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This is the eleventh in a series of articles from the staff of the Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center that will provide resources, ideas, and suggestions for families during the Safer at Home phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch for future articles with outdoor activity ideas for students and families. The public can help the nonprofit NWDC get through this challenging time by making a donation at https://hikeandlearn.org/donate-covid-19-pandemic-relief/. Memberships also are welcome.

David Anthony Martin, aka “Ranger Pine”

Trees. We know their obvious benefits of giving us shade and food, that they cool the air and provide us with breathable forms of oxygen.

For many, they are a source of great wisdom, as they give us ample metaphors for how to live; how to acquire what we need for optimal health, how to let go when the time is right, the dangers of inflexibility, how to be efficient with energy, how to branch out and grow and expand to receive more of what we need to fulfill our goals.

And there are other, less noticeable benefits, such as intercepting ultraviolet (UV) light, absorbing rainfall, storing carbon, and reducing air pollution. But are there even subtler and more amazing benefits occurring when we spend time in Nature of which we are unaware?

The study of the medicinal benefits of forest-bathing is a part of this phenomenon. Its name is phytoncides.

What older generations knew, and what modern science is discovering, is that many woes such as anxiety, depression, stress and even illnesses could be alleviated with regular contact amongst trees and Nature. In the last few decades, the world’s foremost experts in forest medicine have shown how forest-bathing can not only reduce your stress levels, boost your energy, mood, creativity, and concentration, but also increase your overall health. Their studieshave shown that spending time in forests can reduce blood pressure, strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems, increase the count of natural killer cells, and increase production of anti-cancer proteins. This has led some researchers to a fundamental question: is there a physically identifiable emanation, a scientifically testable component in a forest that carries a healing power? Something associated with improving the activity of our frontline immune defenders?

The answer scientists studying the medicinal benefits of forest-bathing are now suggesting is,yes, and it has a name: Phytoncides.

Phytoncides are antimicrobial allelochemic volatile organic compounds derived from and emitted by plants. There are over 5,ooo of these known volatile compounds. These substances help to prevent them from bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms by inhibiting or preventing the growth of the attacking organism. They also prevent the tree or plant from being eaten by some insects and animals, and from being afflicted by insects.

Although people have known that phytoncides can be of benefit to humans as well, there has not been much intensive study on them and their affects and benefits to humans until quite recently. The word phytoncides was coined in 1928 by Dr. Boris P. Tokin, a Russian biochemist from Leningrad University for compounds that were already widely used in Russian, Ukrainian, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese medicine, as well as in holistic medicine, aromatherapy, andveterinary medicine. While more in-depth research into the effects of phytoncides is still ongoing, there is a growing body of findings pointing to incredible, and documentable, medical and health benefits.

A lifelong outdoorsman, Ranger Pine has been an Environmental Educator at NWDC’s Mountain Campus for the last decade. His passion is connecting people of all ages to Nature. He can be reached via email at earthstudies@hikeandlearn.org

Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center has continually offered outdoor programs, summer camps, guided (seasonal, wild-flower, birding, mushroom, full-moon) hikes for people of all ages, as well as stewarding two unique and beautiful settings at their two public campuses, the Nature & Raptor Center of Pueblo and the Pueblo Mountain Park in Beulah for decades. It is easy to take advantage of these hikes or programs by registering online at hikeandlearn.org. Our staff looks forward to meeting you, guiding you and spending time with you out here in Nature.

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