Plant Therapy: A Nature-based Healing Method

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated March 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
If you've ever felt happier or healthier after spending time in nature, you might be interested in the healing effects of horticulture. Plant therapy, also known as horticultural therapy or ecotherapy, uses plants and nature as a therapeutic treatment. This type of counseling is based on the idea that connecting with nature may positively affect our mental and emotional well-being.
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Curious about how plant therapy can help you?

Origins of plant therapy

The medical applications of plants can be traced back thousands of years, all the way to ancient civilizations like the Egyptians. The Egyptians recognized the healing properties of plant-derived medicines, using them to treat a variety of ailments.  In modern times, medical professionals have started to see not only the physical benefits of plants, but the mental benefits of plant based treatment as well.  Plant therapy has been adopted by mental health professionals as a complement to traditional therapy methods, giving their patients a way to relieve stress and increase their mental well-being. 

The science behind plant therapy

Horticultural therapy has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA), this form of therapy has been found to have a number of benefits, including improvements to:
  • Memory
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Task initiation
  • Language skills
  • Socialization
The American Horticultural Therapy Association also found that horticultural therapy can assist with physical rehabilitation by helping to strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In addition, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials showed that various forms of horticultural therapy were found to be effective in improving participants' mental health compared to control groups. 

Research suggests that learning in a natural plant-filled environment can also help improve focus and concentration in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One study showed that children with ADHD experienced more relief from symptoms when exposed to green outdoor activities. These results were consistent across age, gender, income groups, community types, geographic regions, and diagnoses. 

Mental health benefits of plant therapy

One of the main benefits of incorporating plant therapy into daily life can be its ability to reduce stress. Research shows that indoor plants exert a positive effect on those nearby by improving stress reduction, increasing task performance, and improving overall health.
In addition to stress reduction, plant therapy may help improve cognitive functioning, creativity, and concentration. Interacting with plants and nature may also help stimulate the senses, promoting a sense of curiosity that may boost problem-solving skills. 

Plant-related activities can also help us interact and collaborate with others. For example, going on nature walks with friends and family or creating a therapeutic garden with a partner or other people in your life may improve relationships and help build a stronger sense of community. 

Merging plant therapy into daily life

Horticultural therapy may be a beneficial addition to your life, and there are different ways you can introduce more nature into your routine. Some popular forms of plant therapy include: 

Therapeutic gardens

One way to incorporate plant therapy is through the creation of therapeutic gardens. Depending on your preferences, these gardens can be designed in indoor or outdoor spaces. Therapeutic gardens with native and non-toxic plants such as lavender or chamomile, for example, can help provide a calming atmosphere that may stimulate healing. 
Consider including elements like sensory plants with various textures and fragrances in therapeutic gardens. Putting visually appealing plants in your garden may also help promote relaxation and a positive mood.

Indoor houseplants

Surrounding oneself with indoor plants can be a calming form of plant therapy. Indoor houseplants not only add a touch of natural beauty to your home, but they also purify the air and may provide numerous mental health benefits. 
Houseplants like snake plants, spider plants, and pothos are low maintenance and easy to care for, making them ideal for beginners or busy individuals. Research shows that caring for indoor plants can help reduce anxiety, improve concentration, and boost productivity. In addition, some house plants such as lavender and jasmine, for instance, release calming fragrances that can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. 

Nature walks

Consider taking walks in natural settings such as parks, forests, or botanical gardens to connect with plants and the environment. Nature walks offer a simple, yet effective way to experience plant therapy and immerse yourself in the outdoors.
Regularly taking walks in parks, forests, or botanical gardens can help lower stress levels, improve mood, and boost overall well-being. Nature walks also provide an opportunity to observe and learn about different plant species. By adding nature walks to your routine, you can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of plants while staying active.

Green meditation spaces

Green meditation spaces can be designed in any size or style based on your preferences. For meditation and mindfulness, you can create a quiet, plant-filled space. Some options for designing green meditation spaces include water features, natural lighting, and comfortable seating. Greenery and natural elements can help create an environment for meditation and promote a sense of inner peace. 

Community gardening

Joining a community garden can allow you to connect with others through therapeutic gardening activities. It may also help create a stronger sense of community and belonging. In addition, community gardening can be a cost-effective way to avail of fresh produce and stay physically active.

Participating in a group gardening experience may also provide opportunities to learn from others and develop new skills. In addition, community gardens can have positive effects on the environment, promoting sustainable practices and increasing biodiversity in urban areas.

Nature-based art therapy

Creating art using natural materials such as leaves, flowers, or branches is a form of self-expression and healing. This form of therapy encourages people to connect with nature and use it for self-reflection and relaxation. Art created in this way may help people explore their feelings and sense of creativity. This type of horticulture therapy can be done individually or in a group setting led by an art therapist or mental health professional.

Forest bathing

Practicing the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, which is immersing oneself in the calming atmosphere of a forest, may help reduce stress and enhance overall well-being. This practice originated in Japan and has been found to have several health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, improved immune system function, and increased feelings of relaxation. This self-care routine can also be combined with other forms of plant therapy.

To practice forest bathing, you can take a leisurely walk in a forest or natural area, taking in the surroundings through your senses and focusing on the present moment. Consider that this form of therapy is different from hiking or jogging in nature. Instead, it involves taking in the forest through all your senses, including smell, hearing, and touch. 

Online therapy

When considering plant therapy, you may want to seek the support of a registered horticultural therapist with the American Horticulture Therapy Association. These professionals help individuals reach their treatment goals using plant-based activities. Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with qualified therapists who can guide you in incorporating plant therapy into your mental health journey.
A scientific meta-analysis found that horticultural therapy effectively improved participants' cognitive function compared to control groups. Surrounding yourself with plants may improve memory, emotional control, and other cognitive abilities – all of which could be a reason to consider bringing more green into your life.

The role of the horticultural therapist

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Curious about how plant therapy can help you?
An American Horticulture Therapy Association registered horticultural therapist is a professional who uses plants and gardening activities to promote mental and physical health. These types of therapists may work with various individuals or groups who can benefit from horticultural therapy, including those who are experiencing mental illness, stress, or other challenges.
The therapeutic process may involve active or passive plant-related activities, including planting, tending to, and nurturing gardens. Other activities may be less involved, with some therapists choosing to have their patients simply interact with house plants and other plant life. The goals of a horticultural therapist can vary, but may include supporting cognitive function, improving memory, improving an existing mental illness, and aiding in the development of healthy coping mechanisms. 
Another way a horticultural therapist can help facilitate plant therapy is by guiding clients through gardening tasks. This approach, coupled with traditional talk therapy and other mental health treatments, may help to alleviate stress and reduce the symptoms of mental health conditions. You can also explore the option of combining online therapy with horticultural therapy, which can be a holistic and effective approach to therapy.
One potential option for connecting with mental health professionals who can provide guidance on incorporating plant therapy into your treatment is through the use of online therapy platforms like BetterHelp.


Plant therapy can be an effective nature-based approach to treating symptoms of certain health conditions and improving mental well-being. Adding plants and nature into our daily lives may help reduce stress, enhance focus, and improve mood. Activities like therapeutic gardening can act as a way to take advantage of the numerous mental health benefits of plants and nature. Working with a horticultural therapist registered with The American Horticultural Therapy Association or exploring online therapy options can further enhance the benefits of plant therapy. To learn more or get started with online therapy, reach out to a qualified BetterHelp therapist today.
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