How indoor plants can give us a breath of fresh air – literally!

 It’s winter and the cold temperatures outside means most of us wind up staying indoors where it is warm, rather than spending time in the garden or getting outside for fresh air – an action that can put your lungs (and general health) at risk.

Even in generally warm, sunny South Africa, it’s a fact that the majority of us spend the most of our time indoors. And as such, it is important to ensure that the quality of the air we breathe indoors is of a high standard.

Did you know that:  Furnishings, upholstery, synthetic building materials and cleaning products in homes and offices can emit a variety of toxic compounds, like formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, xylene and ammonia. Indoor air pollution can also be caused by pollen, bacteria and mould, as outdoor air contaminants (like car exhaust gases) find its way into buildings.

Symptoms associated with short term exposure to these harmful gasses include:  dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion, heart problems, liver and kidney damage, coughing and sore throat, followed by drowsiness and even coma.

Above mentioned chemicals lurk in all of our homes and while you can take steps to minimize them, some of these chemicals are not easy to get rid of.

The good news is that there is a cheap, easy green tool at your disposal to get rid of most of these unseen dangers inside your four walls:  why invest in expensive electrical air purifiers when you could purchase a few types of houseplants to clean and filter the air naturally and inexpensively?!

Research done by NASA back in 1989, shows that house plants play an important role in cleaning the air we breathe, both indoors and out. Plants produce their own food through a process called photosynthesis. This means they take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen. Photosynthesis “cleans” our air by absorbing carbon dioxide and by taking in certain other pollutants as well.

But what might my modest home or office have in common with a NASA spaceship? Unfortunately the answer may be poor air quality! (The same three pollutants also present in spaceships (formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene) are present in homes and office buildings.)

Under controlled conditions, in the NASA study, certain houseplants were found to remove as much as 87 percent of indoor air pollutants within 24 hours! The researchers suggest that for the test plants to be effective “air cleaners” it is necessary to use one potted plant per 9 square metres of home or office space.

Which plants work the best?


Palms seem particularly good at removing indoor air pollutants and fortunately they are all relatively easy to care for house plants. One of the best options are:  Areca / Bamboo palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

Other options:

Dracaena sp., Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), Mother in law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), Aglaonema sp., Peace lily (Spathiphyllum), Barberton daisy (Gerbera), Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum); Chrysanthemum; Anthurium (flamingo lily) name a few.


BUT the right houseplant will not only improve the air quality indoors; some also have a positive effect on your mood, stress level and sleep quality.

A nice looking plant is great, but a nice looking plant that quietly works its magic in the background on your health as you go about your regular routine is even better.

Here are some more ideas on houseplants that can help solve a few common health-related problems:

Most of us know the Lavender plant. It’s a well known flowering plant that has a very gentle and pleasant aroma. Best known for its stress-relieving mental benefits, the scent of lavender is often used in spa products like bath salts, skincare creams, soaps and candles.

Although a lavender plant is best kept outdoors (planted just outside your bedroom a sunny the best position), you can keep it indoors for a short period. Putting it in your bedroom is especially helpful since it may help you sleep better. Catching a whiff of lavender may help soothe restlessness, nervousness, anxiety, depression and insomnia.


Rosemary is another herb that’s been used in folk medicine for centuries to help improve concentration and memory. It turns out that there may be some merit to this claim since a study found that people who were exposed to the scent of rosemary essential oil performed better on questionnaires compared to people who were exposed to no scent at all.

 You will care for rosemary the same as for lavender. It’s a sun loving plant and won’t be happy to be kept indoors for too long a period.

 In our opinion these are some of the best  indoor plants available in South Africa

 Another benefit of having indoor plants:

As part of the photosynthetic and respiratory processes, plants release moisture vapor, which increases humidity of the air around them. Plants release roughly 97% of the water they take in. Place several plants together, and you can increase the humidity of a room, which helps keeps respiratory distresses at bay. Studies document that using plants in interior spaces decreases the incidence of dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs.

And did you know that:

Adding plants to hospital rooms speeds recovery rates of surgical patients, according to another study. Compared to patients in rooms without plants, patients in rooms with plants request less pain medication, have lower heart rates and blood pressure, experience less fatigue and anxiety, and are released from the hospital sooner.

It was also discovered that adding plants to office settings decreases fatigue, colds, headaches, coughs, sore throats and flu-like symptoms.

In another study, sickness rates fell by more than 60 percent in offices with plants.


So, next time you shop for the perfect houseplant, don’t just consider the way it looks and its maintenance requirements – also remember to look at its health benefits.