep issues since the plant’s significant oxygen generation and aesthetic qualities both help create more soothing conditions at bedtime and during overnight hours.

• Spider plants have become popular houseplants for first-time home gardeners because of their child and pet-friendliness, ease of propagation, and exceptional air-purifying qualities. Beginning gardeners only need a small cutting from an existing spider plant to start their own projects. The trailing leaves of a spider plant make it ideal for hanging baskets, a popular growing technique for limited spaces. The plant also raises the room’s humidity level, which helps address respiratory issues triggered by dry air conditions.

• Because of their ability to thrive in drafty, dark, and humid locations in the home, peperomia plants are often referred to as “radiator plants.” Peperomia plants are succulents, which means they are naturally resilient to abuse and require minimal maintenance. Tinctures and other products derived from peperomia plants are used to address a range of medical ailments, including headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney issues. The plant also has antifungal and antioxidant properties.

• Another popular succulent for indoor gardens is the ornamental and medicinal jade plant. The jade plant’s distinctive round leaves have become associated symbolically with the acquisition of money and wealth. The jade plant’s appeal goes beyond the ornamental, however. Products derived from the juice of the jade plant have been used in many cultures for the treatment of ailments including diabetes, skin wounds, digestive issues, and warts. In traditional Chinese culture, the presence of a jade plant also improves the flow of chi, or life force.