Many of us have experienced the positive results of immersing ourselves in nature and being enveloped by trees. We experience an immediate relaxation, an ability to forget our problems and often a profound awe at nature’s secrets.
The documentary ‘Call Of The Forest, The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees‘ adds to the scientifically supported psychological and physiological effects associated with spending time in the woods. It shows how trees and forests intricately affect the land, sea and air around them and are essential to flora and fauna.
Experts included in the documentary postulate that trees were the very beginning of life on earth, which was nothing but a “rock” until the appearance of trees and the organic matter called humus.
But “Call Of The Forest” also shows the devastating effects of deforestation, removal of native trees, “tree farming” and the lumber industry.
Fortunately, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a classical botanist, medical biochemist and author who has studied rare tree species for more than 40 years, are committed to stopping these dangerous trends and instilling in the public a greater awareness and respect for forests.
Trees have formidable and healing powers
“We have missed the essentials of what a tree is all about,” says Ms. Beresford-Kroeger at the beginning of the documentary, which brings viewers to Japan, Ireland and the Redwood forests in the United States, as well as the Boreal forest of Canada. Ms. Beresford-Kroeger says that in Japan, “forest bathing,” also known as Shinrin-yoku, is a revered and long-standing tradition. It means taking in the forest through our senses.
Tree bathers avail themselves of medicinal properties, says Ms. Beresford-Kroeger, as 60% of all medicines use tree elements. Limonene, produced by trees, is an anticancer compound used in chemotherapy. Linolenic acids are “essential acids for development and functioning of the brain” and pinenes are an antibiotic compound. Trees also emit alpha-Pinene, beta-Pinene, bornyl acetate and camphor compounds, according to the documentary.
The bottom line, says Ms. Beresford-Kroeger as she forest bathes herself, is that the tree compounds “are giving me a slightly narcotic effect” boosting the immune system and relaxing the body. All those positive chemicals “are now in my lungs” she tells viewers as birds chirp and leaves rustle during her forest bath.
Native forests affect the land, oceans and air
In addition to their land and marine benefits, trees also function as “condenser units,” says Ms. Beresford-Kroeger –– collecting and preserving potable water.
For example, redwood trees, the tallest conifers on the planet, participate in a Key environmental cycle with the Pacific Ocean: They trap mist from the ocean, pull moisture up from the aquifer and then replenish the aquifer with condensation from ocean mist.
“A redwood is the largest carbon-bearing living organism on earth,” says Professor Emeritus Bill Libby, a geneticist at UC Berkeley. “They are growing faster than they ever have in their life,” yet the ones we see today are actually smaller and less robust than the redwoods our ancestors cut down.
To convey their immensity, Ms. Beresford-Kroeger says it would take an entire town of 13,000 people to balance the weight of a redwood tree if it were put on a scale.
The Big Q: With all the benefits of trees and natural forests will doctors soon be prescribing parks to their patients?
The Big A: It is already happening, according to a report in The Atlantic.
Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician in Washington, DC, actually writes prescriptions for parks: “He pulls out a prescription pad and scribbles instructions — which park his obese or diabetic or anxious or depressed patient should visit, on which days, and for how long — just as though he were prescribing medication …
Zarr is part of a small but growing group of health-care professionals who are essentially medicalizing nature.
He relies on a compendium of 382 local parks — the product of meticulous mapping and rating of green spaces, based on accessibility, safety, and amenities — that he helped create for DC Park Rx, a community-health initiative. The Washington program was one of the first in the United States; there are now at least 150 others.
Park prescriptions are a low-risk, low-cost intervention that, in Zarr’s experience, people are quick to accept. And sure, people are more likely to move around in a park than they are when watching TV, but there may be more to it than that.
Researchers in the United Kingdom found that when people did physical activities in natural settings instead of “synthetic environments,” they experienced less anger, fatigue, and sadness. A 2015 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that walking in a park reduced blood flow to a part of the brain that the researchers claimed was typically associated with brooding.”
If you are motivated to make healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle follow the strategies in in this column for achieving optimal wellness and staying in good shape.
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