Cape Forest Bathing


Eco-servicing wellness

The foaminess of leaves of a tree indigenous to Southern African forests, Ilex mitis, which become soapish in water, is referred to in the tree's Zulu name. The Venda name translates as the milk-pail washer. Elsewhere its leaves have been used for bathing in.

Less literally, every stroll in a forest bathes us in the myriad benefits of trees. The Japanese who go to relax in the plenitude of their archipelago’s woodlands, in recognising the activity as a form of therapy, call it Shinrin Yoku.

twelve apostles bathed in mist

The practice ritualizes a universal human enjoyment for places with trees. For me Cape Town's Tokai plantation is an enduring childhhod memory, and later bringing dogs to the mountain - though taking in the afternoon vibe, I sometimes wished for some silence, instead of happy panting as we sat.

Encouraged by my companions' enthusiasm I probably used to hurry round the slopes of Cecelia plantation more energetically than shinrin yoku should be practiced. Despite the pleasures of a hard hike, long and strenuous vertical walking doesn't deliver the calmness sought, under swishing branches of the sunlight's dapplings as you sit on the forest floor.

Forest bathers are generally found to have reduced amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, amidst a cascade of other physiological and mental benefits triggered by colour in interplay with fractal angles splitting light, and phytoncides - chemicals given off from plants.

shinrin yoku forest therapy cape town

Hack into happiness?

The benefits are not just limited to being in woods. One recent study in a German city reveals that throughout a range of income demographics, more antidepressants are prescribed to residents of less leafy suburbs than those near green belts and urban forests. This at the same time as the Swedes and others are planning to fill up city street-side parking spaces with rest benches and greenery.

In Japan Shinrin Yoku sessions are prescribed as treatment for stress related illnesses like the common cold, and even fighting off cancer. Its efficacy is being backed up by research on the microbial and chemical abundance of forests, and their effect on humans.

Not that this is anything new. Lost endogenous knowledge is being being resurrected. Popular barks are being harvested to devastating effect on Table Mountain.

upper back table mountain forest

Location is key

Fresh air and a diversity of plants is better than in a monoculture plantation. Locally, Cape Town’s afrotemperate forests would be good. Remember, choose a spot carefully. It may take a bit a of a walk to find. Don't push it though. And take care. It is a city-bound mountain.