The concept of Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” took hold in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Also referred to as forest therapy, Shinrin-yoku means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or simply “being with trees”.

Since the appreciation of nature has long been a national pastime in Japan, the Japanese didn’t need to be persuaded that “forest bathing” was a good idea. In a 2009 study of the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing, Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system of his subjects before and after exposure to the woods. NK cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. Following weekend forest visits, Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity during the week after a forest visit, with positive effects lasting a month. These results are due to various essential oils, generally called phytoncide, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher and healthier—inhaling phytoncide actually seems to improve immune system function!

Contributed by Betty Hanselman

Gardener’s wife (& frequent “forest bather”)

Based on an article by Ephrat Livini