There’s nothing quite like the magic of getting your Christmas tree up.
The soothing twinkly lights, the festive aroma of pine – there is something innately comforting about the traditional seasonal decoration, and we can’t help but love it.
But did you know there were actual health and wellbeing benefits of having a real Christmas tree in your home?
‘Placing a real tree inside our homes in the depths of winter is like installing our own therapeutic plant pharmacy – a living machine that continues to pump out fragrant health-beneficial chemicals long after it has been cut from the ground,’ says Kim Lahiri, Aromacologist for Trelonk Molecular Wellbeing.
She says this multitude of benefits is the perfect remedy for the stressful, tiring and flu-ridden festive period.
The fragrance from a Christmas tree is found in the terpene and ester families of nature’s chemicals.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants, and esters are chemical compounds.
Christmas trees primarily give off bornyl acetate, and the terpenes alpha and beta-pinene, among others such as limonene, camphene and alpha-phellandrene.
While these compounds provide us with a great fragrance, the Christmas trees themselves can use them in remarkable ways to increase their chances of survival.
While Christmas tree aerosols are advantageous for the tree, they are also extremely beneficial for us, and not just because they smell great.
‘Numerous health benefits have been found to be associated with terpenes and esters that are commonly released by Christmas trees,’ says Kim. ‘These chemicals like alpha-pinene are prevalent throughout the world of essential oils and have been used traditionally for treating various ailments for centuries.
‘Alpha- and beta-pinene are renowned for their antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Alpha-pinene has also been shown to help improve sleep and reduce anxiety. Meanwhile, beta-pinene has properties which alleviate everyday aches and pains.’
The other Christmas tree terpenes, including limonene, camphene and alpha-phellandrene, can also be used to promote human health acting as mood boosters, sedatives, relaxants and alleviators of everyday aches and pains.
The health benefits of the terpenes of Christmas trees, and many other trees, have popularised the idea of forest bathing – the idea that walking through forest air, thick with tree terpene-rich aerosols, can be good for your health.
‘Exposure to health giving plant chemicals is not to be underestimated. These chemicals are highly uplifting, relaxing and supportive to many systems within the human body including our respiratory and nervous systems,’ adds Kim.
Christmas trees prefer cooler weather and so when it’s warm, the trees release these scent molecules into the air as aerosols.
More generally, trees and other plants can also use their myriad of terpenes as signals that are fundamental to survival, such as to communicate defence responses when under stress, or to attract pollinators.
We know that being around nature can be good for our mental and physical health – even a short walk in a green space can have tangible benefits – and Christmas is an opportunity to bring those benefits right into our living rooms.
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