Nature's therapy


Nature's therapy

The healing potential of flora and fauna


Sunday, March 08, 2020

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FLORA and Fauna, thought to have exerted such powerful impact on the life of humans, were anthropomorphied — as they did with gods and goddesses — among inhabitants of Ancient Rome who tapped into the therapeutic potential plant and animal life had to offer.

That Flora was the twin sister to Fauna in Roman mythology underscored the interconnectedness between plant and animal wildlife in symbiotic richness among humans. Their association with spring time elevated them as figures inspiring growth and youthfulness in the eyes of the ancients, things long associated with health and wellness.

While Flora and Fauna have lost their mythical meaning, they have not lost their therapeutic and health potential.

The body responds positively to good things, especially things rare and new, secreting the pleasure hormone serotonin — a neurotransmitter which acts both as sedative and antidepressant, with direct impact on our mood. And in terms of wildlife, rare and new, Jamaica has a rich slew.

Jamaica: Fifth in the world

March 3 is World Wildlife Day. Who would have thought that our tiny country would rank fifth among islands the world over apropos of rare and endemic wildlife?

With 830 species of flowering plants, 505 species of land snails, 82 species of ferns, 28 species of birds, 27 species of reptiles, and 21 amphibians, Jamaica is a biodiversity hot spot. Not to be overlooked are bats and butterfly species endemic to the island.

Remember, if these figures capture only things endemic, just imagine how greater the number of species and migratory animals are. For example, 305 species of birds have been spotted on the island. What a rewarding pursuit it would be to know and be able to name and interact with some of these birds and plants of wildlife Jamaica.

Do you know the Jamaican Mango? Well, not the fruit, but the bird, known scientifically as the anthracothorax mango, a type of hummingbird. What about the red-billed streamertail or the trochilus polytmus, popularly known as the “doctor bird”, the country's national bird. Do you know the sad flycatcher, the myiarchus barbirostris, otherwise known as Little Tom Fool. What of snakes? Well, seven indigenous species are here. If you should see one slithering by, remember, all are harmless.

Indeed, diverse pleasure can come from watching diverse animals.

Forest bathing

As with animals, Jamaica has rich and rare species in dense forestry, which rewards and invigorates visitors and adventure lovers with phytoncides.

“Phyton”, with its root in Latin, means “plant”, and “cide” means to exterminate.

Plants and vegetation produce them to ward off harmful insects and germs. These airborne chemicals that also guard against rot, reduce stress in humans, according to the Journal of Biological Regulators & Homeostatic Agents in a 2008 research comparing walkers in the city to those in forested areas. The latter, over time, were more relaxed, happier, having lower pressure and lesser of the stress hormone, cortisol.

A forest with its scenic greenery, the soothing sound of a nearby river, brook or gentle stream, and just the natural aroma its plants and flowers provide, is therapy for the human body, a type of 'forest bathing' and natural cleansing — important examples in demonstrating how our health and that of the natural habitat work hand in hand.

Microflora: A 'must-sea'

When last have you taken a swim at sea or allowed the waves to beat against your body in hydraulic massage? Not only is the sea a sanctuary to wondrous and visible animal and plant life, this large body of water is home to a set of microflora known as plankton, specifically, phytoplankton.

They are photosynthetic so they play a big role in the oxygen cycle. With energy from the sun and minerals from the water, these organisms produce half the world's oxygen.

Understandably, a visit to the sea is a visit to a major fountainhead of oxygen — man's lifeline — and minerals, hence why a breath of sea air can feel so clean, refreshing, and revitalising. Make sure a visit to the sea once or twice a year is on your to-do list.

We oftentimes take for granted nature and wildlife at work, despite our dependence on them. As Albert Einstein postulated, humanity would last no more than four years if bees were to disappear from the earth, as 1/3 of the food humans consume is pollinated by insects, 80 per cent of which are bees. Allow nature, therefore, to put a smile on your face, as life wouldn't 'bee' the same without these tiny but great creatures.

See species in their vast and endemic biodiversity right here on Jamaican soil, and appreciate them. A visit to The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (one of the largest migratory bird sites in the Caribbean) and the neighbouring recreation area, Holywell, will be medicine to the eyes. So, too, is the Cockpit Country a great place of biodiversity in motion.

Warrick Lattibeaudiere (PhD), a minister of religion for the past 22 years, lectures full-time in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

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