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Breathe in ... easily: see what some plants here and essential oils there can do for your indoor air with Jackie Tripp.


Spring has arrived, and it's time to open the windows and take in a big breath of that fresh, crisp springtime air! But, what about the air we're breathing when the windows aren't open wide? Is it fresh and clean like the new season or more like a smoggy winter day?

The most efficient way that humans can purify the indoor air around them is to eliminate and replace sources of contaminants, such as chemical household products, like cleaners, paint, deodorizers and nail polish, along with building materials and furnishings. [For more information on indoor air and contaminants, see our feature on page 18.] Even common household dust contains everything from tiny pieces of wood to mold spores and plastic that we may breathe in on a daily basis. Not exactly the stuff of spring.

But, don't worry'. If replacing everything potentially toxic in your home at once isn't a choice, you've got other options: plants.

The plant kingdom is a natural solution to indoor air pollution. Through photosynthesis, plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen in its place. They do this by absorbing gas and chemical compounds through microscopic leaf openings called stomata. From there, the plant breaks down the chemical or gas and sends it down to its roots. Symbiotic microbes that inhabit the root systems of plants can use these toxic gases and chemicals as food. Plant soils and leaves also emit large amounts of water vapor, which helps keep indoor air humidified

Soil bacteria also absorb toxins through a process called transpiration. Water vapor is emitted from the plant's leaves and then circulates out into the atmosphere and down, pulling pollutants into the soil. For examples of good indoor air-clearing plants, see the sidebar at right.

Essential oils (EOs) from plants are also a way to reduce airborne toxins while improving the body's natural defenses against them at the same time.

Many essential oils are antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, thus preventing and eliminating the spread of airborne viruses like the common cold and flu.

An essential oil diffuser, which can be found online and at holistic retailers, works best to diffuse the oils. Other methods of diffusing your favorite aromas are aromatherapy lamps that bum slowly with a tea candle, putting a few drops in your vacuum filter (HEPA filters trap dust without spreading it around), or even just sprinkling a few drops in a pot of boiling water.

Creating a personal air spritzer to your liking is a fun and easy way to familiarize yourself with what blends work best for your home. To make an air spritzer, add anywhere from five to ten drops each of your favorite essential oils and blends to a one-ounce bottle with one part of isopropyl alcohol, vodka or brandy and three parts rose water.

Some caution is advised when using essential oils, however. While they are all natural, certain EOs can be toxic if used incorrectly or in excess.

For more information about plants and oils discussed in this article and the benefits of EOs, be sure to check out Naturally Clean Home by Jeffery Holder, Clean House, Clean Planet by Karen Logan, and the Complete Aromatherapy Handbook by Susanne Fischer.


Here are some of my personal favorites for cleaning and purifying your indoor air. Try diffusing them one at a time at first until you get a feel for which ones blended together meet your home's personal needs.

Thyme ... kills airborne bacteria

Eucalyptus ... two percent diffused will eliminate up to 70 percent of the staph virus

Sage ... refreshes a room

Lemon ... uplifting

Peppermint ... very stimulating

Lemongrass ... antiviral

Frankincense ... meditative

Lavender ... calming, antiviral

Pine ... antiviral

Rosemary ... helps with upper respiratory tract infections, stimulating

To deodorize a room, place a bowl of baking soda with five to ten drops of EOs in a corner of a room. The baking soda will absorb odor from the air.


Want to bring the outdoors in? These plants do double duty, mixing fashion and function.

Chrysanthemums ... help capture toxins from new paint

Spider plants ... help control formaldehyde and offgassing

Azaleas ... help control offgassing

English ivy ... and spider plants help to eliminate fumes from oil, gas and carbon monoxide

Boston fern, lady palm, bamboo palm, peace lily, corn, weeping fig and florists mum ... plant allies ready to help you breathe

Jackie Tripp is a certified clinical herbalist and a graduate of the North Carolina School of Holistic Herbalism and the Mountain Spirit School of Herbalism, with focuses in clinical herbalism, product development and advanced herbal science. She offers eco-friendly cleaning to the Asheville area with her business Azure Essence and is available for herbal consultations; she can be reached at 828-545-1829.
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Title Annotation:herbal healing
Author:Tripp, Jackie
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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