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Are houseplants healthy or harmful?

Houseplants flourish in millions of American homes, reigning over living rooms and kitchens with leafy tendrils splayed high. And though they may be aesthetically pleasing, are houseplants good or bad for your health?

“Houseplants in moderation are fine for most of the population,” says Alan Redding, M.D., an allergist at Piedmont.

In fact, Dr. Redding admits to having several houseplants in his own home.

The health benefits of houseplants

There is some research that houseplants can improve your health:

  • Plants help you breathe. Plants get their food from sunlight through a process called photosynthesis. During this process, plants take in carbon dioxide, convert it to oxygen, and then release it into the air for you to breathe. Photosynthesis stops at night when the sun goes down, but some plants, like orchids continue to release oxygen throughout the night—making them great plants to have in the bedroom.   

  • Plants clean the air. A 1989 study conducted by NASA found that certain houseplants improve the air quality in the room by filtering out harmful toxins and pollutants, like formaldehyde, benzene and ammonia. Try keeping a ficus, which can remove pollutants from furniture or carpet. Or buy a bamboo palm, which will add moisture to the air during dry winter months.

  • Plants help with healing. A study conducted by Kansas State University found that surgical patients in hospital rooms with plants and flowers had improved physiologic responses evidenced by lower ratings of pain, anxiety and fatigue than patients in similar rooms without plants. The plants also helped to reduce stress and gave the patients the impression they were being well cared for.

The only time houseplants may cause a minor health inconvenience is for those who suffer from mold allergies. 

“Houseplants can have more mold in the soil,” says Dr. Redding. “And that is not a bad thing. But for people with mold allergies, it can trigger allergic symptoms. If people have a runny nose, stuffy nose, or watery eyes, and they think that happens when they get near a plant or water it, they should consider the possibility of a mold allergy.”

It’s also important to keep “toxic” houseplants a safe distance from children or animals who may be tempted to nibble on them. 

For more helpful, healthful tips, click here.

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