Beautify – Jan ’14 Real Dirt

Houseplants by Sonia Clem

Grow Your Own Health

by Sonia Clem

Most of us brave souls who stay through the winter in northern Michigan experience a little SAD after the holidays.  This is the time of year when the only thing green and still living has just been unceremoniously dragged out the door.  Suddenly the house feels especially empty.  Now the shorter, colder days have forced us indoors, where we can quickly get bored, less productive, more sedentary, and – if we’re not careful – even sickly.

Having survived and thrived through many a long winter, I do feel somewhat qualified to tell you that,  to embrace this season of solar sequestration with alacrity,  you need a plan that includes one of the following:  an ambitious project, an engaging hobby, a lofty goal – and you need (and this is my secret to success) houseplants.  I’m quite serious!  Scientific studies have shown that indoor plants improve our air quality, our blood oxygen ratio, our productivity, and our outlook – all key ingredients to our survival.

Did you know that houseplants actually do more to beautify our body’s “interior” than our home’s interior? You could never pick a better partner to be cooped up indoors with for four months of the year.  Within 24 hours, indoor plants can remove 87% of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehydes and benzenes from your home.  In addition, they reduce respiratory distress by returning 97% of the water they take in back into the air, increasing the humidity in our home during these dry winter months.  I group mine together in each room on boot trays filled with pebbles to create a micro-climate – a miniature rain forest to combat forced-air and wood heat.

It is hard to conceive a more symbiotic relationship than that of humans and plants. When you breathe, your body takes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. During photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.   In recent years, I learned that I had developed allergies to nearly everything in my environment, indoors and out.  Formaldehyde was the first allergen identified.  It is ubiquitous – found in everything such as most cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, detergents, and in furniture, rugs, grocery bags, construction materials, etc.  After listening to a TED talk on “How to grow your own fresh air” I learned that I could eliminate these toxins from my environment, simply and inexpensively, and without suffering the side effects of allergy medications.  Listen to Karmal Meattle describe the results of his findings with NASA: fresh_air.html

Consider this fact when making your New Year’s resolutions to get healthy this year:   When detoxing your body, approximately 70% of it occurs through breathing, 20% through perspiration, 8% through urination and 2% through the bowels.1  Wouldn’t it make sense then, if you want the most internal bang for your buck, to skip the “total cleanse” and get some house plants instead?

Article References:

  1. Ask a Scientist:  Plant and Night Oxygen Production
  2. fresh_air.html

Other Resources:


Local sources for growing indoor plants and supplies:  Plant Masters of Suttons Bay; HTG Supply; Woodland Shore Gardening Center; Pine Hill Nursery; Four Season Nursery