Humans intuitively know that being in the forest is good for their health. On a hike through the woods, the combination of fresh air, coniferous trees, and lack of cell phone service makes for a peaceful feeling every step of the way. Research is showing that this forest bathing may do more than simply make people forget their worries. What’s more is that the health benefits of walking through a forest can be enjoyed by simply diffusing pure essential oils in any room of your home.
What is a Forest Bath?
Just as a bath immerses you in water, a forest bath immerses you in the forest. The concept is so simple; it is practiced by every wild animal under the forest canopy. By walking calmly through a natural area, a person can actually enjoy a number of restorative benefits. This is no secret, people from every culture have enjoyed walks to restore their senses and improve their mood
The official term Shirin-yoku, developed in Japan in the 80s, means “imbibing the forest atmosphere”. In Japanese medicine, forest bathing is an important aspect of preventative medicine and natural healing practices. There is a large body of research which shows us that exposure to forests boosts cognitive function, mood, and performance in children while reducing stress levels, boosting the immune system, and even reducing cholesterol.
The color green may even contribute to the health benefits of forest baths. A recent study aimed to see if the act of being among certain colored trees had an effect on people. Participants exercised in front of digital footage of different colored forests. Researchers found that participants who saw green forests had less mood disturbances and rated themselves as less tired than those who saw red forests. Interestingly enough, participants who saw red forests were more likely to rate themselves as angry when compared with any other group.
In a forest, you are surrounded by not only the sights of the trees, but the increased oxygen and potent phytonicides the trees emit. Simply put, phytonicides are the volatile compounds in plants which protect them from microbes in their environment. They are typically released by heat, and as such, a walk through the forest in the summer is technically healthier for you than a walk in the winter; though, both are great! Luckily, many of the phytonicides from forest trees are found in their pure essential oils; which can be diffused to enjoy some of the same benefits every day.
Effects of a Forest Bath
The word phytonicide itself comes from two Latin roots meaning plant and exterminate; and is a reference to the antimicrobial benefits of most all volatile compounds in plants. However, this is not the only use these compounds have. When studied in the body, these phytonicides actually enhance and empower the body in many ways. The benefits of spending time inhaling various forest scents include:
- Reducing stress
- Raising concentration and focus
- Improving immune system
- Eliminating pain
- Lowering blood sugar
- Improving mood
- Reducing anxiety
- Reducing insomnia
Essential Oils for Forest Bathing
While there are numerous essential oils which contain beneficial phytonicides in their plant matter, here we are focusing on the creation of a forest bath in your own home. To that end, the powerful compounds found in many forest essential oils, such as pinene, cineol, and camphene, can provide the amazing results of a forest bath, even if you cannot leave your home.
Compounds in many trees are potent antioxidants, which is why forest bathing is a major source of these antioxidants. These compounds help remove toxins from the brain and body, decrease inflammation, and promote a general sense of well-being. Using a relaxing mix of any of the following essential oils in your aromatherapy diffuser can help bring the power of the forest directly to any room of the house.
1. Pine Essential Oil
Pine essential oil is one of the unknown greats. There is a long list of benefits of pine essential oil, and many of these benefits are due to the high levels of pinene in the oil. These high levels of pinene in pine essential oil may help boost your immune system. After studying the effects of phytonicide oils like pine essential oil in the forest, a team of researchers set out to discover if the immune system regulating response would happen outside the forest as well. They discovered that those exposed to a-pinene and b-pinene in hotel rooms had significantly increased T cell activity; supporting the notion that essential oils like pine can empower the immune system to keep itself healthy.
2. White Fir Essential Oil
In addition to boosting the immune system, the essential oil produced from the white fir tree can reduce cholesterol; thanks to high levels of limonene, camphene and pinene within the oil. It can also help calm gastrointestinal issues like GERD, heartburn, and acid reflux. The scent combines with many other coniferous trees to support stress reduction and increase feelings of relaxation as well. All you need to do is place a few drops in a standard essential oil diffuser and you’ll be all set. This works especially well at night time.
3. Fir Needle Essential Oil
The essential oil from Abies siberica contains higher levels of camphene than many other trees. For this reason, fir needle essential oil may be used to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure; and even shows promise to protect the cells from oxidative damage. Researchers tested the effectiveness of camphene in lung inflammatory diseases; noting that subjects who had reduced oxidative stress caused by camphene were much more likely to control these diseases.
4. Birch Essential Oil
While not as distinct as some of its cousins, the birch tree has a long history of use. Food, fuel, shelter, and even clothing have all been made from the birch tree over the years. When traveling in a birch forest, the thin trees give the relaxing feeling of openness, while still making you feel protected. By inhaling the oil in an aromatherapy diffuser, you are actually breathing in the cleansing compound betulenol, which makes up much of its oil. Antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant activities have been found in the essential oil’s compounds, which may come as a surprise to many. While a deep breath of birch essential oil may not have you thinking of presents under a tree like some forest essential oils, it will be helping you reduce oxidative stress in your body; which is a benefit we all can enjoy.
5. Cedarwood Essential Oil
With the high concentrations of a-pinene in particular, cedarwood essential oil is very much like pine essential oil in the way that it has powerful antioxidant and even anticancer benefits. The sweet smell of Cedrus atlantica may also help to reduce blood pressure and decrease muscle spasms thanks to compounds such as himachalol found in the oil. Researchers found himachalol to be a great antispasmodic and relaxant in various tests. It is a great all around health essential oil, and is a great addition to your forest bathing oils.
6. Cypress Essential Oil
In addition to containing a high concentration of pinene, the oil created from the leaves of the cypress tree contains a terpene called humulene; which shows anticancer effects on tumor cells. Studies have indicated that humulene reduces tumor cells by 50-69 percent on its own; while that effect is amplified by other anticancer compounds. Combining cypress essential oil with other essential oils containing high amounts of pinene can also help clean the lungs, just like the forest air does. A-pinene is an antimicrobial compound, and when inhaled, it can keep even the most stubborn strains such as MRSA and candida from inhabiting the passageways in the body. This may be why every breath in a forest feels clean; the essential oils are actually scrubbing your lungs!
7. Spruce Essential Oil
While the fresh scent of the forest can be awakening and enlivening, it can also be very sedating. Most compounds in the essential oils of forest trees act to sedate the nerves, relax the muscles, and relieve the pressure of headaches and clogged passageways. Compounds like camphene, found in great quantities in spruce essential oil, can greatly reduce inflammation, ease pain, and even show promise as natural antioxidant compounds similar to vitamin C.
Essential Oil Recipes for a Forest Bath
It may not technically be a forest bath if the forest is not present; but in an urban area, forests are often hard to come by. While it is most beneficial to actually be among the nature you are smelling, the amount of phytonicide essential oils you are inhaling in nature is much less than what you can get by inhaling pure essential oils through an aromatherapy inhaler. Here are two of our favorite recipes for a refreshing forest bath any time of the day.
The “Clear the Air” Forest Bath
Add to an aromatherapy diffuser and relax for 30 minutes, taking deep breaths.
The “Sunset” Forest Bath
- 4 drops cedarwood essential oil
- 2 drops cypress essential oil
- 3 drops spruce essential oil
- Add to an aromatherapy diffuser as you are winding down for the day; a few hours before bed.
Final Notes on Essential Oils for Forest Bathing
There are many phytonicide compounds that you may inhale while roaming the nearest forest. When you are at home or stuck in the city, many of these compounds can still be used to keep you healthy and stress free. When using pure essential oils, it is important to remember that they are powerful, and should be used with care. The antioxidant levels in many forest bathing essential oils are very high, and can cause serious skin irritation. For that reason, pure oil should always be diluted; and pay attention to any reactions your body may have to them when applied on the skin. Children and pregnant women should use any essential oil under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner. Some essential oils on this list can contain cineol, which may be too stimulating for children under ten. Essential oils aren’t meant to undermine the guidance of an experienced practitioner; but rather to supplement healthy treatment options.
The most important thing to consider when purchasing essential oils is the purity of the products themselves. Always look for pure essential oils. Pure oils are not only the most beneficial – they are the safest choice.
What oil did you experience on your last trip to the forest? Share it with us in the comments below!