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Articles

Greener Pastures


2017/12/06


Eastern juniper (cedar) is a pioneer species, which means it is one of the first trees to repopulate cleared, eroded, or otherwise damaged land. It is unusually long lived among pioneer species, with the potential to live over 900 years. Its evergreen foliage provides nesting and roosting cover for sparrows, robins, mockingbirds, juncos and warblers. Its fruit is eaten most extensively by cedar waxwings. Cedar has a fresh, pleasant aroma that comes from the natural oils found within the wood.
By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

We all know the benefits of lush green pastures for our horses. The fall weather in the mid-south has been nearly ideal for growing cool weather pasture grasses, increasing their nutritional value. While our horses enjoy this lush alternative to dry hay, it is good to know that green foliage is good for  humans, too – in several ways.

There’s an interesting article in the Winter 2017 issue of Covertside, which just came out the end of November. Keith Gray, Master of the Mill Creek Hunt and owner of ILM environmental consulting company, expounds on the remarkable benefits that nature has on humans. He writes about riding through an area called “The Pine Tree Cave,” which is an area of closely planted pine trees. It’s an area “where the wonderful pine smell tends to get trapped,” he writes. “It’s magical, and as I ride out of it, I always feel better than when I rode in.”

Wondering why surrounding himself with pine scent makes him feel so good, he consulted with University of Illinois Professor Dr. Ming (Frances E.) Kuo. Dr. Kuo is in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. She has expertise in how exposure to nature can improve human health. Much of her research has been on urban greening, but the benefits apply naturally to rural folks. Her research has shown that “urban greening reduces aggression and crime in inner cities, reduces ADHD symptoms in communities of all sizes, promotes self-discipline and academic achievement in children, and promotes health across the lifespan by boosting the human immune system.” No doubt, there are many farmers who could have told us that just from their personal experience!

But there’s more. Kuo told Gray that “pine trees emit phytoncides that have antimicrobial properties and also stress relieving effect on humans.” Phytoncide is a substance emitted by plants and trees, which generally creates the aroma of the forest. Phytoncides are produced to help plants and trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs.

In fact, Kuo tells Gray about a practice in Japan called “Shinrin-yoku” which translates to “forest bathing.” The therapeutic benefits of forest bathing are not limited to the phytoncides emitted by trees, but in addition, the green scenery, soothing sounds of streams and waterfalls, and natural aromas of wood, plants and flowers in these complex ecosystems all play a part. Forest therapy is a good example of how our own health is dependent on the health of our natural environment.

Gray also writes about Richard Louv and E. O. Wilson. Louv is the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Children from Nature Deficit Disorder; The Nature Principal: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age; and his latest book is Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community. Louv is also co-founder of the Children & Nature Network. Check it out at: https://www.childrenandnature.org/ Generally, his research, and lots of other peer-reviewed research he has studied, is that a strong nature connection and the restorative powers of nature can boost mental acuity and creativity, reduce obesity and depression, and promote health and wellness – and increase our enjoyment of life!

One of my favorite authors is E. O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus at Harvard. I was first introduced to his work by Professor Graves Enck at the University of Memphis when I was working on my master’s degree. Then, when working on my doctorate at the University of Tennessee, I had the distinct privilege of meeting him in person during the “Environmental Semester” in 2005. Check it out at: http://environmentalsemester.utk.edu/

The central fascination of Wilson’s life has been his study of ants. Wilson brought to our attention the term “biodiversity” and the importance of all facets of the web of life for the survival of all species, including humans. He introduced the world to Sociobiology, applying his biological research to better understand the social behavior of humans. His 1978 book On Human Nature dealt with the role of biology in the evolution of human culture and won a Pulitzer Prize. He studied the mass extinctions of species in the 20th century and in 1998 argued for an ecological approach for considering the impacts of human activity. He wrote:

Now when you cut a forest, an ancient forest in particular, you are not just removing a lot of big trees and a few birds fluttering around in the canopy. You are drastically imperiling a vast array of species within a few square miles. The number of these species may go to tens of thousands. ... Many of them are still unknown to science, and science has not yet discovered the key role undoubtedly played in the maintenance of that ecosystem, as in the case of fungi, microorganisms, and many of the insects.

--from “Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife?” www.Smithsonianmag.com.

Another benefit that Gray wrote about is gardening. “Regular gardeners live longer than non-gardeners.” Perhaps that derives from the benefits of eating fresh, organically grown foods! I know our family has certainly enjoyed the benefits of eating fresh greens from the garden this fall, as well as the delights of fried green tomatoes appetizers. There is something special and extra tasty (as well as extra nutritious) about picking food fresh from the garden and eating it immediately or soon afterwards.

Gray concludes his article with the thought: “The connection to nature seems to be instinctual for us.” Louv and Wilson would wholeheartedly agree!

So this December, fill your home with the “aroma therapy” of pine and cedar. Plant some greens early next year to enjoy in the spring before the weather gets too hot. Tack up and go for a trail ride, foxhunting or a field trail – somewhere outside of the arena. Or take a walk through the pastures and woods. Observe all of nature around you. You’ll feel better for it!

Read more about Kuo’s research at: https://nres.illinois.edu/directory/fekuo and read more about the benefits of forest therapy at: http://forest-therapy.net/healthbenefits.html  

 



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