Get-Well Plants Actually Help You Get Well

Flowering and foliage plants help boost patients’ comfort, health and mood after surgery, a study says.

October 29, 2008

Yes, that pot is medicinal.

RODALE NEWSROOM, EMMAUS, PA—Hospital patients who share a room with a live plant may need fewer painkillers. A bedside plant may also lower the blood pressure and improve the overall mood of a patient, according to a study published this month in the journal HorTechnology.


THE DETAILS: Researchers observed ninety patients who had had their appendixes removed and recovered in identical hospital rooms, some of them with potted plants. Both groups were on the same floor of a Korean hospital and had views of the sky, but no outdoor trees or plants were visible. Flowering and foliage plants included dendrobium, peace lily, golden pothos, kentia palm, arrowhead vine, cretan brake fern, variegated vinca, and yellow-star jasmine. The biggest reduction in stronger painkiller use came on the third day after surgery, when just 4% of patients in rooms with plants used moderate painkillers, compared to nearly 20% in the no-plant group. Researchers also found that patients with plants used less medication, had lower blood pressures and heart rates, felt less pain, anxiety and fatigue, and reported feeling more positive and satisfied with their rooms. While offering a more pleasant experience, the plants didn’t seem to help patients leave the hospital any sooner—both groups averaged about five days in the hospital following surgery.

WHAT IT MEANS: Plants make us feel good. A well-known study by Roger Ulrich, PhD, professor of landscape architecture and urban planning at Texas A&M, found that people in hospital rooms with window views of outdoor vegetation took fewer painkillers during recovery. Potted plants have also been shown to boost pain tolerance. The phenomenon isn’t fully understood, but it’s possible that humans are hard-wired to know that plants are essential to survival, so seeing them makes us feel calm, says Virginia I. Lohr, PhD, a professor at Washington State University who has been studying the subject for more than 30 years. In one of Lohr's studies, people who worked in a windowless computer lab with common houseplants visible had 2-point lower systolic blood pressure score, compared to a group that had no exposure to plants. That extra two points is equivalent to taking about half a dose of blood-pressure medicine.

Keep this in mind when selecting a plant for someone on the mend:

• This study didn’t test fresh-cut blooms, so you may want to stick to potted plants. If your patient’s room doesn’t provide much sunlight, houseplants that do well in low light include bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, snake plant, and arrowhead vine.

• Find a native plant nursery in your area to select plants that will benefit the environment as well as your loved one. Native plants are hardy and don’t require lots of attention or toxic chemicals to flourish. Pot them for a hospital get-well gift; when the patient recovers, he or she can plant them in the ground.

• If you want to send plants or flowers, try an organic source, such as Organic Bouquet. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers aren’t good for you or the environment.