Think of Christmas, and what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s turkey and other Christmas food, or maybe it’s going shopping for presents. For me, it’s the delicious smell of a real tree, permeating through the house, and taking pleasure in slowly decorating said tree with a glass of Baileys in one hand and a pretty bauble in the other. OK, so that sounds like a fairly chilled night, but who knew that having a real Christmas tree in the house is in fact good for your health?
When I was a kid, most people put their Christmas decorations up no earlier than a week before Christmas – in fact, several people I knew put up their tree on Christmas Eve. It seems though that the more commercial Christmas has become, the longer the time it is occupying in our lives. It’s common to see decorations going up in people’s homes at the very start of December these days.
If you favour this extended Christmas presence in your life, does that mean you’ve traded in the joys of a real tree for a more ‘convenient’ artificial one? Perhaps you’re thinking that vacuuming pine needles for a month sounds like too much work?
Benefits Of A Real Christmas Tree Versus An Artificial Tree
I suggest though that you’d be mistaken to assume that the benefits of an artificial tree outweigh those of a real one.
The Cost Of A Real Tree Versus An Artificial One
Provided you water it, the needle drop on a rooted tree will be much less than on a cut tree. Buy a tree with roots and it grows along with your kids. You can simply repot it as necessary, which will save you money over the years since you can use the same tree until it gets too big to fit back in your living room. And then you start again with another tree and plant the first one out.
A Family Bonding Experience
Choosing the tree is part of the fun of Christmas – it’s such a lovely experience for kids too. I remember an incident very clearly of one year when we went to get a tree – cut, not rooted that particular time.
I would have been around 12 years old, and my brother one year younger. We were so happy and excited about going to get that tree. We took ages looking at several different ones, examining their shape and needle type. We eventually choose ‘the one’, popped it in the trailer and started off for home.
Our mother told us to keep an eye on the tree, to make sure it stayed in the trailer during the 30 minute journey back to the house (yes, you can probably see where this is going…). My brother and I looked at it a few times to start with, but soon we were playing and merrily forgot our tree-watching responsibilities.
Of course, you probably guessed that somewhere on the way back home, through those windy, country lanes, the tree disappeared from the trailer. For sure, the more sensible readers will be thinking ‘why didn’t you just tie it to the trailer?’ And that would have been the obvious thing to have done. But it never happened, so we had to go right back to the tree farm and get another tree.
I remember that day very clearly though. For me it was an adventure, a great family day out. You don’t get that with artificial trees.
Don’t Leave Buying Your Tree Til The Last Minute
As long as you don’t leave it until the last minute, you can buy a real tree, in a pot, with its rootball, for very little money. Why do I say don’t leave it til the last minute?
I spent the last 14 years living abroad in a hot country, and I didn’t celebrate Christmas – it just didn’t feel ‘Christmassy’ when I was eating BBQ in 40 degree heat. Now I’m back living in the UK, my Christmas consciousness kicked in again…
So a week before Christmas I went to get a tree – a real, gorgeous-smelling pine tree. This was a whole week before Christmas, perfect timing I thought. Nope. I am officially really behind the times. There wasn’t one single rooted Christmas tree left. They’d sold out, days before.
Buy A Rooted Tree At The Start Of December
Lesson learned: next year I will go and buy a rooted tree at the start of December. I might choose to leave it outside until a week before Christmas, since otherwise I fear I’ll be sick of Christmas before I’ve bought and wrapped a single present.
But I will be prepared, which I was not this year. So what did I do, faced with no rootball trees? I bought a cut tree.
However, a cut tree is still an improvement on an artificial tree, by a long shot.
Why Should I Buy A Real Christmas Tree?
Jacksons Nurseries sums up an artificial tree pretty well: “The first artificial Christmas trees were made in the 1930s by a company called Addis Brush which was a manufacturer of toilet scrubbers and brushes, which unfortunately doesn’t make for quite as nice a lasting memory of early family Christmases together.” Good point.
Artificial Trees: The Downside
Most artificial trees just don’t look real. You have to spend a lot of money to get something that resembles an actual tree. Even then though, consider what artificial trees are made of: nasty chemicals that continue to release their toxic content into the air. We are literally filling our homes with toxic Christmas Spirit. Personally I prefer Christmas Spirit of a very different nature.
Also, artificial trees become increasingly dusty with continued use and attic storage, and they are very hard to clean.
Real Christmas Tree Health Benefits
However, for me there is an even more compelling reason for getting a real Christmas tree rather than an artificial one: real Christmas trees are good for your health!
Phytoncides: The Health Benefits of Real Christmas Trees
Phytoncides are “the natural oils within a plant and are part of a tree’s defense system” (Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku). Whilst trees use phytoncides to protect themselves from threats such as bacteria, insects and fungi, studies have shown that phytoncides are really good for humans too.
You could be forgiven for thinking that tree huggers and aromatherapists were ‘simply’ hippies. They may well be hippies too, but they are also right in believing that nature is good for us.
It turns out that evergreen trees like pines, furs and spruces are excellent phytoncide producers. And since most real Christmas trees are one of these types, you are introducing fabulous, health promoting substances into your home when you choose a real tree over an artificial one – in other words, exactly the opposite of what happens when you have an artificial one.
A Real Christmas Tree Can Help You To Relax
Dr Qing Li, who carried out many studies on the health benefits of phytoncides on humans, lists different characteristics of certain evergreens:
- Scott’s Pine: herby, fresh, piney smell, used by aromatherapists to ease mental and physical fatigue
- Spruce – similar to pine but earthier, used for its grounding effect
- Douglas Fir – intense citrus fragrance, the essential oil is used to help relaxation – a great ‘meditation’ tree!
Exposure to phytoncides
Studies have shown that exposure to phytoncides:
- significantly increases the numbers of Natural Killer (NK) cells and NK activity (NK cells fight against viral infections and are a part of our immune system)
- enhances the activity of anti-cancer proteins
- significantly decreases the levels of stress hormones
- increases sleep time
- decreases tension, anxiety, anger, hostility, fatigue and confusion
- significantly lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- balances the nervous system
- makes you feel comfortable and relaxed
Ref: Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku
Ok, so we’ve established that real trees are directly good for our health, but don’t forget that indirectly they further benefit our health by being good for the environment.
Real Trees Are Great For The Environment
- Since Christmas tree growers replant every year, they are not stripping the planet of its trees at all
- Real xmas trees are totally biodegradable, unlike plastic ones.
- Just one real Christmas tree absorbs up to 1 ton of carbon dioxide during its life time, and a whole acre of them provides enough oxygen for 18 people every single day.
- Growing Christmas Trees helps to stabilise the soil
- Real trees provide home and shelter for wildlife
- Christmas Trees can often be grown on poor or rocky soil that can’t be used to grow other crops. (ref)
How To Minimise Needle Drop On A Real Christmas Tree
Nobody likes housework, least of all me. Still, give me a real tree and a real log fire any day – the extra effort that both require are well worth it for the benefits. So to minimise the additional vacuuming when we have a real tree, what can we do?
- Choose a tree variety with minimum needle loss, such as a Nordmann Fir
- Don’t put the tree near a radiator, fire or heater
- Water it regularly
How To Dispose Of A Real Christmas Tree
If it has a rootball, you have 2 options: either just plant it in the garden, or re-pot it in a larger pot to use it again next year. If you’re planting it in the garden, consider its branch spread and put it in a place where it will have space to grow in the future. Bear in mind that pine trees can get pretty big!
If you bought a cut tree, contact your local council and enquire about their Christmas tree collection service – many have a free collection service after Christmas.
If you have a chipper, chop the branches off your tree and put them through the chipper to use it as mulch in the garden. The trunk will most likely be too big for the chipper, so don’t try that! If you don’t have a chipping machine, but you do have room in your garden, leave the tree in the compost area of the garden and break it up in the spring.
Oh, and if you’re feeling crafty (the DIY variety, not devious…) you can use the dried needles in pot-pourri or make fragrant eye pillows with them. You see, your real Christmas tree is a gift that keeps on giving…
Real Christmas trees are good for your health. Not only do real Christmas Trees have health benefits for us, they’re also better for the environment. Plus, they’re not half as much hassle as you might think. Have I convinced you yet to dispose carefully of that toxic bundle you have stored up in the attic…?