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Doctors Are Prescribing House Plants To Treat Depression, Anxiety

By Kelly Burch 09/18/19

A new mental health initiative is taking a nature-focused approach to treating depression and anxiety.

woman shopping for a house plant to treat depression
ID 21784325 © Tyler Olson |

Doctors in the United Kingdom are recommending prescription greens for people with depression, but not the type you might think.

While some people with depression turn to marijuana and other cannabis products, doctors in the UK say that garden-variety house plants can help improve mood and mental health. In fact, one clinic, the Cornbrook Medical Practice, has begun giving out prescriptions for plants. 

“The plants we [are] giving people are mainly herbs—things like lemon balm and catmint, which all have mindful qualities,” Augusta Ward, a medical secretary at the practice, told Metro UK.

Gardening For Mental Health

In addition to sending plants home with people, the practice has a program where patients can garden with others.

“The plant is then a reason to come back to the surgery and get involved in all the other activities in our garden and make new friends,” Ward said. 

The new initiative to integrate plants into medicine is being done in conjunction with Sow the City, a nonprofit that promotes the health benefits of plants and gardening on an individual and social level. 

“There’s evidence that people who are socially isolated have worse health outcomes,” Jon Ross, the organization’s director, told Fast Company. “We provide a kind of community project within the [doctor’s office] so that people can get together and do the food growing and the gardening together with other patients.”

Dr. Philippa James, who practices at Cornbrook, said that the idea of health benefits from plants isn’t new. 

“There’s a lot of evidence now about how two hours a week in a green space can lift mood—and then that too has physical, mental and emotional benefits. That’s something we need to harness,” she said. She added that she has seen patients benefitting from the program already. 

Green Spaces For Better Moods

“I’ve seen how our patients relax in the garden—and how they then get involved in wider events like picking litter, which all adds to pride in our area,” she said. 

Ross said that Sow the City aims to set people up for success in caring for their plants and keeping them alive. 

He said, “We try and make it as easy as possible, and we set it up so that the plants are healthy to start with, and we train them on how to look after them.” 

Dr. Ruth Bromley, chair of the Manchester Health & Care Commissioning, which oversees health initiatives in the city where Cornbrook is located, said that she is happy to see a practice taking an unconventional approach to care. 

“So much of what keeps people happy and well isn’t medical,” she said. “That’s why ideas like this one are so wonderfully effective, building on what is best about our communities and supporting patients close to where they live.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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