We all know that taking a walk in nature makes us feel good, but have you ever wondered why that is?
Whether it’s a 30-minute stroll through a local park, or a multi-day hike in remote wilderness, time spent in nature has profound health benefits.
There are the obvious reasons.
The simple act of walking improves circulation and releases endorphins in the body that relieve pain and support emotional balance.
You get to breathe fresh air and, on a fine day, feel the sun on your skin.
You’re away from the stresses of work and technology, which helps you to relax and unwind.
But science is revealing that one of the more surprising health benefits of spending time in nature is experienced through our noses.
Yes, the aroma of the forest — the natural scents of trees and plants — have therapeutic benefits that make us feel good.
You can think of it as “100% pure plant-powered perfume”.
Interestingly, the aromatic properties of the cannabis plant, known as terpenes, act in much the same way.
But before we go there, let’s explore the forest a little longer.
Forest bathing: Opening your senses to nature
Nature has played an important role in health and wellbeing throughout human history.
The “father of medicine” Hippocrates even said: “Nature itself is the best physician.”
Since the 1980s, doctors in Japan have been prescribing nature therapy to patients for a range of health conditions.
They call it Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing”, which is the practice of opening all of your senses to nature.
Studies have found that forest bathing may help with cardiovascular disease, cancer, anxiety and depression, immune system function, energy, mood, and more.
Scientists think the airborne chemicals excreted from plants and trees, known as phytoncides and terpenes, contribute to these health benefits.
What are terpenes and phytoncides?
Phytoncides are chemicals released by trees and plants to protect themselves from insects and germs. It’s quite literally plant medicine.
Phytoncides contain terpenes, the aromatic compounds that give plants their distinct scents.
These are the compounds responsible for the smell of fresh flowers, herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables.
You’ll be familiar with the comforting scents of pine needles, lavender, eucalyptus, and citrus.
Terpenes are also found in high concentrations in cannabis, especially in the flower’s sticky resin.
They are responsible for the plant’s potent aroma and have been found to have many medicinal benefits.
Different strains of cannabis contain different blends of terpenes which, in turn, produce different smells, flavours, and therapeutic effects.
Some of the most commonly found terpenes are:
Pinene is responsible for the refreshing scent of a pine forest and fresh Christmas trees. It’s also found in cannabis, rosemary, basil, and many other plants. Studies have found that pinene may have antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant properties, among other therapeutic benefits. One study called it a “miracle gift of nature”.
Limonene is commonly found in the rind of citrus fruits and is a prominent terpene in many cannabis strains. It’s been shown to have anti-inflammatory, gastro-protective, anti-tumor, anti-nociceptive and neuroprotective properties. It’s also associated with uplifting, euphoric and antidepressant effects.
Linalool is found in a wide range of medicinal plants and fruits, including lavender, eucalyptus and citrus. It’s widely used in cosmetics and flavouring ingredients. It’s been shown to induce anxiolytic and calming effects and may also have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-tumor and neuroprotective properties.
They are just a few terpenes that you’ve probably come across in everyday life, but there are many more.
It’s estimated that cannabis alone produces more than 200 terpenes, but only a few dozen of them in significant quantities.
More research is needed to truly understand the medicinal benefits of terpenes, but early findings are showing a lot of promise.
Nature as medicine
So the next time you take a walk in a park or forest, try and be aware of the scents you’re experiencing.
Take a moment to “stop and smell the roses” and realise that you’re breathing in nature’s medicine.
It’s remarkable to think that plants and trees are providing this service right under our noses, often without us even realising it.
But this medicine is not only available to you in nature.
You might use lavender to help with sleep, eucalyptus to clear congestion, or sage to help calm the mind.
The terpenes contained within medicinal cannabis can also help to provide relief from a range of health conditions and symptoms.
Terpenes are just one tool available in nature’s medicine cabinet and they have many uses.
The way you choose to access their therapeutic benefits is entirely up to you.