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House plants are seeing a resurgence. They're taking over Instagram feeds and are the subject of millennial trend pieces. Their popularity is with good reason: Aside from looking nice and providing a hobby, the benefits of having greenery throughout the house are extensive. They can act as humidifiers, lessening dry skin and coughs caused by dry air. Some studies have indicated that they can serve as a stress reducer. One of the best effects? Houseplants are known to actually clean the air in your home.
Scientists at the University of Washington (UW) may have found an unexpected way to tackle persistent indoor air pollution: a common houseplant modified with rabbit DNA.
Researchers wanted to find a way to remove the toxic compounds chloroform and benzene from the home, a UW press release explained. Chloroform enters the air through chlorinated water and benzene comes from gasoline and enters the home through showers, the boiling of hot water and fumes from cars or other vehicles stored in garages attached to the home. Both have been linked to cancer, but not much has been done to try and remove them. Until now.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brian Barth
Do the planet a favor and skip the roses this year.
Trace the path of a rose back from your local florist to the pesticide-drenched greenhouse in South America from whence it likely came, and you will quickly realize that beautiful red bud has had an outsize role in destroying the planet.
gvl / iStock / Getty Images
By Brian Barth
Old Man Winter limits most of us from gardening year-round. Growing vegetables indoors is impractical without an expensive greenhouse—except for herbs, which grow big enough for a satisfying harvest with minimal space or attention. Pick up a selection in fall before nurseries clear out their stock for winter. And follow these tips to make sure they thrive.
By Reynard Loki
A growing body of research proves that simply being around nature can improve human health and happiness. A month-long 2016 study conducted in the UK by the University of Derby and the Wildlife Trusts found that connecting to nature resulted in a "scientifically significant increase" in health and happiness, the BBC reported.
"Nature isn't a miracle cure for diseases," said Lucy McRobert, Nature Matters campaigns manager for the Wildlife Trusts. "But by interacting with it, spending time in it, experiencing it and appreciating it we can reap the benefits of feeling happier and healthier as a result."
By Andrew Amelinckx
Having a plant or two in your office can really brighten up your space. Studies have found that keeping plants at the office leads to heaps of positive benefits, including increased productivity, better memory retention and reduced stress. But not all of us are born green thumbs.
By Jordan Davidson
We often talk about leaving the world a better place for our children. But our kids are not standing idly by while we wonder how to clean up the mess we've made. Energetic, adept with technology and enthusiastic to create change, kids already have the tools to become stewards of the planet's ecological health. And they are ready to start now.
By Brian Barth
Indoor growing offers many advantages. The biggest benefits are the most obvious: garden pests can't get at your plants, and you have total control over the weather.
Yet unless you're lucky enough to have a solarium or greenhouse attached to your home, providing sufficient light to your plants will likely be an obstacle (shade-tolerant houseplants excepted). South-facing windows may provide enough light for a tray or two of seedlings, but if you want to grow vegetables, or any other sun-loving plants, to maturity, you're going to need grow lights.
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Bringing a bit of nature into your home does more than brighten the atmosphere. Introducing houseplants into various rooms in the house can help reduce the chance of getting seasonal sicknesses (such as the common cold), remove airborne contaminants (volatile organic compounds or VOCs), reduce the chance of headaches, lift your mood, decrease your blood pressure, reduce allergies, improve sleep and much more.
Golden pothos. Photo credit: Shutterstock
The 20 plants listed below are specifically known for their air purifying properties. And while an open window may feel like all the fresh air you need, did you know that everything from toilet paper to common household cleaners can contain chemicals and release toxins like formaldehyde? Or that VOCs like benzene can be released into the air by everything from the paint on your walls, to the printed material found in your home?
So why not breathe a bit easier and enjoy the beauty of a new houseplant at the same time.
(All plants listed will clear CO2 and may clear more VOCs than noted).
1. Golden pothos (Scindapsus aures): Clears formaldehyde and other VOCs.
2. Ficus alii (Ficus maeleilandii alii): Good general air purifier.
3. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum): Clears benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene.
4. Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa): Good general air purifier.
5. Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’): Clears formaldehyde.
6. Aloe: Clears formaldehyde and benzene.
7. Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis): Clears formaldehyde.
8. Dwarf / Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii): Clears formaldehyde and xylene.
9. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum ‘Deborah’): Clears air pollutants and toxins.
10. Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium): Clears benzene.
Gerber daisy. Photo credit: Shutterstock
11. Gerber daisy (Gerbera jamesonii): Clears trichloroethylene and benzene.
12. Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata): Clears xylene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde.
13. Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina): Clears formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene
14. English ivy (Hedera helix): Clears airborne fecal-matter particles.
15. Azalea (Rhododendron simsii): Clears formaldehyde.
Heart leaf philodendron. Photo credit: Shutterstock
16. Heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium): Clears formaldehyde and many other air pollutants.
17. Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’): Clears pollutants such as those associated with varnishes and oils.
18. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata Bostoniensis): Clears formaldehyde.
19. Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii): Clears benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde.
20. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum): Clears formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, toluene and xylene.
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While your home may feel like the safest place you could be, the air may contain a number of indoor air pollutants that can cause respiratory problems like asthma, or even diseases like lung cancer.
Here are six of the most common air pollutants found in homes and ways to reduce or eliminate them.
1. Dust Mites
Dust mites are microscopic insects that are commonly found living among humans in bedding, upholstery, mattresses, curtains and carpets. They prefer warm, humid environments and can multiply easily in these conditions. A relative of the spider, dust mites feed on organic detritus, like flakes of human skin. Worldwide, they are a common cause of asthma and allergic rhinitis. Not only is it extremely difficult to see them with the naked eye (an adult mite is about two to four times the diameter of a shaft of human hair), it is difficult to completely rid your home of the ubiquitous mites, but you can reduce their population.
North American house dust mite. Photo credit: FDA / Wikimedia Commons
First, try to keep the humidity inside your home to less than 50 percent. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help. Protect your bed by covering it with allergen-resistant covers. Make sure you wash your sheets and blankets regularly in hot water. You can also put beddings, removable upholstery and curtains in a hot tumble dryer for 20 minutes to kill them. And don't give mites a place to hide and breed: keep your home as dust-, dander- and clutter-free as possible. Regular vacuuming is a must.
People have varying sensitivities to mold, a type of fungi that grows in warm, damp, humid environments. Some symptoms from exposure to mold include eye and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing and nasal congestion. Severe reactions include shortness of breath and fever. People with chronic lung illnesses may even develop mold infection in their lungs. Inside your home, the best places to check for mold are damp and moist environments, such as basements, showers, kitchens and houseplants.
Excess moisture is generally the cause of indoor mold growth. Photo credit: Shutterstock
To clean up mold, you can use soap and water or a bleach solution of one cup laundry bleach to one gallon of water. If you are using bleach, open windows to make sure fresh air is getting inside and protect yourself by wearing gloves and protective eyewear. Also make sure never to mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners, as that will create toxic fumes. When cleaning your bathroom, choose products that contain mold-killing agents. Don't use carpeting in basements and bathrooms, as it can retain moisture. And don't keep firewood indoors, as it can harbor mold. Also, check the soil of your houseplants regularly and replant any plants that have mold growing on the soil. But don't get rid of plants; houseplants can help filter and clean the air.
3. Pet Dander
Pet dander is composed of tiny and even microscopic flecks of skin shed by dogs, cats, rodents, birds and other common pets with fur or feathers that can trigger allergic reactions in some people. According to the American Lung Assocation, about twice as many people report allergies to cats than to dogs.
Keeping your pet's skin clean and healthy reduces dander. Photo credit: Dave Harrison / Flickr
If you have pets and suspect that you or someone in your home is allergic to dander, keep your pets out of the bedroom. Don't allow them on upholstered furniture and get rid of rugs or carpeting, which can retain dander. Keep your home clean by regular vacuuming and brush your pet regularly to remove loose dander and bathe them regularly to keep their skin healthy, as healthy skin that is not dry or irritated sheds less dead skin cells. If you're thinking about getting a dog, consider a smaller dog who will shed less dander. Also, feed your pet high-quality food that has a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These oils will help keep your pet's skin healthy and keep your vet bills down.
Radon is an odorless, tasteless and invisible naturally occurring radioactive gas that is formed by the decay or uranium in rock, soil and water. Once produced, it moves through the ground and into the air. Found in all 50 states, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide, after smoking. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. are radon-related. According to the National Safety Council, "Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime."
Radon can enter your home through numerous ways. Photo credit: Portlandoregon.gov
There is an ongoing concern that granite kitchen countertops emit radon at potentially harmful levels. According to the EPA, most of the radon found in indoor air comes from the soil underneath the home.
According to the Kansas State University National Radon Program Services, one out of 15 homes nationally—about six percent—may have elevated indoor radon levels that should be lower. To test your home for radon levels, visit the U.S. EPA website.
Secondhand smoke from cigarettes is deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds of toxins, about 70 of which can cause cancer. Secondhand smoke is very harmful to children, who can experience ear infections, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia, and a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome. It's bad for adult as well. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, secondhand smoke caused nearly 34,000 heart disease deaths each year from 2005–2009 among adult nonsmokers in the United States.
The only way to fully protect your home from this health hazard is to eliminate smoking in your home. If visitors would like to smoke, ask them to step outside. If you're a smoker and have children at home, don't smoke indoors and don't smoke near them when you're outside the home.
6. Household Cleaners
Ordinary household cleaners emit a wide array of harmful chemicals, such as chlorine, ammonia, phthalates and triclosan. You can easily avoid exposure to these toxins by avoiding over-the-counter cleaning products. Instead, choose DIY natural non-toxic cleaning solutions, such as lemon, olive oil, white vinegar, baking soda and club soda.
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It’s ironic but true. Even though more than two thirds of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight or obese and this percentage is on the rise, at the same time many of us are undernourished. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that a large number of adults in the U.S. are not obtaining sufficient amounts of seven vital nutrients: calcium, magnesium, potassium, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E. The good news, though, is that you don’t have to spend money on fancy supplements.
Here are “7 for 7″—seven easily obtainable, inexpensive foods that are great sources for these seven missing dietary components.
1. Spinach: Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin E
Leafy greens are great for your health and spinach is packed with nutritional goodies. In fact, one cup of cooked spinach offers up a substantial amount of all seven nutrients that are commonly lacking, including close to 400 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin A and 24 percent of the calcium you need (a nice amount of the latter for one single serving of a vegan-friendly food). It is best lightly steamed or sautéed, to reduce its oxalic acid.
2. Beans: Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium and Fiber
“Beans, beans, the musical fruit … ” the kids at my school used to love to chant. And legumes such as soybeans (organic, non-GMO, if possible) and small white beans are indeed something to sing about, with abundant calcium, potassium, magnesium and fiber. To reduce their “toot,” soak your beans for eight hours or overnight before cooking, if possible. The soaking water will absorb some of the complex sugars that lead to gassiness. (I pour it onto my houseplants, which seem to digest it better than my human guests can.)
3. Buckwheat: Magnesium, Potassium and Fiber
Buckwheat, despite its name, is not a form of wheat. In fact, it isn’t a grain at all, but rather the seed of a flowering plant related to rhubarb, making it gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease. What buckwheat does contain is a huge helping of magnesium—1 cup offers a whopping 98 percent of the required dietary allowance. It also provides 17 grams (68 percent of your RDA) of fiber, as well as 22 percent of your potassium requirements.
4. Cantaloupe: Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Fiber
More than a colorful, refreshing appetizer—or dessert—cantaloupe has a high level of nutrition in proportion to its low calorie count and ease of preparation. Look to this orange-fleshed melon to replenish your stores of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
5. Sweet Potato: Vitamin A and C, Potassium and Fiber
No need to pretty up sweet potatoes with marshmallows, canned pineapple or even the traditional cup or two of brown sugar. This super veggie not only is full of nutrients (vitamin A and C plus potassium) and fiber, it’s also naturally sweet. Just scrub and bake, then cool for a minute or two on your tile countertop before digging in—no added ingredients required for a delicious, creamy side dish.
6. Low-Fat Dairy: Calcium and Potassium
Low-fat dairy products, especially nonfat or low-fat yogurt and low-fat milk, are a readily available, abundant source of both calcium and potassium. Consume as is or mix them into sauces and other preparations.
7. Nuts and Seeds: Magnesium and Vitamin E
Nuts and seeds make a tasty garnish or in-between-meal food that satisfies your need for a crunch. They’re not just empty calories, either, but instead supply healthy amounts of magnesium and vitamin E. Their main drawback? A high proportion of (unsaturated) fat, so munch in moderation.
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Maybe you're lying on your couch right now, flipping through seed catalogs and wondering when the guy who plows your driveway is going to arrive. You close your eyes and recall what it was like in July when your vegetable plot was at peak production. You may have some pots of herbs—rosemary, sage, chives or oregano—in a sunny south-facing window, available to pluck and drop into that hearty stew or hot stew or even a planter of salad greens, one of the easiest things to grow indoors.
But how nice would it be to have a little indoor farm, full of the types of healthy plant foods you spoil yourself with in the summer? You might even be tempted to eat a little better, reaching for a veggie bursting with vitamins and minerals instead of a bowl of macaroni and cheese. With a little loving care you can have a variety of fresh produce as close as your front room. Some of these will require taking the next step up to grow lights even if you have sunny windows—some require longer daylight hours than you'll have in February. But you don't have to buy an expensive system. A trip to the hardware store will get you what you need— some full-range fluorescent lamps and inexpensive holders and stands should do it.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
1. Radishes are easy to grow from seed and provide quick gratification, with some varieties ready to harvest in as little as a month, the longest taking about two months. That's why they're often used in classrooms to demonstrate to children how vegetables are grown. They don't require particularly deep soil but it should be well-drained. And these days, radish seed is available in a profusion of colors and shapes that make the plain old round, red ones look ordinary. Experiment with white, purple, green, black and even multicolored ones.
2. Carrots can require a very deep planter because they have such long roots, and they need a soil loose enough to burrow through. But you can make it easier to grow them by choosing a shorter, fatter variety and or smaller type that requires less depth to grow. Try a baby carrot variety like Caracas that only grows to around 3 or 4 inches or the round Atlas that looks sort of like an orange radish. Baby varieties are quick growers too, usually maturing in less than two months.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
3. Since mushrooms like cool, dark, moist places, they're ideal to grow inside in the winter. You don't have to worry about limited daylight, and they'll love it in your basement. The easiest way to grow them is to purchase a kit that has everything you need. It will have the correct growing medium for the type of mushroom spawn—the equivalent of seed—it contains. You just follow the directions, doing little more than keeping it watered. Since you'll have mushrooms in a couple of weeks, this is another fun project for impatient kids.
4. Scallions aka green onions can be grown right from the bunch you bought at the supermarket. Take the bottoms—the white bulb part—and bunch them together with a tie or a rubber band and just put them in a glass with about an inch of water. Change the water daily and a little more than a week when new shoots start to appear, plant them in a pot of soil. You can cut as much of the green shoots as you need while they continue to grow.
5. Many garden centers and plant catalogs sell dwarf citrus trees like lemon, lime and tangerine trees in pots, ready to set out on your porch or patio in the summer or in a sunny alcove in your house in the winter to fill your house with their bright, tart fragrances. Think of them as large houseplants, ranging in size from 3 to 4 feet wide and tall. They'll need as much light as possible, and if you want fruit immediately, buy a plant that's already a couple of years old. You can enjoy their tropical fruit all winter.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
6. Tumeric and ginger are two plants whose underground rhizomes are harvested for their superfood health-giving properties, almost too numerous to mention. Both can flourish indoors in pots and, like the citrus plants, be put outside in the summer. You can start to grow them by planting a store-bought chunk of rhizome that has growth buds on it. They like it warm and moist and can be started indoors or out, but won't survive in harsh winter conditions. Both are also available as plants from more cutting-edge garden centers.
7. Tomatoes are a little more challenging to grow indoors than some of these other things, but eating a fresh tomato in the middle of the winter is like having a burst of summer in your mouth. Go with a small-fruited variety—a grape, pear or cherry type that sets its fruit more quickly than the bigger ones. They will need large pots and lots of daylight—this is where grow lights become essential with two lights per plant. Turn them on and off to simulate daylight conditions in the summer when they're at their peak. Sure, it's a little extra trouble, but the result is surely worth it.
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Live in an apartment or condo and think you can't compost because you don't have a large backyard?
It is possible—and fairly easy—to compost indoors. If properly managed, a compost bin won't attract pests or rodents or smell bad.
Food scraps and yard waste make up 20 percent to 30 percent of what we throw away and are the largest category of municipal solid waste going into landfills and incinerators, says the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Food scraps in landfills take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
In 2011, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 4 percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.
Composting your food scraps keeps these materials out of landfills. At the end of several weeks (and with the help of some red wiggler worms), you will have compost, a rich organic material that can be added to soil to help your houseplants grow, improve your vegetable garden, or make your lawn greener.
Here is some help on composting indoors from Sustainable America:
Visit EcoWatch’s TIPS page for more related news on this topic.