Wednesday, November 15, 2006 - 12:35 PM

Human Contact with Plants and Soils for Health and Well-Being.

Joseph Heckman, Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension Plant Biology and Pathology, Foran Hall, Room 167, 59 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8520

Many studies reveal that in addition to needing food and good nutrition from fertile soils, people also need contact with nature for health and well being.  While active work with plants and soils engenders a sense of well-being and resultant stress reduction in the gardening public, even the passive viewing of landscapes by non-gardeners can improve human health.  A classic study conducted in a hospital showed patients recovered more quickly from surgery and required less pain medication if they had a view of a green landscape rather than the view of a brick wall.  Other studies reveal that walking in a garden helps cancer patients recover, and that Alzheimer’s patients exhibit fewer violent outbursts.  Also, children with leaning difficulties improve in their ability to concentrate when they are moved from areas with little or no green spaces to areas of increased greenery.  Beneficial effects of viewing scenes of nature, as compared to urban scenes or hardscape, can result in physiological changes such as lowering blood pressure and reduced muscle tension.  Some studies suggest that levels of greenness may influence the incidence of crime.  Although, the concept of designing healing landscapes at hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and urban environments has matured into a discipline known as horticultural therapy, the healing factor of healthy landscapes has not gained the broader attention of soil scientists and agronomists in managing the earth’s land resource, even though healing landscapes are rooted in soil.  Beyond food production and the usual environmental issues, soil scientists and agronomists may find new opportunities by asking and researching questions about the influence of lifeless appearing landscapes resulting from tillage, herbicides, cropping regime, and of course strip mining, on the aesthetic value of landscapes and its potential impact on the physiological and psychological health of the viewing public.