Prescribing Houseplants for Anxiety, Depression, and Loneliness?

A medical practice in Manchester, England gave patients indoor plants to help boost wellness.

woman in cardigan offers up three houseplants on serving tray

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Take two spider plants and call me in the morning?

It is no secret that houseplants have all kinds of benefits to offer their human hosts. Beyond their cheerful demeanor, they provide many helpful assists, like increasing oxygen levels, helping stave off illness, cleaning the air, boosting healing, nudging creativity, and relieving stress – among other things. Meanwhile, one study found that just observing a houseplant can help foster happiness.

Plant-Based Medicine

woman sits in living room surrounded by houseplants while on couch

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

So it comes as little surprise that the medical community is catching on – as evidenced by a GP practice in Manchester, England that decided last year to prescribe plants to help people with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Laura Abernethy reported that patients got herbs, vegetables, and potted plants to care for. After a while, they would bring them back to the medical office and transfer them to a communal garden. Abernethy wrote, "The new scheme – believed to be a first in the country – gives patients a chance to join in with further gardening and social activities."

small plate of tomatoes surrounded by fresh herbs in pot in kitchen

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

The plant prescription plan was launched by the Cornbrook Medical Practice in inner-city Hulme, a place where patients do not have much access to green space. Augusta Ward, a medical secretary at Cornbrook, told Metro UK, "Having something to care for brings so many benefits to people – especially for those who may not have a garden or be able to have pets."

Supported by the city’s health commissioners, the concept is a wonderfully holistic way to promote community involvement to improve well-being in the city. Not only do patients get the benefits of having had the plants, but they also forge a connection to the community garden – a place that offers both the benefits of green space as well as social connections.

Evidence-Based Natural Medicine

woman stands at easel painting with houseplants next to her

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

"There’s a lot of evidence now about how two hours a week in a green space can lift mood – and then that too has physical, mental and emotional benefits. That’s something we need to harness." said Dr. Philippa James, a GP from the practice.

Of course, houseplants and a community garden aren't going to solve everyone's anxiety and depression – medication certainly has its place. But for sparking the spirit, it's a great supplement. As Dr. Ruth Bromley from Manchester Health and Care Commissioning, says, "So much of what keeps people happy and well isn’t medical. That’s why ideas like this one are so wonderfully effective."