How to beat flu this winter with houseplants

How to beat flu this winter with houseplants

We love plants because they make us happy – and they’re cute and green and sometimes furry…

But they don’t just stand around looking pretty. They’re hard at work purifying our air and providing us with the oxygen we need to keep healthy.

Numerous studies have proven that adding plants to the office decreases fatigue, colds, headaches, coughs, sore throats and flu-like symptoms.

How to beat flu this winter

The science behind it all:

Let’s go back in time, before humans roamed the earth…to when it all started with a Big Bang!

I never knew this, but apparently during the first few billion years on earth there was no oxygen! Until a tiny green algae called cyanobacteria evolved and flooded the planet with O2. Plant life evolved, furthering the spread of oxygen until there was enough to support abundant animal life.

But scientists from Princeton University found that atmospheric oxygen levels have dropped by 0.7 % over the past 800,000 years. The researchers looked at air trapped in ancient polar ice samples (untouched by human development), and found that this trapped air contained much more oxygen content.

As the population and carbon emissions grow, we’re consuming a thousand times more oxygen than before, says Daniel Stolper, Geochemistat researcher at Princeton (side note* not quite sure what a Geochemistat is, but sounds super brainy!).

What oxygen we do have is increasingly polluted. And polluted air is exactly where germs thrive!

how houseplants can clean the air

The facts

Julie Morrissey, a University of Leicester biologist studied the effect of air pollution on bacteria.

She applied black carbon, a major component of air pollution, to bacterial colonies of Streptococcus neumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus. These microbes often live quite peacefully in humans, but can also go rogue: They are known for their roles in bacterial pneumonia and dangerous skin infections.

What Julie found was that with the added carbon, the bacteria mutated and assembled themselves into fortress-like structures called biofilms, with greater resistance to antibiotics.

The team then mixed black carbon and S. pneumoniae, which is the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), bacterial meningitis and sinusitis, and placed them in the noses of mice. Over the course of a few days the bacteria spread down to the lungs. Conversely, in the mice that did not have the carbon, the bacteria did not spread.

“What’s happening is we’re increasing the bacteria’s ability to colonise ... and making them able to protect themselves better,” Julie Morrissey says.

How plants can kill germs

Plants are proven to help

  • Plants remove pollutants from the air – up to 87% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours, according to NASA research. Modern climate-controlled, air-tight buildings trap VOCs inside. The NASA research found that plants pull the contaminants into the soil, where micro-organisms convert VOCs into food for the plant.

  • Viruses don’t like high humidity. Plants effectively increase humidity in the room through transpiration. Research suggests when humidity hits above 40%, it's able to greatly reduce the virulence and infectivity of the flu virus. 


    • Plants with larger leaves, like the Philodendron Rojo Congo and Fiddle Leaf Fig, transmit more oxygen & create greater humidity in the air.

    • Group plants together for maximum effect. Due to their closeness to each other, the humidity levels increase around the plants and help raise moisture in the air.

    • It’s recommended to have one large plant every 11m², or 15-18 small to medium plants for a 167m² interior.

Benefits of plants in the bedroom

I really believe in the healing power of houseplants. I used to work in a corporate environment and got flu at least three times a year. I was always prone to coughs and chest infections. In the past two and a half years, since my foray into the plant world, I haven’t been sick once. The only thing that has changed in my lifestyle that I can think of is that I’m not in an air-conditioned environment, and my office is full of plants. I haven’t changed my diet, or exercise habits, or vitamin intake…just being around plants and good air.

Carolyn Ashmore, founder of The Atrium