Nature occupies an important place in Japanese culture. Traditionally, it was even believed that the forest contained numerous spirits.
It’s no surprise then that it was in Japan in the 1980s that the practice of shinrin-yoku emerged, since adopted in the West as sylvotherapy or forest bathing (1).
From the Latin for forest, sylva, and ‘therapy’ - a treatment designed to heal - sylvotherapy is, in simple terms, a walk in the forest that can potentially cure many ills.
Interestingly, the practice was developed by doctors in response to a request from the Japanese government who were seeking a natural way of addressing the overwork and intense stress affecting the population at the time.
In fact, over the last several years, numerous studies have evaluated the positive health effects of walking in the forest. It seems that sylvotherapy is able to (2) :
Though the mechanisms are more psychological than biological, forest bathing appears to expose the body to terpenes produced by trees. When inhaled, these terpenes may encourage the production of serotonin and dopamine, the happiness hormones (3).
There are actually many ways of practising sylvotherapy, though all are based on the same principle, which is to clear your mind and fully connect with your forest environment, to become engrossed in nature (4):
Sylvotherapy in itself does not present any real risks. However, you do need to exercise caution when putting your arms around a tree trunk (5).
To benefit from sylvotherapy risk-free, you can of course simply engage in Japanese shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’.
All you need to do for this is to take a weekly walk of at least 90 minutes in the woods, a forest or a leafy park.
This simple and affordable practice helps to boost the immune system, reduce stress, encourage social relations, etc.
If you have young children or dogs, they’ll probably jump at the chance of joining you on a forest trail for the afternoon.
In addition to the proven benefits of sylvotherapy, the ever-bountiful forest also contains precious remedies which can be found in the trunks, sap, fruit and foliage of their trees.
Let’s not forget, for example, that aspirin was developed from the leaves of the willow tree (Salix genus), hence its name acetylsalicylic acid!
In fact, like willow, many forest trees and plants contain active substances which constitute excellent natural remedies for many ailments.
Oak contains a number of phenolic compounds such as gallic acid (a tannin), ellagic acid (a polyphenol antioxidant), and most importantly, roburin.
It’s this latter compound which is thought to be responsible for oak’s presumed fatigue-reduction benefits (supported by research) (6). Supplementing with roburin may therefore help to fight fatigue (try, for example, the patented supplement Robuvit®).
Though the fruit is poisonous if eaten, the horse chestnut contains a mixture of saponins called aescin, the anti-oedema, anti-inflammatory and venotonic properties of which have been demonstrated in studies (7).
That’s why horse chestnut-based supplements (such as Hemo Comfort, standardised to 20% aescin) are often recommended for people suffering from haemorrhoids.
Chilean Patagonia is home to a little known treasure: the Maqui berry (Aristotelia chinensis). Traditionally used by the Mapuche Indians, Maqui berries are particularly rich in anthocyanins (including delphinidin, which is also found to a lesser extent in passion fruit and pomegranates).
To capitalise on the benefits of anthocyanins, many people choose to take a dietary supplement such as Wild Maqui Berry (standardised to 35% anthocyanins and 28% delphinidin) (8).
From the eucalyptus family, it’s usually for the purposes of supporting respiratory health (in the form of an inhalation) that the tree’s essential oil is harvested. Less well-known is the traditional use of Eucalyptus globulus by Australian aborigines to treat rheumatism.
That’s why its essential oil is often found in creams and other topical treatments for the joints (as is the case in Smart Joints Cream, where it is combined synergistically with the Ayurvedic plant Boswellia serrata, as well as coconut oil, vitamin E and glucosamine).
The bark and roots of trees are also the preferred habitat of mushrooms, natural treasures which have for some years now, been the subject of much scientific interest for their many health benefits.
Shiitake, chaga, reishi, maitake, cordyceps, polyporus, agaricus have thus become important elements of our medicine cabinets. And with justification: rich in polysaccharides (a non-digestible form of fibre), certain mushrooms support the gut microbiota and immune system, hence their inclusion in synergistic formulations (such as Organic MycoComplex, standardised to 30% polysaccharides for maximum benefits) (9).
As any naturopath will tell you, the Amazon rainforest is treasure trove of rare and rich species, full of medicinal plants which have been used by indigenous populations for thousands of years.
Cat’s claw (a vine with immunostimulant properties), suma root (‘Brazilian ginseng’ with adaptogen properties and reputed to have been traditionally used by warriors to increase their energy), Lapacho bark,soursop and finally Physallis angulata are all much-prized equatorial plants (which are synergistically combined in the supplement Wild Amazonian Formula).
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