Plant Healing

What Science Says About Houseplants

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With the coming of Spring, most of us will likely be visiting our neighborhood gardening center at one point or another. I know I’m far from alone when I say Spring and witnessing all the new growth is one of my favorite times of year. In the Druidry community, it goes without saying that most of us enjoy looking at greenery and probably have a houseplant or two. Luckily for us, not only are houseplants enjoyable to look at but also have some amazing benefits for our health and home. They clean, filter and purify the air of various toxins and pollutants as well as absorb noise. Arguably, for many they induce a sense of peace and well-being within our personal living spaces. Plants also remind us of nature’s natural design and keeping her close in all the ways possible. This is one of the many ways we “bring nature to us” and stay connected so to speak.

house-2609484_1280.jpgSome years ago, in 1989, NASA completed a study to see precisely if house plants did in fact have air pollutant filtering qualities. Ultimately, the goal was to see which plants would be beneficial to take into space if there was ever to be a colony on the moon or mars that would need a life giving and self-cleaning terrarium human habitat. In their words… “Previously, preliminary data on the ability of a group of common indoor plants to remove organic chemical from indoor air was presented. The group of plants chosen for this study was determined by joint agreement between NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America. The chemicals chosen for study were benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde. The results show that plants can play a major role in removal of organic chemicals from indoor air.” Even though many herbalists and gardeners at the time already knew there were benefits to keeping indoor plants, there was now evidence to further support it. The study proved that a diverse array of plants removed at minimum up to 40% of organic air toxins in as little as 24 hours. They removed up to 70% for some specific chemicals. This is why it’s beneficial to have a variety of plants because for example, while the Gerber Daisy reduced Benzene by 67%, Mass Cane only reduced it by 21%. Meanwhile, Mass Cane reduced formaldehyde by 70% and Gerber Daisy only took out 50%. The study suggested that for optimal benefits, there should be one plant per hundred square feet.

“Indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality in almost every case,” says William J. Calhoun, MD, professor of medicine and vice chair of the department of medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

So what exactly is in our air that plants help filter out? The three main ones NASA focused on was first, Benzene, which is a byproduct of forest fires and coal distillation and used in everything from plastics and detergents to furniture wax and glue. Trichloroethylene is a halocarbon found in paints. Formaldehyde, which most of us have heard of, is found in many paper products such as paper towels, tissues, toilet paper and plywood. green-plant-2793592_640There is a wide array of other chemicals released in cleaning and home care products. Some of the worst come from our carpets, mattresses and building materials, things that we sometimes cannot logistically prevent from coming into contact with. We know these chemicals, like many, are detrimental in large amounts but it’s unclear if the body’s natural cleansing abilities can keep effects of small exposure over time at bay. Before more rigorous regulations (such as was in the case for formaldehyde in building foam), many people were having full out asthma attacks moving into their new homes in the 70’s and 80’s when many of these chemicals were introduced to mainstream production. Some studies have shown that with every generation, there has been an increase in organic and industrial chemicals present at birth. It is well documented that some chemicals tend to stick around, are passed to children via breastmilk as stores of fat are implemented into the circulatory system and even famously banned chemicals like DDT have persisted a generation later. I’m not writing to be an alarmist, but I do think we should be aware, encourage steps to decrease this exposure in our society and if having a few house plants improves our air quality, it’s something worth sharing and implementing in our own lives.

The results of NASA’s study were encouraging but the proof didn’t end there. Study after study over the years in the age of modern medicine have continued to show us what our ancestors already knew and figured out instinctively in regards to the power of plants and their healing capabilities. In particular, Bill Wolverton, an American scientist and chemist was one of the key members of the NASA study and went on to further his research. He published a wonderful book in 1997 entitled How to Grow Fresh Air in which he lists fifty plants with the highest air filtering qualities. That’s not to say that every plant doesn’t have these capabilities to some extent and isn’t beneficial. Many new common household plants have also been put into use after Dr. Wolverton’s experiments that could likely be just as efficient.


Great basic video guide for keeping your house plants alive…



Wolverton’s Top 50 Air Filtering Plants


  1. Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  2. Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
  3. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
  4. Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta)
  5. Deacaena “Janet Craig” (Dracaena dermensis)
  6. English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  7. Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
  8. Ficus “Alii” (Ficus macleilandii)
  9. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata “Bostoniensis”)
  10. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
  11. Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans)
  12. Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  13. Kimberley Queen Fern (Nephrolepis obliterata)
  14. Pot Mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
  15. Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
  16. Dracaena “Warneckei” (Dracaena dermensis)
  17. Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)
  18. Red Emerald Philodendron (Philodendron erubescens)
  19. Syngonium (Syngonium podophyllum)
  20. Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia “Exotica Compacta”)
  21. Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
  22. Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
  23. Schefflera / Umbrella Plant (Schefflera arboricola)
  24. Wax Begonia (Begonia Semperflorens)
  25. Lacy Tree Philodendron (Philodendron selloum)
  26. Heart-Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron Oxycardium)
  27. Snake plant / Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  28. Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia camilla)
  29. Elephant Ear Philodendron (Philodendron domesticum / tuxla)
  30. Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
  31. King of Hearts (Homalomena wallisii)
  32. Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura “Kerchoveann”)
  33. Dwarf Banana (Musa cavendishii)
  34. Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi)
  35. Easter Cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri)
  36. Oakleaf Ivy (Cissus rhombifolia “Ellen Danika”)
  37. Lily Turk (Liriope spicata)
  38. Dendrobium Orchid (Dendrobium)
  39. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  40. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema crispum “Silver Queen”)
  41. Anthurium (Anthurium andraeanum)
  42. Croton (Codiaeum variegatum pictum)
  43. Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
  44. Dwarf Azalea (Rhodedendron simsii “Compacta”)
  45. Peacock Plant (Calthea makoyana)
  46. Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)
  47. Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)
  48. Urn Plant (Aechmea fasciata)
  49. Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis)
  50. Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)

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Be right back!… buying more houseplants.

For more information check out How Not to Kill Your Houseplant by Veronica Peerless!


Desiree Marie

Teacher, Photographer and Mother

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