Some years ago I started a book club with a few English-speaking locals, who have now become great friends. We named the club The Montainville Literary Society, after the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by  Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which was the first book that we read together.

At our meeting in January this year we voted for our top three books from last year, 2018, from a total of 12 books. I was delighted to have one of my book choices come in second. It was The Hidden Life of Trees by the German forester Peter Wohlleben (2015).

Some years ago I started a book club with a few English-speaking locals, who have now become great friends. We named the club The Montainville Literary Society, after the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by  Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which was the first book that we read together.

At our meeting in January this year we voted for our top three books from last year, 2018, from a total of 12 books. I was delighted to have one of my book choices come in second. It was The Hidden Life of Trees by the German forester Peter Wohlleben (2015).

Since the huge success of the book The Hidden Life of Trees, articles and films about trees have been all over the media. The new scientific discoveries about and interest in these ancient plants, is in my opinion long overdue. After all, in supposedly more primitive times, trees were recognized as being both magical and essential to the balance of our environment.

I have always had a special affection for trees. From my childhood bedroom in Kent, south east England, I could see a magnificent English oak tree. I loved that ancient tree, it seemed enchanted and symbolized everything that is warm and safe about home. So, on reading the forester’s book, it came as no surprise to me to learn that these glorious plants communicate and help each other, through their roots systems and even through their leaves.

Japan

You may have heard the expression “forest bathing” which is the practice of taking a leisurely walk in a wood or forest for health benefits. As an intentional activity, it apparently originated in Japan in the early 1980s and it is called shinrin-yoku in Japanese.

Incorporating forest bathing trips into a healthy lifestyle was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan. It has now become a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan.

Forest bathing allows you to breath in the volatile sibstances called phytoncides (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees, such as α-Pinene and limonene.

Studies

Medical studies in Japan have measured beneficial changes in immune markers and stress hormones, in people who regularly walked in specific forests. II has also been found that forest walking for people with diabetes, but not taking insulin, substantially lowers blood glucose levels.

Other studies carried out by Yuko Tsunetsugu, Bum-Jin Park, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki, have analyzed the effects of Shinrin-yoku on physical and mental health, calling it the “Therapeutic Effects of Forests.”

Their work focused on how natural settings affected the senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch.

For the analysis of visual stimulation, test subjects were shown two different scenes while their pulse and blood pressure were being monitored, a grey screen was used as control.

A photograph of “Sakura” blossoms were shown, followed by a photograph of people walking in a forest. The results showed that Sakura stimulated both pulse rate and blood pressure. The researchers speculated that this was due to the excitement that came from seeing the cherry flowers blooming. On the other hand, the forest image caused a decrease in blood pressure in comparison to both the Sakura image and the control image.

The Japanese  ideogram for Cherry Blossom.

The smelling of forest scents, resulted in a decrease in blood pressure and increased activity in the prefrontal cortext, helping productivity and concentration. The researchers speculated that the increase in concentration was due to relaxation.

Also touching oak bark gave positive results, leading researchers to conclude that woodiness is pleasant to human nature.

A 2010 study found that forest environments promoted lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than city environments.

On Sundays it was my parents’ habit after a delicious roast, to go for ‘a post prandial promenade’, my father’s expression. The more or less compulsory country walk, often seemed terribly boring to me when I was young, but today one of my essential and yet simple pleasures in life, is to walk in the woods and forests near my French country village with my dog Tess (below). This photo was taken last Spring, when Tess was still a puppy.

A TED Talk video with forester Suzanne Simard, “How trees talk to each other”.

So, where ever you live find yourself some trees to visit regularly. And if you’re feeling particularly brave, you might even hug one and listen to its heart.

 

Take Care

Henrie

XO

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