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FOREST BATHING AS A GARDEN TREND?

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published October 9, 2016

I like to keep up with the most current gardening trends so I am always interested when the Garden Media Group (GMG) releases its Garden Trends Report for the coming year. For the next month or so I will share a few of the 2017 trends with you.

One of the 2017 trends GMG notes is “forest bathing.” Wait! It is not what you are thinking. This is not about hauling tubs out into the forest and taking a bath. Forest bathing or shinrin-yoku is the term used to describe this new fitness trend. It simply involves spending more time with nature to nurture all of our senses, reduce stress, and increase well-being. It is a purposeful practice of immersing yourself in nature. According to GMG, forest bathing is a “cornerstone of preventative health care and natural healing in Japanese medicine.”

To be honest I had never heard of forest bathing until I read this report so I did a little research. Forest bathing was started in the 1980s in Japan and is about taking leisurely hikes or walks in natural areas with the purpose of breathing fresh air, relaxing, and connecting with the natural world.

While this might seem like nonsense promoted by nature fanatics or flower children of 1960s and 70s, it is backed up by scientific research. It is not news that spending time in a wooded area or a garden can significantly reduce stress by lowering the cortisol, one of the hormones associated with stress. Chronic stress is associated with the increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, deterioration of cognitive functions. Research has shown that lowering cortisol and other stress hormones can improve your immune system.

I knew that plenty of research is available documenting the health benefits of interaction with nature in green spaces like gardens, parks, and forests, but I did not know about phytoncides. Phytoncides are natural chemicals released by needled evergreens. Research indicates that when these chemicals are inhaled on a regular basis, they may significantly improve the human immune system.

My research into forest bathing revealed that there is a U.S. organization (www.shinrin-yoku.org) that promotes shinrin-yoku therapy. Who knew? This organization offers three hour therapy walks and seven day immersions in California. The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs (www.natureandforesttherapy.org) trains and certifies therapists or guides from other parts of the country so the practice of forest bathing can be spread to other parts of the country.

I am not sure we need to practice forest bathing in an actual forest. I bet we can gain similar benefits by spending time in our gardens, tending the plants, hearing the hum of honeybees and other insects, and appreciating nature. Folks without a garden should make a habit of visiting the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden located behind the library at 1620 South Union. This almost three acre garden is a delight any time of year.

In the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden you can discover how restoring it is to sit for a while on the bench in the Bird & Butterfly Garden or relax in the Serenity Garden, listening to the sounds of nature. Of course, if you want to breathe in the phytoncides of an evergreen forest, you will need to drive to the Cascades and take a hike in the woods. Make it a leisurely hike and breathe deep while amongst the trees. Ahhh!

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