Caring for plants taught me how to nurture my health

Lessons about managing NMO can come from unexpected places

Jennifer van Amerom avatar

by Jennifer van Amerom |

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My family and I always laugh about my inability to keep plants alive. In my defense, if something isn’t hollering at me for attention or sending me email reminders, I can’t be responsible for watering it. I have never described myself as the nurturing type. However, I am competitive, so when my sister gifted me an indoor gardening system called AeroGarden, I took up the challenge of growing my own herbs.

I quickly grew attracted to the smell of fresh basil, rosemary, and thyme. Knowing where my herbs were coming from, and that they were free from pesticides, helped me feel healthier. But I’ve also grown to love the many other unexpected health benefits of caring for plants.

The benefits of indoor greenery

Since the pandemic hit, I’ve been more likely to stay home than go out, especially as a patient with neuromyelitis optica (NMO). Since I work remotely 100% of the time, there’s no future in sight where this will change for me. My husband and I slowly started renovating spaces in our home for functionality, and I surprised myself when I requested more greenery.

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Indoor air purifying

Plants are known for purifying the air. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, air quality is often worse indoors, even in industrialized cities. Even though we have air purifiers running throughout our home to manage dog dandruff and dust, I can still see tiny particles floating through the air on a sunny day.

Immune system boost

Having an autoimmune disease like NMO means I’m always looking for ways to boost my immune system. Some indoor houseplants are better than others at doing just that, including aloe vera, spider plants, and chrysanthemums. Each plant has different properties; for example, chrysanthemums can help cleanse the air of benzene, a chemical that can damage the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies.

Plants improve the healing process

According to an article published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2009, a study of 90 patients recovering from surgery found that patients with plants in their rooms had lower blood pressure and less pain and anxiety than those without plants. All of these factors can impact healing.

NMO flares are unpredictable, and when they happen, the healing process can be frustrating. Some of us never recover from these attacks, but perhaps with more plants in our presence, we might have a better chance.

Mental health and meditation

While I still need to be reminded to water my plants, I find the task enjoyable. I’m a newbie who’s still developing a green thumb, but I’ve learned to trim the ends of my herbs, nurtured an orchid to bloom multiple times now, and even brought outdoor garden herbs indoors for the winter. Doing these things has taught me patience, which is exactly what I need when I’m nurturing my own physical and mental health.

I turn on some music and sing along while I care for my plants, and it becomes a form of meditation. Sometimes I drift off into self-reflection. Other times, it helps me focus on priorities and ignore all the extra noise of life.

Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).


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