How trees make us healthy

A stand of trees near Hungarian Falls in the Keweenaw. (Photo by Jessica Juntunen)

A stand of trees near Hungarian Falls in the Keweenaw. (Photo by Jessica Juntunen)

by Jessica Juntunen

The Upper Peninsula offers the perfect wild spaces and natural tracts of land for outdoor excursions and opportunities for getting out and about. Plenty of people in the U.P. enjoy getting outdoors; it’s a reason many visitors come every year to vacation here. The Upper Peninsula has no shortage of natural wildlife preserves, protected lands, trails, beaches, woods and wildlife. This article focuses on just that, being with the woods—in particular trees—for our health and wellness.

Trees are something we have plenty of in the region. There are coniferous and deciduous forests blending together with all types of ecosystems and niches and types of forests from young growth to old growth. The important thing to know about trees is that we just need to find one, any one that seems to be calling, and spend a little time with it. This could be off the side of the parking lot at work, or deep in the woods.

Trees are essential to our health, being a principal source of oxygen on our planet of which we must breath to survive. They keep our ecosystems thriving by providing homes for animals, preventing erosion, providing nutrients for the soil as they decompose and return to the earth and much more. In a study by the USDA Forest Service, trees removed 17.4 million tons of air pollution in a single year.

Trees also truly support our intrinsic sense of well-being and buoy us during times of strain, reducing the impacts stress can have on our bodies and minds. In studies, time spent in green spaces have shown to correlate with brain wave patterns that are associated with calm and centered states of being. Being in a forest or nearby a tree has demonstrated a reduction in stress while immune function increases.

The interesting research and ways that we understand trees as part of a support system for our interpersonal well-being is making it more evident just how powerful some time with a tree can be. For those that already know the feeling of having spent time around trees and nature this isn’t a surprise. However, it is very interesting that we know more than ever just what an impact it can have on our health and well-being, based upon the research being produced from a wide variety of fields.

Woodland essential oils call phytonicides actually are antimicrobial compounds that can provide comfort and relaxation, reducing our stress loads. Cortisal levels (stress hormone) have been shown to be reduced along with parasympathetic nervous activity, blood pressure and heart rate when participants spend time in forests. Studies have also shown the positive impacts of spending time in green areas for symptoms of ADHD and increased sense of calm and well-being in school-aged children when exposed to green spaces daily. The lists of benefits can go on and on.

There are also numerous ways that trees can provide important medicines. For example Willow Bark contains salicin, which became a precursor to modern forms of aspirin. White pine needles contain ample amounts of vitamin C and antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Always research and  work with a certified herbalist to learn more about how you can work with tree medicine. Start by spending time with a particular tree that you feel called to and begin to connect through some deep breathing, and/or do some research on its benefits.

Getting to know a tree species or particular tree can begin to have outstanding benefits on one’s health and provide even richer outcomes combined with the stress reduction and immune boosting benefits. When we are quiet and just listen sometimes we might surprise ourselves with what we hear within ourselves. Shamanic and ancient pathways of healing have long understood how connected we are to trees. It is really about us coming back to our “roots” and relearning how we can have that relationship again for the health of ourselves, and our communities.

In Japan going into the woods may be described as “forest bathing.” So go take a bath in the forest.

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