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Garden beat

Take a plant to bed (or at least to the bedroom)


Disclaimer: I am neither herbalist nor doctor, and I am not prescribing uses of plants for remedies or cures. I respect the great body of knowledge from Eastern and Western herbalism, as well as contemporary research-based medicine. My remarks are not intended to disparage either modern or traditional sources. –SJC


Science, folklore, and herbal medicine—both Eastern and Western—all extol the benefits of plants for human health. When it comes to the bedroom, there’s little doubt that a few good plants can make a few things better.



Impotence and insomnia

Literature about herbs—the word for useful plants whether culinary, fragrant, or medicinal—offers many remedies for these two unpleasant conditions. (I can offer information, but I can’t promise any cures!)


Impotence, we know now, can be attributed to physical or psychological causes, and is often linked to prescribed medicines. Folklore tended to simplify the situation. Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) was used for hundreds of years to increase sex drive. Or fellows were advised to just get familiar with Artemisia abrotanum (Southernwood). Southernwood was also called lover’s plant, lad’s love, and maid’s ruin, known for “stimulating young men’s passion.” It was also credited with beard growth. Men rubbed the lemon-scented leaves on their faces—who knows what followed?


Insomnia has more straightforward plant solutions, many of them not only steeped in tradition, but also well tested scientifically. Tea from catnip (with instructions—don’t boil), peppermint, spearmint, and orange bergamot are accepted as sleep aides. Tea with the natural tranquilizer Valerian definitely help me drift off, but is harmful in excess; always read labels.


Some plants are also known for reducing anxiety, calming nerves, reducing heart rate, and inducing sleep. Lavender tops the list, and jasmine is often mentioned.



Plants for better breathing

This is the tip of a well-studied iceberg. The evidence is in, with no doubt according to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): Plants take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. It’s healthy to keep them in the house. And some plants do a better job than others.



Top plants to keep in the bedroom

These are listed by NASA, with the recommendation to use a few in each bedroom, and at least fifteen in an 1,800-square-foot home.


1) Areca (or Madagascan) palm: especially recommended for colds; it releases moisture to the air.

2) Aloe vera: excellent for cleaning air pollution; emits oxygen at night. Aloe is also important to keep in the kitchen, as its sap soothes burns.

3) English ivy: removes seventy-eight percent of airborne molds in a twelve-hour period

4) Dwarf date palm: drought tolerant, especially good for removing xylene from the air

5) Boston fern: high-ranking in NASA’s list of fifty air-purifiers (removes formaldehyde in particular)

6) Chinese evergreen: effective, and an easy, old favorite that thrived even in dark Victorian homes

7) Peace lily: said to improve air by sixty percent; absorbs mold spores, too

8) Spider plant: removes up to ninety percent of toxins in a room in just two days; recommended for people with dust allergies

9) Lady palm: a good cleanser of formaldehyde, ammonia, xylene, and toluene

10) Weeping fig: particularly good at removing some of the pollutants that come in carpeting and furniture (formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene)

11) Snake plant: also one of the best for releasing oxygen during the night, and it’s an easy houseplant, accepting poor light and inconsistent watering



Several other plants appear in lists of “best for managing indoor air pollution.” Among them: Philodendron, Bamboo palm, Golden pothos, Red-edged dracaena. Frankly, the NASA list is excellent, but they did not test every possible plant, so use your own favorites, as well.


Plants make us happy for their beauty, reminder of nature, and touch of life in the room. Now we know: we will also breathe better.


To read more: Rosalee De La Foret, Alchemy of Herbs (Hay House, Inc., 2017, $18 eBook; $10 paperback) is recommended by herbalist Sarah Sorci. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs (Rodale Press 1987) is an older, thorough resource as well: watch for it at yard sales.   




An old fear: they steal your oxygen at night!


Sometime in the 1990s, a report spread throughout the media that plants emit carbon dioxide at night and take in oxygen (the opposite of the gas exchange in daylight). Some hospitals banned plants, or required staff to remove them or cut flowers from patients’ rooms every night.


It was a myth: studies show that, at night, plants only altered oxygen and CO2 levels by about 1.5 percent. In the daytime, plants emit ten times more oxygen than they use at night, so having plants in a room is definitely beneficial in terms of oxygen. Certain plants, as noted in the main article, even emit oxygen at night.


For context: a human uses up about seventy-one liters of oxygen in one hour, while one pound of foliage uses 0.1 liter in an hour. (International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health). The logical thought that follows: perhaps we should welcome the plants, but ban the people from our hospital rooms or bedrooms? Those humans are using up all our oxygen!



Sally Says Try lavender


Some lavenders (such as Spanish lavender) don’t always perennialize in this climate, so enjoy the plant in a container outside all summer (useful for some cooking as well as fragrance) and bring it in for the winter. I carted a container planted with lavender and an equally fragrant Plectranthus in and out of the house for about ten years, as they grew and grew. Did I sleep better because of them? Not sure. I did sleep, however.


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