House plants: the original air freshener

During the warm months of the year getting a whiff of fresh air is the ultimate indulgence. A fresh breeze of flowers or recently cut grass evoke memories and revive our senses, giving us a shot of energy that only fresh air can provide. As the season’s change we can bring our favorite plants inside to improve our indoor environment and help to lessen the toxic load imposed on us by our modern lifestyles.

Historically fresh air was thought to have medicinal properties. It was essential when airing out sickness, helping to revive those weakened by illness like scarlet fever and measles. The outdoors can smell different based on your locale, and it is all thanks to the most natural and efficient air freshener there is: plants.

Plant leaves produce negative ions in abundance, while electronics, florescent lights and man-made products like carpet, plastics and metal emit positive ions. Contrary to their label, positively charged ions do not have a positive effect on the human body. Research has shown an excess of positive ions is associated with an increase in allergies, infections, fatigue, depression, anxiety and more. Inversely, negatively charged ions produced outside- with the largest concentration coming from moving water and soil, have a positive effect. They have been shown to elevate our mood by increasing serotonin levels, stabilize blood pressure, increase the body’s alkalinity, strengthen bones, heighten immunity, accelerate physical recovery, and purify and clean the air.

For most of us, our day to day routines exist mostly indoors. We work indoors, we sleep indoors- albeit sometimes with the windows open. We rarely have occasion to spend long extended periods absorbing those precious negative ions. The next best thing: bring the plants inside.

NASA was interested in the best ways to clean the air in their space stations, so they did a study- the Clean Air Study, on this very topic of reducing indoor air pollutants and toxins. They found that 18 house plants were effective at removing benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and ammonia from the air, chemicals that have been linked to adverse health effects. Their research suggests that having at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space is ideal.

Here is a list of 8 hardy house plants compiled from and inspired by NASA’s research.

1.       Spider Plant- one of the easiest houseplants to grow it loves bright, indirect sunlight. Spider plants propagate themselves easily as well, sending out shoots with ‘babies’ on the end, making it easy to spread the love and share with friends and family.

2.       Dracaena- available in more than 40 different varietals, it is easy to find one that fits your space’s light needs. Might not be a good option at home for pet lovers as the plant is toxic to dogs and cats when eaten.

3.       Ficus/Weeping Fig- can grow to be 10 feet tall and loves bright, indirect sunlight. Careful to not water too much, let the soil dry out before watering again.

4.       Peace Lily- grows best in a shady area and blooms fragrant white flowers throughout its lifecycle. Easy to grow and care for, avoid overwatering and cut off flowers at the base once they turn green.

5.       Boston Fern- these plants prefer high humidity and indirect sunlight. Check the soil daily to see if it needs water, and give it a good soak once a month.

6.       Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue- one of the hardest houseplants to kill, it requires only occasional watering and generally prefers drier conditions and some sun.

7.       Bamboo Palm- named for its likeness to bamboo this plant thrives in full sun or bright light and can grow to be 12 feet high.

8.       Aloe Vera- this plant does best well in drained soil, to avoid rot, and is best in a spot where it will receive lots of bright, direct sunlight, although it may adapt to some shade. In addition to being easy to care for, the leaves contain aloe, a clear liquid full of vitamins, enzymes, amino acids and other compounds that have wound-healing, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.