A peaceful looking woman smiles in a room full of plants
(Image credit: Jacob Wackerhausen)

Some adventures in nature leave you feeling relaxed and peaceful. Think of a walk in a forest or gathering wildflowers for a bouquet. But did you know interaction with your own plants can also be calming and even improve your mental health?

Why Are Plants Good for Mental Health?

Nobody is surprised to hear that activities intended to increase mindfulness contribute to good mental health. Think meditation or yoga. And caring for plants falls into the same category. Yes, plants are good for mental health.

While nurturing plants is fun and rewarding, as an activity, it requires a focus on the moment that is the definition of mindfulness. While you are repotting your cactus, it’s almost impossible to obsess about that problem at the office.

There is something innately mindful about caring for a garden or houseplants. They can positively impact most of our senses with their beauty, fragrance and soft petals and leaves. It’s a little like caring for a pet in that the focus of attention becomes another living being instead of oneself.

Plants Make Life Better in Other Ways Too

It’s no secret that plants are good for you. In fact, a bacteria in soil is said to cause the release of serotonin, a real mood lifter. And some scientists believe that plant care can even increase a person’s attention span.

Best Plants for Mental Health

Do some plants have more of an impact on mental health than others? Not necessarily. Plants do not soothe our anxieties because of their petal content or leaf size. Rather, it is the gardener’s involvement with the plant that results in a lowering of stress and greater joy in the moment.

Obviously, any plants you particularly love are likely to make you happier or at least happy faster than unfamiliar plants. It’s hard to tend to a plant day after day without starting to care about it. If you are just starting out with plant care, consider low-maintenance plants first, since these will continue to thrive even if you are still learning the ropes. Here are a few of our best suggestions.


Flowering plants are especially festive, so if your inclination is to acquire shrubs and houseplants that blossom, don’t hesitate. Depending on your choices, flowering plants can offer powerful fragrances that add an extra layer of attraction. Lavender, for example, produces gorgeous purple flowers and a strong, entrancing scent, and it is said to be excellent for creating a calm and serene atmosphere. Once established, lavender requires little maintenance to thrive.

Other low-care flowering plants include the African violet and the peace lily.


Nobody who has walked in a redwood forest will deny the impact these trees have on your state of mind. Their incredible size, longevity, and grandeur astound even the most hardened heart. However, redwoods don’t make good houseplants, nor do they do well outside of their range in the Pacific northwest, so look for something smaller. A rubber tree, or any other type of small ficus tree, are excellent options and small enough to become part of the household. Eucalyptus trees are easy-care and their leaves are extremely aromatic.


Any houseplant can contribute to your peace of mind and serenity if you take care of it. Concentrating on the act of watering, repotting, or even pruning keeps your mind far from the potential problems tomorrow may bring. Excellent, easy-care houseplants include the jade succulent plant, aloe vera, pothos, or spider plants. This latter choice is particularly entrancing since it grows its babies on long stalks.


Herbs are not regulated by government authorities like medicines are, yet they are used for medicinal purposes, some to treat mental issues like depression or insomnia for example. Planting an herb garden, whether indoors or out, is a delightful endeavor and can offer plants that play a role as medicine as well. St. John’s wort is a popular herb used for depression. Studies have shown that it has a positive effect in treating mild to moderate depression. Both saffron and chamomile are also used to treat depression, but additional studies are needed on both.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.