Book Review: Vitamin N by Richard Louv

Vitamin N: 500 ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community and Combat Nature-Deficit Disorder
Richard Louv
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016
278 pages

I admit I’m something of a Richard Louv fangirl. I’ve loved his writing since his first book, Last Child in the Woods, came out in 2008. While I don’t have any children of my own, I still very strongly remember being a kid growing up in the 1980s, running rampant across our small-town Midwest neighborhood. Long summer days of looking for bugs under rocks, exploring the nooks and crannies in moss, and pushing my way through thickets of young Eastern red cedar set the stage for who I am as an adult. I mourn the fact that so many people in the decades since then have missed out on that experience.

This, then, is Louv’s practical antidote to our ongoing disconnection from nature. There really are five hundred ideas in this text, ranging from picking out a particular place in nature to sit and visit every day, to turning your back yard into a butterfly haven, to taking up birding. Many of them are geared toward families with children, but even the young at heart can get behind splashing in puddles, making seed bombs, or going on an expedition to find nearby nature, those parks, gardens and other small oases in an urban neighborhood.

But there are more systemic solutions as well. Louv recommends becoming a citizen scientist helping with field research as one potential way to benefit both the self and the environment at large. Those with kids are encouraged to push back against the waning of recess and other important breaks, and to use your influence as a parent to get schools to incorporate more nature-based material in their curricula. An entire section goes into how you can partner with your local library in creating a hub of information and other resources to create more community engagement with nature.

Each entry is only a few sentences long, enough to give you a starting point, and where applicable Louv includes websites for further information. If you’re looking for in-depth explorations of nature-deficit disorder or quick fixes for our societal malaise, you won’t find that here. But these deceptively brief exercises are incredibly effective on an individual and small group level, if you take the time to make use of them. And there’s something for just about everybody, whether you’re ready and raring to hit a wilderness trail, or are housebound and just want to maintain some contact with the natural world.

This is a really important text for ecotherapy, because it offers practical exercises that clients can take home between sessions. Since the book is divided up into themed chapters like “The Nature-Rich Home and Garden” and “Grow Outside: The Nature Prescription”, you can flip to sections that may be more fitting for a particular client’s needs. And because the time commitment for these options can vary from a few minutes a day to a years-long project, your clients can find something to suit their schedule and motivation.

But you don’t have to be in ecotherapy to benefit from this book! Everyone, from ecotherapists to their clients to people who just want more nature in their lives can find something worthwhile here. And again, while some of these exercises seem tailored towards children, many are more general, and even the kids’ stuff can easily be adapted to a party of adults. (Can you imagine you and your friends having a tea party in your back yard on a nice day, or creating a “safari” with stuffed animals and then having fun taking photos of them in the ‘wild”?)

Most importantly, this is a really effective guide to getting people back in contact with nature on a daily basis, and that’s the root of the solution to our estrangement from nature. Even a few minutes of nature time a day can dramatically improve mental and physical health, and a good dose of Vitamin N may be just what you need to get started.

Purchasing information here.