What is Forest Bathing?
Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of forest bathing, harnesses the medicinal power of plants - which comes from the release of phytoncide aromas - to increase our well being. Since 1982, the Japanese government has designated over forty forest therapy trails to encourage citizens to spend more time in nature.
Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist, studied the physiological and psychological benefits of forest bathing and concluded that humans feel most comfortable and are most healthy while in nature, even those who dislike the outdoors.
Miyazaki suggested that close contact with nature restores our minds and also our bodies. Qing Li, another Japanese scientist, needed quantifiable evidence of the health benefits of forest bathing so he designed an experiment where twelve businessmen went on a three-day hiking trip in the forest. Blood and urine samples were collected and tested before and after the trip.
Their hormone levels, blood pressure, and levels of natural killer cells were tracked. Miyazaki’s hypothesis was confirmed: in all twelve men, blood pressure and cortisol levels dropped, and most notably, the men’s natural killer cells increased by 40 percent. A month later, the NK cells were still elevated. NK cells are a type of lymphocyte vital for immune health, responsible for killing of off stressed and infected cells and tumor-forming cells.
Phytoncide Essential Oils for Forest Bathing
Li suspected that the causes for this were not only psychological, but also biological; and he thought it had something to do with the aromatic molecules of the trees. The scent molecules of trees, called phytoncides, are volatile organic compounds, and terpenes are the main component. Coined in 1928 by Russian biochemist Boris P. Tokin, “phytoncide” means “exterminated by the plant.” Dr. Tokin established that these substances are part of the botanical self-defense system; they deter insects, animals, and microbes from eating the plant.
To test the phytoncide theory, Li sequestered twelve subjects in hotel rooms. In some rooms, he vaporized hinoki cypress essential oil, and the other rooms received nothing. The cypress oil breathers had a 20 percent increase in NK cells and reported feeling less fatigued. The control group reported almost no changes.
Li remarked, “This is big. Pharmaceutical drugs makers can only wish that their pills would have such an impact.” A study from China focused on Cryptomeria japonica tree oil (which contains limonene, another type of terpene), and the participants reported improved sleep quality, lower anxiety, and less pain. Pines and conifers release large amounts of phytoncides into the air to suppress surrounding microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi from invading them. Other plants, including spices, onion, garlic, many varieties of flowers, tea tree, oak, and countless others, release these compounds as well.
Bringing the Forest Indoors
So, how can we replicate these profound benefits in our homes: enter aromatherapy and essential oil diffusers; they can be wonderful tools, especially right now that most of us don't have easy access to nature.
Here are some recipes that you can try! Our favorite phytoncide essential oils are from Living Libations, but there are a myriad of wonderful, local brands harnessing the essential powers of plants.
2 drops Juniper Berry
2 drops Eucalyptus
2 drops Rosemary
1 drop Lemon
3 drops Black Spruce
2 drops Cedarwood
2 drops Sandalwood
1 drop Peppermint
4 drops Cypress
2 drops Siberian Fir
1 drop Peppermint
Source: Renegade Beauty, by Nadine Artemis