When I first think of a household plant I automatically envision beautiful, brightly colored flowers brightening up a room. However, can there be more than meets the eye to these common household plants? YES!
I first experienced the beneficial aspect of plants with my grandmother in the kitchen cooking. I was about 7 years old helping my grandmother cook some bread. As she took the bread out of the oven, it smelt so good that I could not possibly help myself from touching the bread as well as part of the pan it was baked in to try and sneak a bite. Only instead of getting a tasty treat, I burnt my finger in the process. I quickly pulled my hand away, with no major damage done. What I then remember is my grandmother quickly grabbing a small branch from an aloe plant we had growing in a pot on the counter. She squeezed the branch and gently rubbed the burned spot with the branch’s gel. The gel instantly relieved the burn as well as take my mind off the incident. The plants scientific name is Aloe Vera also known as Aloe barbadensis. Aloe Vera has more uses than just the common kitchen burn; it can also be used as burn gel after spending the day outside, for insect bites, rashes, and minor wounds.
Figure 1: Aloe Vera Plant Image
Aloe Vera contains organic chemical compounds such as complex sugars (mucopolysaccharides, MPS), vitamin C, and vitamin E1. The MPS’s make up the gel characteristics, which help seal the wound as well as reduce inflammation, provide antibacterials, and dilate the capillaries, which increases blood flow to the injury. Vitamins C and E are common vitamins that help stimulate the immune system. What an amazing plant! When the idea for this blog was discussed, I knew I wanted to investigate other common household plants and their hidden medicinal/ beneficial uses.
Another beneficial aspect of plants common in a home or any other enclosed space is the idea of “growing fresh air”. When NASA was investigating sending people in space in (obviously) very tightly enclosed environments, they had to identify potential issues to having such an enclosed environment in comparison to the regenerative qualities of Earth’s ecosystem. In the late 1960’s Bill Wolverton headed up this investigation for NASA. During this investigation his team identified 107 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that would be produced and exist within small enclosed environments. VOCs include harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene (for more info on these chemicals see reference 4). These VOCs are known as irritants and potential carcinogens, making the inhabitants of an enclosed environment become ill and irritated. Not only would this problem exist for a tightly enclosed rocket ship, but also the more energy efficient tightly sealed homes that were starting to be built. A solution to the air quality problem needed to be solved. As part of the experiment, NASA created a “BioHome”. The BioHome was made of all synthetic material and tightly sealed. Because of how tightly sealed the BioHome was, after some time anyone that entered or spent time inside the BioHome would complain of irritation and respiratory problems. Then plants were added, and remarkably the complaints heavily decreased. Additional scientific qualitative and quantitative analysis of the air quality also showed a large decrease in the VOCs that had present in the recent past. Upon Wolverton’s findings, he authored a book entitled Eco-Friendly Houseplants. In this book he discloses his results of the most beneficial household plants and their abilities. Below is a list of Wolverton’s top 9 plants for restoring the qualities of Earth’s ecosystem2,3,4.
Table 1: Wolverton’s top 9 plants for restoring air quality.
Additionally, a study conducted by Ruth K. Raanaas, et al. at Norwegion University of Life Sciences in 2010, showed the effects of indoor foliage on a patient’s well-being during a residential rehabilitation program5. The study watched coronary and pulmonary patients that were “highly emotional” upon arrival to the rehabilitation facility over a two year period. At the start of the second year the common areas of the facility were inundated with plants. With the arrival of the plants, a patient’s physical and mental ability improved as well as their overall satisfaction. This study highlighted the potential for indoor plants to contribute to a patient’s well-being.
Not only are plants beneficial indoors, they can also provide valuable qualities to humans outdoors. One of the most irritating things about a pleasant summer evening outdoors is the nasty, irritating mosquitoes! However, have no fear, helpful plants could be near! Before you grab the icky bug spray, think about growing mosquito-repelling plants near your patio or favorite outdoor area. There are 5 common (and rather beautiful) plants that easily grow in the United States as well as have the ability to repel mosquitoes6. The first and most commonly known mosquito-repelling plant is the citronella plant. This plant might ring a bell with you as being part of another common mosquito-repelling device, the citronella candle. The other four plants include: Horsemint, Marigolds, Ageratum, and Catnip. Furthermore, Catnip has been shown to be 10 times more effective than DEET as an insect repellent (University of Iowa study7).
Figure 2: Catnip Plant Image
The beneficial aspects of common household plants for humans are endless. They provide monumental amounts of mental and physical value for a person’s well-being as well as add color and flavor to a room. There are far too many advantageous characteristics of plants for me to address in this one posting (i.e. pollination, a food source, and decomposition) however I hope you have become aware of the hidden characteristics of such beautiful objects. Next time you go home or even for your dorm room during college, you should consider growing a plant, and allowing yourself to benefit from their remarkable qualities.
1. Aloe Vera Information, Dr. T. Ombrello, UCC Biology department, http://faculty.ucc.edu/biology-ombrello/pow/aloe_vera.htm
2. NASA, Bill Wolverton, http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2007/ps_3.html
3. Native Backyard Blog, 2/9/11, http://www.nativebackyard.com/2011/02/plants-everyone-should-have.html
4. Ramos, F. Indoor Plants Create Fresh Air, NASA Study Socres Plants’ Ability to Remove Chemicals, 2009, http://francisco-ramos.suite101.com/indoor-plants-create-fresh-air-a121481
5. Raanaas, R.K., Patil, G.G., Hartig, T. Effects of an Indoor Foliage Plant Intervention on Patient Well-being during a Residential Rehabilitation Program, HortScience, 2010, 45, 387-392.
6. eartheasy blog, Solutions for Sustainable Living, April 28, 2011. http://eartheasy.com/blog/2011/04/5-easy-to-grow-mosquito-repelling-plants/
7. Coats, J., McManus, B., Catnip captures attention as a natural mosquito repellent, press release, 2003, http://www.ag.iastate.edu/aginfo/news/catnip.html