July 22, 2018

Forest Medicine

Welcome to the healing forest. There is good medicine here.

I went for a late afternoon bike ride into the forest today. It was hot and humid with a slight wind. The smell just about knocked me out of the saddle. In a good way.

The smell of trees and forests is one of my favourite things in all of nature. My addiction to forest sights and smells could be due to being born on the northern limit of the Great Plains, in short grass prairie territory. 

On the road to another rejuvenating forest bath.

On the flat, featureless (which is its defining feature) prairie landscape, there is nary a tree to be seen. The prairie has its own dusty olfactory gifts, and although I prefer the funk of the forest, breathing fresh air anywhere is a good thing to do for your body, mind and soul.

Science certainly agrees that forests are beneficial olfactory oasis's. Researchers have identified forest substances that affect how neurotransmitters in our brains function, showing how forest plants change how our brain operates. 

"Time in forests significantly improves mood in countless studies replicated in a variety of cultures." 
- Association of Nature & Forest Therapy

A waxing gibbous moon was part of the forest experience today.

When we are exposed to certain soil bacteria, it causes our brains to emit more serotonin, a chemical that regulates brain function, as well as moods. It is a natural anti-depressant that also decreases inflammation in the immune system.

When we breathe in the forest air, we are also breathing in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help fight disease. 

"For 1 hectare (ha) of pine forest approximately 5 kg of volatile phytoncides are released into the atmosphere in one day, while for 1 ha of juniper forest approximately 30 kg are released, reducing the number of microflora in the air." - source

My destination, resting spot, and turn around point.

When we enjoy that sweet forest smell, all kinds of gifts are reaching our nostrils, and they are unseen airborne healers. Our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a special type of white blood cell that eliminates body cells affected by cancer and viruses.

So that smell that I love so much is more than just a pleasant part of being in the forest. More importantly, it is a mood enhancer, brain and immune system booster, and disease fighter. 

No wonder I am addicted to it. In a good way.

Another magical and fantastic phytoncide factory - white pine in this case.


  1. I'm always better with regular visits to the forest especially if pine trees are involved. No matter how large a forest is, there's a secluded coziness about the spot I'm in. The vast endless sky above the prairie gives my head space to breathe, expand. I am at home in both.

    1. Terri,

      Pine trees are known to produce great amounts of sweet, sweet phytoncides. You are right about that prairie sky - it is amazing. I do miss the flat lands from time to time. The smell of sweetgrass, eating cactus berries, and the relief of descending into shaded, cool river valleys.

    2. I am friends with sunrises and sunsets, night sky stars and all. Coyote calls in the night. I miss it too.

  2. I've been out walking nearly every morning this summer with my dog at a park that used to be a golf course. It's not exactly the woods, but there are lots of trees around the perimeter as well as a creek. I can hear the bullfrogs croaking and we see at least one turtle every day. I really enjoy that time outside, early in the morning when most of the world is still asleep. I will miss it when I start back to work in a couple of weeks.

    1. Lorraine,

      I love to hear about ex-golf courses. Even better if they are turned into parks as most of them are in beautiful settings. And wildlife too? Bonus. How are your hummingbirds?

    2. I don't have hummingbirds. Someone gave me a feeder, but I haven't hung it up yet. Maybe you're thinking of someone else? On my blog, you commented and asked how we cope with the heat here in Alabama. Well, the easy answer is air conditioning. You can't live without it during summers in the south. If left off for too long, houses will suffer what they call a "mold bloom" because we have very high levels of humidity.

      On the other hand, my hubby works outside all day, so he has no air conditioning to keep him comfortable. He fills up a big insulated jug full of ice and cold water each day and carries it on his utility vehicle. He drinks a lot of water to stay hydrated. He also bought a fabric neck thingie that he soaks in cold water and keeps around his neck which helps him stay cool. And, of course he wears a hat, tries to work in shade whenever possible, and paces himself. He comes home pretty icky and needs a shower, of course, but so far he's been able to deal with the heat surprisingly well. I don't know how roofers and road crews do it though. Sorry about your heat wave. We are actually expecting cooler than normal temps this week because of some trough, which is I guess what's causing heat up north. How strange.

    3. Lorraine,

      I was wondering if you put your feeder up yet. Mold blooms sound bad.

      Previous to living here, the only time I have experienced such heat and humidity was in places closer to the equator, like Thailand and parts of India. Air conditioning might become a must here, too, if current trends continue. Or maybe we will learn to design homes differently so conditioning is not required. It is very energy intensive and costly.

  3. Anonymous7/24/2018

    I find your pictures very beatiful.

    I like the fact that forest is 5 minutes walk from my house. It is totally different world. When I am stressed and then go to the woods I come back home deeply relaxed. It is the best therapy for me.


    1. Mitja,

      You are fortunate to have forest nearby. It is a totally different world, not to mention totally free health care.


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