Medicine & Health
Forests are good for you.
They provide a magnificent outlet for hiking and other forms of healthy recreation, but they also have definite therapeutic properties.
It’s been shown that surgical patients recover faster if they have woodland views. Trees reduce ground-level ozone and other airborne pollutants that worsen asthma and other pulmonary problems. Trees encourage meditation and self-reflection – a grove of trees can soothe the soul. In fact, studies show that trees in urban areas improve cognitive function and promote a more active lifestyle. Children who have green spaces to play in display a lower incidence of ADHD symptoms and show improved performance in school.1
Trees are also sources for a wide variety of medicines. Non-timber forest products include familiar things like mushrooms and ginseng, as well as more than 120 distinct chemicals derived from plants that are used in a variety of drugs. Anti-cancer drugs based on taxol come from the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) of the US Pacific Northwest, and the asthma drug theophylline comes from the plant Theobroomo cacao, found from southeastern Mexico to the Amazon basin. The National Cancer Institute says that more than two-thirds of all cancer-fighting drugs come from rainforest plants. More discoveries are made each year. Just recently, scientists found a compound in the needles of the Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) that can be used to fight methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an infection that kills thousands of people every year.
It is irresponsible for humans as a species to allow the amazing bounty of forests – and their potential for future discoveries – to be threatened because of agriculture, timber harvesting, or development for housing. Protecting these resources instead of destroying them could quite literally save our lives.
1 Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Landscape and Human Health Laboratory. 2001.