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Detox Part 3: Purify the Air With Plants

I hope you’ve been enjoying this series on detoxing your environment. The more time I have spent researching for these articles and for my upcoming Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner (May 12 – mark your calendar), the more I am reminded about how important this topic is to your family’s wellness.

A Bigger View of Wellness

After all, as I say here all the time, wellness isn’t just about diet and exercise. You can be experiencing wellness in your body, but if your mind, emotions, relationships, work, and environment aren’t well, you’re not really experiencing wellness the way you could be – and should be!

That said, I want to dive right into this week’s look at plants you can use to detox your living environments.

It’s Elementary Science

Do you remember back to elementary school science? One of my earliest memories of science class from childhood is a drawing of a tree in a grassy field with puffy clouds in the background. Arrows showed that the tree absorbed carbon dioxide from the air and replaced it with oxygen. That is an oversimplification of the process, but accurate nonetheless. So, while we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, the trees are doing the opposite. We become a symbiont circle with the trees. Everyone wins.

The fact of the matter is that all green plants make this exchange for us in one way or another. It’s part of their biology. They turn sunlight into nutrients and carbon into oxygen. Amazing!

That’s why it is so beneficial to keep living plants around your home and office. Not the fake, silk ones you buy at the craft store. They just gather dust and create an allergic war zone for your immune system. I’m talking about real, living plants.

More Than CO2

And I’m not just talking about carbon dioxide:

  • Did you know that carpet and many types of furniture are manufactured with formaldehyde and benzene, that emit vapors? Particle board is fabricated with formaldehyde-based glue.
  • That “new house” smell that people love is actually the carpet, paint, and drywall outgassing ridiculous amounts of toxic fumes.
  • The rubber storage bins in your closet? Same deal.
  • New mattress? Ick.
  • New bedsheets? Wash them and hang them out to dry.
  • Even some clothing is sprayed with chemicals, like flame retardants, that give off fumes.

And we’ve already talked about (and have taken inventory of) all the harsh chemical cleaners, air “fresheners,” and other toxins that are polluting the air in our homes and offices.

It’s not just a matter of turning carbon into oxygen. There are some super-powerful plants that go above and beyond the CO-2 conversion and help filter the air of all these other toxins.

Before We Begin

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a botanist, horticulturist, or an interior designer, so I had to do some digging to make sure I kept my plants straight. I would like to thank Katie, the Wellness Mama, for a terrific article that goes way beyond the scope of what we are talking about today. Of all the articles I studied, hers was the most comprehensive.

Great Plants For Fresh Air

Here are a couple of common houseplants that not only make your house look nice, but filter and clean the air.

English Ivy

(Hedera Helix)

If you grow it on the outside of your home, it might make it look like you own a rustic Tudor mansion, but it will slowly push through the bricks and destroy your walls and roof. Not to mention that it will grow into your neighbor’s yard and drop his property value faster than you can say “Brazilian pepper hedge.”

But it looks amazing in your living room (especially if you learn how to weave and shape it into a decorative element) and it is a powerful formaldehyde remover. It just takes a little bit of sunlight and a little spritz of water to keep it healthy.

Bamboo Palm

(Chamaedorea Seifrizii)

This one is really popular around Naples, and it’s one of my favorites. It only needs a little water and you’re good to go. This one will survive in low light, but it will get taller if it gets direct sunlight. In fact, I recommend that the amount of light you give it be proportional to the height of the ceiling above it, or you’ll have a mess on your hands.

Chinese Evergreen

(Aglaonema Modestum)

This is another one that does well in rooms with low light. If you have a north-facing bedroom with a small window, this is a great choice. I have heard that it can be an irritant for some pets. On the other hand, I know some pets that are irritants, so it might be a fair trade.

Gerbera Daisy

(Gerbera Jamesonii)

My assistant, Julie tells me that daisies add a splash of bright, cheerful color to a drab room. I’ll take her word for it. The biologist says that it is great for removing benzene fumes from the air. So, when you send cheerful flowers to a friend who is down, it doesn’t just freshen up the room, it actually freshens up the air around them.

Dragon Tree

(Dracaena Marginata)

Dragon trees are a little on the expensive side, and not everyone carries them, but they look really cool and they are don’t require much light or maintenance, so they are perfect to freshen up the office environment.

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

(Sansevieria Trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)

I wanted to skip this one because the name might get me blocked on social media, but everything I’ve read about it says it’s a great first plant for beginners who have never successfully kept a plant alive for more than a few days. It’s very common in the local landscaping, but it makes a great air freshener. This might be a good one for the kids’ rooms.

Pot Mum

(Chrysanthemum Morifolium)

If you buy new furniture in the fall and early winter, get a pot of “mums” to keep nearby. They are not just a nice color piece for the room, they detoxify benzene fumes, and they bloom late in the season.

Peace Lily

(Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)

Peace Lilies are a powerful filter for removing formaldehyde and carbon monoxide gases, and they are relatively easy to take care of. If you see them wilting, just add a little water and move them in front of a south-facing window. NOTE: they can be poisonous to pets and small children, so be sure to keep them out of reach and wash your hands after touching the plant. This is another good one for the office because it is usually low-maintenance (but maybe not the lobby, especially if you have kids visiting).

Janet Craig

(Dracaena Fragrans)

I’ve often wondered what Janet did to merit having her name assigned to a plant like this, but whatever. It can grow up to 10 feet tall with just a little indirect sunlight and comfortable temperatures. Janet is the rubber tree’s sturdier, less attractive sister, so it might be good for conference rooms with a lot of furniture and little sunlight, where it will be forgotten most of the time.

Boston Fern

Boston Ferns are the king at removing formaldehyde from closed spaces. Plus, they are excellent for clearing the air of fuel vapors if you have an attached garage. But they can be a lot of work to maintain. You’ll want to get training from a legitimate gardener before you buy one.

Palm Trees

What kind of Southwest Florida doctor would I be if I didn’t mention palm trees, right? Of course, there are dozens of varieties of palm here, and not all of them are suitable for indoor air purifying. Dwarf Date Palms, Areca Palm, Lady Palm, and Parlor Palm all get high marks for cleaning out formaldehyde and benzene. They like it cool and humid and can handle a fair amount of abuse. Another good choice if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Leave The Sprays Behind

Rather than spraying plant-scented chemicals into your breathing space, I recommend bringing in real plants. They not only look great and (mostly) smell good, they actually work to cleanse your air. I know that when I have added plants to my spaces, it makes those spaces feel more alive and inviting. And trust me when I say I don’t have any spare time to take care of plants. I have friends who will gladly back me up on that. Just watch the Facebook comments.

If you’re interested in learning more about detoxifying your life and home, join me on Thursday, May 12th for a deep-dive look at strategies for detoxing your life. We’ll have an amazing dinner (bring a dish with you to share or $10 cash), and then we’ll get into the teaching. I can’t wait to share with you the things I have learned over the years. I hope you’ll join us.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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