BBC Earth newsletter
BBC Earth delivered direct to your inbox
Sign up to receive news, updates and exclusives from BBC Earth and related content from BBC Studios by email.
Disconnected from nature? Here’s how – and why – to reconnect.
“The world has suddenly become plant conscious,” says legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. “There has been a revolution worldwide in attitudes towards the natural world in my lifetime. An awakening and an awareness of how important the natural world is to us all.”1 But it isn’t necessary to live in the natural world in order to feel closer to it. Here are 10 ways to become more connected with our green planet in our day-to-day lives.
Talking a walk is good for physical health – and doing so in a green space also has a positive effect on mental health. A study carried out by Denmark’s University of Aarhus found that having access to green spaces in childhood lowers the chances of developing psychiatric conditions later in life.2 The research indicated that those with the least access to parks and forests had a 55 percent greater chance of developing depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. And making the most of green spaces brings larger benefits . The “psychological restoration” that they offer is found to be greater for those who spend more time there.3
Of course, for some people that may not be easy. In Great Britain, for example, a 2021 survey found that 2.8 million people were not within easy walking distance of a green space.4 So why not bring the greenery – and all its benefits – indoors?5 Houseplants are shown to help improve moods, reduce stress, and even lower fatigue and headaches by 20-25 percent according to one study.6
They can also be used to help lift indoor environments. Ideal for bedrooms are Mother-inlaw’s tongue, which gives off oxygen at night, while damp areas such as bathrooms will benefit from peace lilies and Boston ferns that reduce mould spores in the air.7 A clean air study carried out by NASA scientists also listed Areca palm and Bamboo palm for their oxygen-producing and air-purifying qualities.8
Indoor greenery can be used to add to dinners – provided it’s from an indoor herb garden, that is. It’s also an engaging learning experience for children, by providing them with a 9 practical way to learn about plants. If pizza is a household favourite, then a pizza herb garden of basil, parsley, and oregano fits the bill. Basil in particular is one of the easiest herbs to grow indoors and smells great, too. It loves sunlight, temperatures that average around 21 Celsius (70 Fahrenheit) or higher, and water when the soil gets dry.10
As with houseplants, tending to herb gardens can help to reduce stress and improve general mental health.11 And let’s not forget the advantage of always having fresh herbs available – a tasty way to connect with the green world, every day.12
Climate change is a major threat to our green planet and – globally – livestock farming accounts for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers from Leiden University in The Netherlands found that adapting our diets to some meat but a lot of vegetables could change all that. They say that this – plus the re-wilding of farmland – would mean that one hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide could be removed from the air by the end of the century.13
So, plant-based recipes are good for the planet – and healthy, too. Using vegetables that cover the full colours of the rainbow ensures consumption of a healthy range of antioxidants and nutrients.14
To get a good idea of the breadth of plant life all around, see how many different varieties there are on a walk in a green space – or even in an urban one.15 “There’s life everywhere, but it is so easy to miss it,” says Leanne Manchester of the Wildlife Trust. “Instead, slow down, stop and notice it.”16
There are plenty of nature identification apps to help, including PlantNet, LeafSnap, and PlantSnap.17 Ones like the iNaturalist app also contribute to scientific research by sharing user findings with organisations such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).18
Foraging may not be for everyone, but chef and author Ollie Hunter is a keen advocate. “You’re getting into the countryside,” he says, “engaging with nature and the community, and finding food that has a different flavour.”20 There’s even urban foraging, from London to San Francisco to Copenhagen.21
But it’s important to research and check that what’s being picked is edible! Sites such as woodlandtrust.org or wildfooduk.com can help – and there are organisations that offer foraging courses, both rural and urban. They inspire an understanding of the profusion of food all around.
But foraging isn’t for everyone. If the space is available, it’s possible to get closer to the edible green world by “growing your own”. There’s abundance of help online for newbie gardeners, such as this from Gardeners’ World.
If space is tight, there are guides for what to grow in pots22 – or on windowsills, if there aren’t any outdoor areas accessible. What could be better than having fresh veg within easy reach of the chopping board?23
Flowers can be admired in green spaces, or bought to brighten up home interiors, too. Those grown in the vicinity will last longer and are always what is in season, which is a great way to learn what is grown locally and when.24
It also keeps down those all-important carbon footprints. About 80 percent of fresh flowers sold in the US and Canada are imported,25 81% in Germany,26 and in the UK this figure is nearer 90 percent.27 That’s a lot of air miles and a lot of carbon added to the atmosphere, when there’s beauty right on your doorstep.
Of course, anyone with a garden can grow their own flowers. Annuals (ones that die off every year) are some of the easiest – they produce more flowers after cutting – and there are plenty of gardening guides available, online.28
Native species will support more regional animals and insects,29 including one of the great pollinators: bees. Honeybees visit only one type of flower at a time, so each trip needs to be worth their while. “Plant large clumps or ‘drifts’ of single species and optimise each of the bees’ trips,”30 says Sarah Wyndham Lewis, co-founder of the sustainable beekeeping practice Bermondsey Street Bees.31
And if all this sounds like hard work, there is the option to just sit back and let the grass grow wild instead. When wildflowers grow, it’s good for the bees – and provides a refuge for other insects, too.32
And once all the walking, foraging, potting, and gardening is out of the way, a good shower or bath is probably called for, before the cooking begins. And what better way to get closer to nature than by scrubbing or soaking in it, with some plant-based toiletries?
There’s shower gel made from grapefruit seed extract, bubble bath from mango butter and coconut oil – even pomegranate toothpaste and biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes!
From clearing heads during walks in a green space, to plant-based personal hygiene, these are just 10 ways to become more connected with our green planet. Of course, the list doesn’t end there.
Engaging with the green world, wherever it can be found, forges a greater awareness and understanding of its importance – and how precious it is.
“The world depends on plants,” Sir David Attenborough reminds us. “Every breath of air we take, and every mouthful of food we eat, depends upon plants.”33
This article was commissioned as part of 'Our Green Planet'. This is a digital initiative, from BBC Earth in association with The Moondance Foundation, to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of our planet’s green ecosystems. Discover more here. #OurGreenPlanet.
Featured image © twomeows | Getty Images
1. Sir David Attenborough; 2. Research by the University of Aarhus; 3. Green Space is Good for Mental Health; 4. The 2021 Green Space Index; 5. Houseplants; 6. Houseplants for Human Health; 7. Plants for Bedrooms and Bathrooms; 8. NASA Houseplant List; 9. Indoor Herb Garden Ideas; 10. Growing Basil Indoors; 11. Benefits of Indoor Gardening; 12. Living Closer to Nature With a Herb Garden; 13. More Veg Less Meat; 14. Eating Healthily; 15. Nature Spotting; 16. Enjoy What's Around You; 17. Plant Identification Apps; 18 The iNaturalist App; 19. The Global Biodiversity Information Facility; 20. Foraging for Food; 21. Urban Food; 22. Growing Vegetables in Pots; 23. Windowsill Veg Container Ideas; 24. 5 Reasons to buy Locally Grown Flowers; 25. Flowers Imported to the US and Canada; 26. Flower Imports to Germany; 27. Flowers Imported to the UK; 28. Growing Flowers for Cutting; 29. Local Plants for Local Gardeners; 30. Make it Worth the Bees Effort; 31. Bermondsey Street Bees; 32. Go Wild; 33. We All Depend on Plants