September 21, 2020

EPSTEIN | Herb Your Enthusiasm

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Outside the classroom, with the reduction of organized outdoor activity, many students blessed with some free time are looking to fill the void with new hobbies. For those Cornellians loading up on credits, spending an abundance of time hunched over a computer in our dorms, many are looking for a low-anxiety, low-commitment, screen-free way to unwind. Or maybe you’re just looking for a mental health boost — understandable amidst such an in-flux, crazy year. With all the time we spend indoors, and for all of the reasons above, I’d like to recommend a cheap, surprisingly rewarding, soothing way to destress that has become one of my personal favorite activities and can add to your day in a number of scientifically-proven ways.

All you need are a few seeds, an LED light, some soil in a pot and pH neutral water to get started.

Horticulture is the process of cultivating and tending to one or multiple plants. Starting from germinating a seed, you can grow all types of flora, from basil to cherry tomatoes, and see life develop as you progress through your semester. While we tend to think of gardening in general as an outdoor activity, every part of a successful plant growth can be facilitated from your dorm room. Even in Ithaca winters, harsh as they may be, saplings can thrive alongside your study space, provided they’re near your heater and equipped with the above mentioned basic necessities.

As you can imagine, growing plants can provide sensory benefits, such as the smells and tastes of their produce, but the value in horticulture goes beyond that. It turns out that documented scientific research supports the hypothesis that raising a plant may help alleviate symptoms of conditions that affect many Cornellians yearly such as anxiety, seasonal depression and general depression.

In a study published this past January in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a group of researchers, inspired by the historical, holistic success of using horticulture to alleviate common symptoms of anxiety and depression, sought to evaluate the effectiveness of horticultural therapy in treating sufferers of depression and schizophrenia. HT is described in the study as “the engagement of a client in horticulture activities facilitated by a trained therapist to achieve specific and documented treatment goals.” What the researchers found was as predicted — after being given time to raise a plant from a small sapling, participants from multiple diverse walks of life reported an increase in, “engagement, mental well-being, and sense of meaningfulness and accomplishment.” They cited enjoying emotionally bonding with a plant by caring for it, seeing their plant’s daily progress and eventually partaking in the literal fruit of their labor.

If you’re looking for a more social application of horticulture, you’re in luck. While the study did not directly correlate with an increase in one’s sociability, there are numerous ways to incorporate horticulture into the social sphere. This can take the form of cooperative grows or collaboration by exchanging tips and tricks for different species as you become more experienced. This might also look like a stress-free project within a friend group — sharing responsibility, bonding over caring for a plant and encouraging check-ins with friends during this stressful time for everyone. Additionally, as an added bonus, for anyone looking for some low-stress competition, horticulture is great for friendly rivalries. If  you don’t think that’s feasible, you’ve never experienced the pride of growing a larger strawberry than your frenemy.

So, on Cornell’s oft-dreary campus, there are countless reasons to give horticulture a try. If you have a bit of time, some pocket change and a foot or two of free space, I highly recommend you get growing.

Joshua Dov Epstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, and can be reached at [email protected]. His column, Heterodox, appears every other Tuesday this semester.