Plants as therapy 3: Are plants the new Prozac?

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

We know plants make our lives better – aesthetically, intellectually, and emotionally. But you don’t have to become a #plantdad or #plantfluencer to introduce some of the benefits into your life. 

There are countless ways to bring more plants into your daily life, from noticing the flora around your own neighborhood to visiting local parks and trails. You can step it up a notch by taking plant-focused outings. (We’re based in Southern California, so we like the Encinitas Botanic Garden and Balboa Park. More on that ahead.) 

You can also, of course, incorporate plants into your at-home décor (yes, pumpkins count). Even better is bringing them indoors, especially as the days get shorter and we spend more time indoors. Finally? Make it seasonal. Poinsettia time, believe it or not, is already upon us.

Having more plants, of course, isn’t just about aesthetics. Plants have an incredible power to boost our moods, help us focus, and even help (ahem) cultivate community. So are plants the new Prozac, so to speak? The science says yes – at least, in part. To be clear, our leafy friends are not a replacement for actual medical treatment, from psychotherapy to medication. But numerous studies say that plants enhance our daily lives, bringing a sense of purpose, hope and even excitement as they grow and thrive.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve plants

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Source:

In Japan, there’s even a term for how engaging with plants can help reduce stress: Shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest through all our senses.” Coined by the country’s forestry service in the 1980s, Shinrin-yoku made its way to the U.S., where we call it “forest bathing.” The idea is that engaging with the forest reduces physiological stress and, ultimately, benefits our minds and our bodies. 

Anyone who’s gone hiking in nearby canyons or spent time in a park can probably relate. But whether you live near a forest, or live closer to urban sprawl, incorporating more plants into your life can also help you enjoy more of where you live. San Diego, where I live and work, is abundant with choices. One of my favorites, as I mentioned, is Balboa Park, a sprawling area near that was designated as a greenspace in the mid-1800s. From a palm canyon walk to a butterfly garden it never ceases to inspire awe. 

San Diego Balboa Park plants

San Diego Balboa Park, Source

Another great one in North County is the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Not only are the grounds gorgeous for a stroll, but the organization offers fun events like pumpkin-carving, on-site yoga and butterfly walks, all of which improve your wellbeing on multiple fronts. The best outings, though, are the ones you actually take. Neighborhood walks, for example, can be an accessible way to spend more time around plants and reap the therapeutic benefits. (Pro tip: download an app like Seek to learn more about what’s growing near you.) 

San Diego Botanic Garden plants

San Diego Botanic Garden. Source: San Diego Botanic Garden.

So what about when life takes you indoors instead of out? (One stat says we spend 90% of our time inside.) Bring the outdoors to you. It’s good for your mind and body, but also can help get in the swing of each season, too. In the fall, for example, small pumpkins can be a fun way to brighten up your desk, bookshelves, or kitchen counter. 

Poinsettias are another great pick that help transition from autumn vibes to the holiday season (they’re not just for Christmas anymore). Start with a high-quality poinsettia – and don’t just stick with one type. If you are lucky enough to live in San Diego, we have four collections available and ready for online orders now (with special pricing through October 20 for San Diego) and will through the holidays. Make sure there are drainage holes so it doesn’t rot the roots, and it loves indirect light for six to eight hours a day.

Holiday Poinsettias

A field of holiday Poinsettias.

As winter gives way to spring, you can keep your seasonal desk garden (or wherever you keep your indoor plants) going. When the chilly weather gives way to warmer days, go for potted tulips and daffodils, lilies and azaleas. And as spring eases toward the bright and sunny summer, take a trip to the San Diego County Fair to make your seasonal picks.

Alongside corn dogs and amusements, the annual Del Mar event also includes garden displays where you can learn more about what grows well in warmer months and find new green friends to bring home. As you incorporate more and varied plants into your home each season, you’ll begin to learn more about horticulture and, if we could wager a guess, get more tuned-in to the natural world around you.

Del Mar County Fair plants

Del Mar County Fair, Source

Plants are not, of course, a substitute for actual Prozac – or any medication, for that matter. But they are an easy, accessible and proven way to improve your daily life, from your neighborhood outings to your professional setting. The more you spend time around plants, the more they might feel like helpful friends, just waiting for you to reap the benefits. So step out, explore, and enjoy.