This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Read before the Alumni of the Auxiliary Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, February 6, 1880.
(Concluded from page 297).
Deeming it necessary that the experimental data should receive supporting evidence of an unequivocal character before the efficacy of plants in the treatment of this disease would be firmly established, the writer opened a correspondence with some prominent practitioners, besides making inquiries of those with whom he came in contact, soliciting a brief statement of their observations in regard to the effects of plants on the sick.* The almost unvarying response has been in about the following terms: " I cannot help you, for my attention has never been directed to the points in question." A notable exception is the letter of my friend Dr. Hiram Corson, of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. This letter I have already published in a previous article, but the great interest of the case described will be ample apology for inserting an extract from it here. He writes, " My mother her two sisters, and only brother all died of consumption, under fifty years of age. All the children of my mother's sisters and brother, though they lived to a good age and enjoyed good health, finally died of consumption. On my father's side there was not a taint of any disease, but great strength and vigor.
Three of my brothers, active, energetic men until within a few years of their death, died of consumption at the ages of fifty-five, fifty-seven and seventy-eight respectively; and a sister died of the same disease at sixty-six. I mention these cases to show that the germs of the disease were with the family. Thirty years ago my eldest sister, then above fifty years of age, was reported by her physician, Dr. J. P., a victim of tubercular consumption, to which disease she would succumb before the coming summer. She was a lover of plants and flowers, and cultivated them in-doors and out. The spring saw her again moving among her plants, and the winter found her confined to the house, and sometimes for weeks to her bed-chamber, which, like the sitting-room, was literally a greenhouse. Visitors and friends often spoke to her of the impropriety of having so many growing plants in her room, reminding her of the tradition that they were injurious. Still, every spring found her again on her feet, in the yard and garden, nursing her plants, and every winter confined to her room. And thus she lived, year after year, until two years ago, when, at the age of eighty-five, she passed away.
I have seen a few others with plants growing and blooming in their chambers, but never one who so lived among them as did my sister. Winter after winter we looked for her death, the cough, expectoration, and weakness justifying our apprehensions, and yet her eighty fifth year found her cheerful and happy, living among her plants and enjoying the society of her friends. May we not believe that the vast exhalation from these plants - water purified and medicated by their vital chemistry - prolonged her life?"
*The writer would still be grateful for any interesting information upon this subject, for without aid it would be almost impossible either to establish the position taken or to correct temporary conclusions, and he wishes to make a further study of the subject. Address 1638 North Eighth street, Philadelphia.
Finding that most of my correspondence yielded but barren results, I determined to avail myself of non-professional experience; and accordingly, I began visiting the gardeners and florists of Philadelphia, requesting answers to a list of questions bearing on this subject. Only a brief summary of the results obtained can be here given. Thirty florists have already been visited in this way.
Twenty of these, with ages ranging from twenty-five to eighty years, are strong and vigorous, and have always enjoyed good health. They all work from ten to sixteen hours daily, and have followed this pursuit for periods ranging from six to sixty years.†
Of the remaining number, four are occasionally attacked with rheumatism of mild type, ascribing their symptoms, and doubtless justly, to wettings, the result of carelessness while watering the plants, or from contact with the wet leaves.
One of the gardeners, a boy, aged fourteen, has been at this occupation for a year, working steadily ten hours daily. Prior to taking up his present employment he had been working at the drug business for a year. While thus engaged his health failed considerably, and he became pale and emaciated. He had never been strong previously, though not to say diseased. No sooner had he adopted his present avocation than he began to improve in vigor, and now he is the picture of robust health.
Another florist, aged thirty-one, says that prior to going into the business he had " weak eyes," but that as soon as he became a florist, eight years ago, his eyes began to improve, and in a few years entirely recovered.
Still another of the remaining ones has been subject to severe colds since he has been working among plants, but he admits that he has been exceedingly indiscreet about clothing, etc., in going from the hot-house to the outer air.
Mr. W., aged thirty-five, has been in the business for twenty years, and is among his plants at least ten hours daily. Phthisis is hereditary in his father's family, and my informant himself (Mr. W.) has long since been pronounced a consumptive by his physician. He states, however, that he has always had good health, except simply the annoyance of a slight cough and a little expectoration occasionally. He is still nursing his plants and enjoying life.
This gentleman kindly related to me a brief history of his deceased brother, and also that of their father, likewise deceased; and, for the sake of convenience, I have classed them among those whose histories I obtained directly.
The brother died at the age of thirty-six years. He was engaged in gardening from boyhood up to within a year of his death, - continually at work among his plants. During all the time he followed this vocation he enjoyed fair health.
† The histories of three of these subjects have been furnished through the kindness of Professor J. T. Rothrock, to whom my wants had been made known.
A short time prior to his death he forsook his calling and took a store in the same city, and almost simultaneously he became a victim to consumption, which caused his death in a short time.
The father of these two patients, although he was predisposed to phthisis, followed the occupation of florist from early life to the age of sixty, and during all those years was in good health. When about sixty years of age, while he was assisting at the erection of a church, he met with an accident which injured his ribs (so the son says) and disabled him for work. But a few months later he went into consumption, which quickly proved fatal.
Now, may not the fact that he was unable to be among his plants have had something to do with the causation of his last illness?
From the above cases it will be seen that what we had deduced from experimental results concerning the health-giving effects of plants (which is owing to transpiration increasing the humidity of the air, - the plants acting as natural and perfect "atomizers") is entirely in harmony with what is observed concerning the effect of sufficiently moist warm air in many cases of phthisis; and if it is true, as we have attempted to demonstrate, that house-plant hygiene constitutes a valuable preventive measure where there is hereditary tendency to certain diseases, then it ought to be definitely and thoroughly understood, and it is of vital importance that it should be adopted in cases where there is a known predisposition to phthisis, for half of the cases are supposed to be preventable, whereas if the disease be allowed to develop, complete recovery is not to be expected. Furthermore, though the keeping of plants does not " cure" confirmed cases of phthisis, it is nevertheless very useful to prolong life, and by ameliorating the distressing symptoms renders existence at least endurable, - an office not to be despised in such a wide-spread and lingering disease.
Observation teaches that advanced cases of phthisis (as, for instance, where cavities exist) are benefited by a more decidedly moist atmosphere than is required in health, and hence they will require a much greater profusion of plants in the room than those who have the disease in a more incipient stage.
The plants should be well selected and kept in a thriving condition. The chief points to be borne in mind in the selection of the plants are, first, that they have soft, thin leaves; secondly, foliage-plants or those having extensive leaf-surface are to be preferred; thirdly, those which are highly scented (as the tuberose, etc.), should be avoided, because they often give rise to headache and other unpleasant symptoms.
In order to facilitate a practical application of the data gained by experiment, the following formula has been carefully prepared: Given a room twenty feet long, twelve feet wide, and ceiling twelve feet high, warmed by dry air, a dozen thrifty plants with soft, thin leaves and a leaf-surface of six square feet each would, if well watered, and so situated as to receive the direct rays of the sun (preferably the morning sun) for at least several hours, raise the proportion of aqueous vapor to about the health standard.
This formula may serve as a guide in the use of plants for hygienic purposes; but under conditions of actual disease it will be necessary to increase the proportion of plants according to the degree of humidity sought, or as the indications of individual cases may demand.
It should be stated that, to obtain the best results, both the rooms occupied during the day and the sleeping appartment should contain plants. It was for a long time the opinion of scientific interpreters generally, that plants in sleeping apartments were unwholesome because of their giving off carbonic acid gas at night; but it has been shown by experiment that it would require twenty thrifty plants to produce an amount of the gas equivalent to that exhaled by one baby-sleeper; so this is no valid objection to their admission, and not to be compared with the benefit arising from their presence.
We have no desire to underrate other means of treatment while upholding the importance of our subject. Exercise in the open air is of immense advantage in phthisis, and during the warm season the consumptive should be moving among his garden-plants, and, if he be a lover of flowers, should assume personal charge of them. Again, no one will dispute the value of certain tropical climates for judiciously selected cases of phthisis; but the practice of indiscriminately sending patients to them is certainly to be deprecated.
New health-resorts (many of them comparable only to the patent nostrums) are constantly being pressed upon the public, but too often a trial of them brings only disappointment, and the consumptive is rendered more miserable by the annoyance of travel and the anxiety of being separated from all the endearing relations of home. And even where travel is desirable, it is, for financial or other reasons, quite impossible in a large proportion of cases.
To have always at hand and readily available so complete and withal so agreeable a health-resort at home as that furnished by a room well stocked with plants must prove an inestimable boon to the despairing invalid.