New aromatherapy for stress: Smelling soil

Exciting news! There’s more and more evidence of a strong link between human health and the environment. A study by Japanese researchers published in January 2014 in the Open Journal of Soil Science reports a fascinating finding about our connection with soil.

These researchers found that interacting with soil brought about physiological and mental relaxation in their study participants. The interaction was three-part:

  • Observing soil litter – looking at the twigs and leaves and other materials on the surface, then lifting the surface to explore a bit more deeply to see bugs and fungi and the activity of turning that material into soil
  • Smelling the soil in their hands
  • Holding the soil in their hands to feel its wetness, texture, consistency, and temperature, even shaping it a bit with their fingers
Leaf litter - US Forest Service photo

Leaf litter - US Forest Service photo

This small study found that when participants connected with the soil using their senses of sight, smell, and touch, their heart rates decreased and they reported a feeling of comfort. Their reactions were similar to reactions experienced with acupuncture, meditation, or yoga.

I love this study! It’s a great excuse to play in the dirt, isn’t it? Even if you don’t want to garden, you can try this with the soil in your flower beds or under a clump of trees in the park.

And here’s another example of connecting with nature that could result in a similar relaxation response, but doesn’t even take getting your hands dirty.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmer about sitting in the woods in the Pacific Northwest during a rainstorm. She discovered that the raindrops fell in different patterns, making different rhythms, depending on the leaves they fell from.

Ephemeral runoff near Bridal Veil Falls, Oregon 2014

Ephemeral runoff near Bridal Veil Falls, Oregon 2014

The next time there's a gentle rain, put on your raincoat, and grab a lawn chair and umbrella. Look for different kinds of leaves near trees and shrubs, then settle down. Consider:

  • Do smooth leaves cause the drops to slide together, so they fall as bigger drops?
  • How rough does a leaf or branch bark have to be to split a raindrop into smaller ones?
  • Do bigger drops or smaller drops fall faster?
  • If the raindrops fall onto moss, does the moss keep absorbing the rain? Or does it get saturated at some point and start shedding drops?
  • What happens to raindrops that fall on a tree trunk or branches?

What about you? Do you think that getting involved with the natural world that’s just outside your door might be easier – and more fun – that you thought? Let me know!