Forest Bathing

When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”

-Mary Oliver


How do you feel when you walk in a forest? Chances are that you feel incredible.

From lowering heart rate and blood pressure to boosting our immune system, spending time in the forest is scientifically proven to improve our health. In Japan, this practice is known as forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku.

Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and is a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan. It is the simple practice of spending quiet time relaxing in the presence of trees.

One of the reasons that forest bathing is so good for you is the various essential oils that the trees emit.

There have been numerous studies on the positive effects and benefits of forest bathing and there is a really incredible aromatherapy connection. One of the reasons that forest bathing is so good for you is the various essential oils that the trees emit. The aromatic molecules of trees, called phytoncides, are volatile organic compounds that are rich in monoterpenes, such as alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, camphene, d-limonene (Lee et al, 2012).

Phytoncides not only protect the trees but also boost our immune systems and make us feel relaxed (Li, 2010).

Here’s a snapshot of some of the research in this area:

  • Twelve males were studied to observe the impact of forest therapy (for two nights and three days) on natural killer (NK) cell activity (Li et al, 2007). Natural killer cells (also known as NK cells) are a type of lymphocyte (a white blood cell) that provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor-formation. They are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. (Wikipedia, n.d.)
    After the forest therapy, NK-cell activity had increased by 1.25 times on Day 1 and by 1.5 times on Day 2. This finding confirmed the immunity-boosting effects of forest therapy on NK cell activity.
  • Another study investigated whether a trip to the city would increase NK cell activity and how long increased NK activity would last after a forest or a city trip. It may come as no surprise that the city trip did not increase human NK activity. The researchers discovered phytoncides, such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene in the forest air, but they were barely detected in the city air. The forest trips did result in an increase in NK cell activity AND the researchers discovered that the increased activity lasted for more than seven days after the forest bathing experience (Li, et al 2008).

…forest bathing increased NK cell activity, the number of NK cells and that the effect lasted for at least seven days.

  • Li et al (2008) then went on to investigate the effects of forest bathing on 13 healthy female subjects. Just like the previous study, phytoncides were detected in the forest air. Their findings confirmed that forest bathing increased NK cell activity, the number of NK cells and that the effect lasted for at least seven days.
  • Forest bathing trips were also found to significantly decrease urine adrenaline and noradrenaline concentrations in both male and female subjects, while a city trip had no effect (Li, 2010).


In addition to actual forest bathing experiences, several indoor studies were conducted where healthy subjects were exposed to the smell of Japanese cypress essential oil, rich in alpha-pinene. Results showed that NK cell activity was increased, immune function had improved and physiological relaxation had increased (Li et al, 2009).

Single substance inhalation experiments of the monoterpenes alpha-pinene and limonene have also been conducted (Song et al, 2016). The results showed that inhalation of α-pinene and limonene decreased systolic blood pressure and increased parasympathetic nervous activity.

This research proves what aromatherapists know…..our health can be so impacted by these tiny aromatic molecules!


Forest Bathing at Home


While it’s not the same thing as physically being in a forest, you can create a forest bathing experience at home using some tree essential oils. I like to create aromatic synergies using organic coniferous tree oils that come from Canada when I do this.

Black spruce (Picea mariana), Balsam fir (Abies balsamea), and White pine (Pinus strobus linnaeus) are all botanical beauties. They are anti-microbial essential oils and the scent makes one feel uplifted and peaceful at the same time.

I suggest diffusing them first on their own – so that you can get to know the individual essential oil. Then try diffusing a synergy of the essential oils.

Here is a simple diffuser recipe:
● 2 drops black spruce
● 2 drops white pine
● 3 drops balsam fir

References
Lee, S, Park, D, Kim, K.. Characteristics of phytoncide production at the recreation forest in the Chungbuk area. Journal of Environmental Impact Assessment. 2012; 21: 279 – 287.

Li Q, Morimoto K, Nakadai A, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Shimizu T, et al. Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2007;20:3–8.

Li Q, Morimoto K, Kobayashi M, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, et al. Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2008;21:117–28.

Li Q, Morimoto K, Kobayashi M, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, et al. A forest bathing trip increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2008;22:45–55.

Li Q., Kobayashi M., Wakayama Y., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., Hirata Y., Hirata K., Shimizu T., Kawada T., Ohira T., et al. Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. Int. J. Immunopathol. Pharmacol. 2009;22:951–959.

Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 9–17. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3

Song, C., Ikei, H., & Miyazaki, Y. (2016). Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(8), 781. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph13080781

Wikipedia. 2017. Phytoncide. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytoncide

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