The rise of chemical use in the garden raises concerns for those of us disquieted by the effects of toxins in the air, water, and earth. It comes as no surprise that there are numerous DIY and natural garden remedies making their rounds in publications and the internet. Organic plant fertilizer methods have been around since cultivation first began and modern know how has increased the number of herb based fertilizers and natural plant feeding practices. A healthy garden starts with natural fertilizers from herbs combined with cultural routines that enhance soil and plant health.
Herbal Tea for Plants
Herbs have been used as restoratives, medicines and tonics for centuries. Their benefits are un-arguable as evident by store shelves filled with beauty, health and wellness products containing natural herbs. What’s good for you is also good for your garden. Herbal tea for plants is one way to give your plants a booster shot of well-being with organic time honored goodness. Plus, herbs are hardy, easy to grow, and have a host of other uses besides fertilizer.
Most of us have heard of the benefits of compost tea or even tea made from the castings of worms. The nutrients really come out when the compost is soaked in water and are easily dispersed, soaking into soil and allowing roots easy uptake.
Plant teas are a bit different from the tea we drink in that you don’t have to boil the water. Most are made by simply soaking the herbs for several days in a big bucket of water. Stirring the mixture helps release the herb nutrients, as does the addition of a bit of molasses, which speeds up microbial growth. Natural fertilizers from herbs often incorporate molasses for this property.
The choice of herbs is up to you, but several types of plants are higher in one macro-nutrient or another, so it is wise to choose a companion herb to balance your organic plant fertilizer.
Plant Choices for Herb Tea Fertilizer
You can start with a single herb, such as comfrey – which is high in potassium – and add some alfalfa, which is high in nitrogen. Other herbs to try are:
- Couch grass
In order to harness a balance of macro and micro nutrients, try using a blend of herbs to make herb based fertilizers. One recipe found on Mother Earth News recommends the following mixture:
- Raspberry leaves
The formula uses dried herbs, 1 ounce (30 ml.) of everything except tansy, nettle, mint, and hops (which are used at 2 ½ ounces or 75 ml.). Place all the dried herbs in an old pillowcase and immerse them into a 24-gallon (90 L.) trash can filled with water. Agitate the pillowcase every day and wait five days before wringing out the herbs.
The liquid is a good base herb tea fertilizer and the solids can be composted around plants or in the compost heap.
Specialty Herb Based Fertilizers
The above recipe is just one suggestion. You can harness the power of herbs in any combination, just remember that fresh herbs will need to be used at 3 times the rate of dried herbs.
Some interesting combinations might be comfrey and tansy to increase earthworms. Fenugreek is high in calcium, which helps prevent fruiting problems in plants like tomatoes. Add some couch grass, dill, or coltsfoot to enhance potassium and increase blooming on your tomatoes.
Many soils are deficient in copper, which causes chlorosis in plants. Herbs that can help increase the amount of copper are yarrow and dandelion.
You can play with your base solution to tailor make herbal blends. Acid-loving plants like a little apple cider vinegar added to their herbal tea, fish emulsion enhances protein, and sugars help increase microbial action in soil.
Herbs are plentiful, easy to grow and have secrets that are yet to be revealed. Revel in all they can do for your garden.
Sage Herbal Tea Recipe×
|Servings: 3 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 3g||4%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||6%|
|Total Carbohydrate 10g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|
Herbal teas are easy to buy in the grocery store, but there's so much reward in making your own tea at home, using the freshest ingredients possible—maybe even with fresh sage from your own garden?
A basic sage tea is easy to make. Simply pour about 1 cup boiling water over about 1 tablespoon of sage leaves and steep to the desired strength before straining out the leaves. However, you also can make a more refined (and surprisingly delightful) version of sage tea with the recipe below. It combines fresh sage leaves with lemon and a bit of sugar.
A naturally caffeine-free drink, sage tea can be enjoyed hot or iced anytime day or night, without causing the wakefulness that caffeinated drinks can induce. It can be a relaxing way to end your day, or a calm way to start your morning.
This recipe works well with any of the popular culinary sages including garden sage, dwarf garden sage, pineapple sage, Greek sage, golden garden sage, tricolor garden sage, window box sage, grape sage, and Spanish sage.
An Herbal Tea Garden
Click here to download and print out this garden plan
1. Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) 12 plants, planted 8 inches apart 8 to 10 inches tall 3-parted fan-shaped leaves small white flowers followed by pea-sized seedy fruits. The leaves make a fruity tea can be combined with sweet woodruff."]
Key to Plan
1. Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) 12 plants, planted 8 inches apart 8 to 10 inches tall 3-parted fan-shaped leaves small white flowers followed by pea-sized seedy fruits. The leaves make a fruity tea can be combined with sweet woodruff. Zones 4 to 8.
2. Variegated common thyme (Thymus vulgaris 'Silver Queen') 5 plants planted 18 inches apart 6 to 10 inches tall tiny leaves edged with silver pale mauve flowers. Brew the leaves for a spicy, pungent tea. Zones 5 to 8.
3. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) 8 plants planted 12 inches apart 6 to 12 inches tall starry whorls of foliage in May topped with clusters of tiny white flowers. Its dried leaves make a mild, woodsy tea excellent combined with strawberry leaves. Zones 3 to 9.
4. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) 8 plants planted 12 inches apart 12 to 24 inches tall fine, ferny foliage. White daisy flowerheads are used for a mild, relaxing, applelike tea. Zones 4 to 8.
5. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis 'Aurea') 1 plant 12 to 24 inches tall hardy perennial with yellow-variegated, mintlike foliage prune regularly. Lemon-scented leaves make a refreshing hot or iced tea. Zones 4 to 9.
6. Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata') 1 plant, 12 to 24 inches tall wrinkled, woolly leaves rimmed in cream. Not as robust as some other mints. Fragrant pineapple tea is delicious hot or cold. Zones 7 to 9.
7. Curly spearmint (Mentha spicata 'Crispa') 1 plant 12 to 24 inches tall bright green foliage with crinkled edges. The leaves make a pungent, minty tea often used to aid digestion. Zones 4 to 9.
8. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) 1 plant 2 feet tall square stems clothed with opposite, toothed, lance-shaped leaves clusters of mauve flowers along the stem. Brew leaves to make a refreshing tea that's soothing to the digestive system. Zones 4 to 9.
9. Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) 1 plant 36 inches tall pineapple-scented bright green foliage loose spikes of two-lipped scarlet flowers in fall. Leaves make a pineapple/melon-flavored tea. Zones 8 to 10.
10. Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Purple Ruffles') 1 plant 18 to 24 inches tall purple-black leaves clusters of pink flowers in a loose spike. Keep pinched for bushiness. Leaves and flowers make an attractive pinkish tea with mild peppery clove overtones. Annual.
11. Creeping rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus') 1 plant 6 to 12 inches tall, trailing gray-green needlelike leaves and pale blue flowers. Use either flowers or leaves to make a piney tea. Zones 8 to 10.
12. Chocolate mint geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum 'Chocolate Mint') 1 plant 12 inches tall velvety gray-green leaves marked with chocolate small white flowers. A minty tea is made from the foliage. Zones 10 to 11.
13. Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) 2 plants planted singly 18 inches tall clammy foliage topped by bright orange daisies. Petals or whole flowers make a slightly bitter tea. Annual.
14. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) 1 plant 12 to 24 inches tall aromatic gray-green leaves topped with long-stemmed spikes of purple flowers. Flowers make a delicious pale green tea with mild floral overtones. Zones 5 to 8.
15. Golden lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus 'Aurea') 1 plant trailing, 6 to 8 inches tall pungent, small, gold-rimmed leaves and tiny pinkish flowers. Leaves make a spicy tea.
Click here to download and print out this garden plan
Garden plans courtesy of Country Living Gardener.
Starting Your Tea Garden
I like to have my tea garden completely separate from my vegetable or herb garden, but it’s purely preference. You can section off a part of an existing garden if you choose, or dedicate an entire space to your herbal tea garden. Most tea herbs can be grown in pots as well, so don’t worry if you’re an apartment dweller or short on space.
There are a few essential elements you need to have a healthy tea garden. The first is good soil. You’ll want loamy, well-draining soil with a pH between 5 and 7. Dig in well-rotted organic matter and a good quality fertilizer a week before initial planting.
Next, you need to consider where to put your plants. Most herbs appreciate full sun, but beyond that, you have some flexibility. You can grow a tea garden indoors, on your patio in containers, or in your existing garden. Plant taller things in the back and shorter things in the front for ease of harvest.
An herbal tea garden lends itself perfectly to container gardening. I prefer to use terracotta or stone pots because I don’t like plastic. I figure if I’m going to the effort of growing healthy herbal teas, I don’t want any chemicals near the plants.
You’ll need a good quality potting mix, a fertilizer specific for potted plants, and organic or natural water-retaining material to keep your container plants moist.
Tea bags are often made from plastics that should never be buried in the ground. If you want to use used tea bags to fertilize your plants at home, you will need to completely remove the tea bag.
This will not completely prevent the pollution of your soil with plastic, though, as microplastic will get onto the tea leaves inside the tea bags due to friction.
If you want to avoid microplastic for the good of your plants and your own good, you should opt for loose leaf tea instead or have a look at plastic-free teabags made from paper or fabric.
Should You Use Wet Or Dried Tea Leaves As Fertilizer?
Used tea leaves are wet, obviously. Is there any need to dry the tea leaves before using them as fertilizer for your plants? The NPK-contents of the tea leaves will not change if the water is removed.
Wet tea leaves are as good for your plants as dry tea leaves are. The advantage of using dry tea leaves is that you will be able to gauge how much NPK you are adding to the soil, because you can judge the content with the percentages given earlier in this post.
Manure tea is a manure-based extract soluble nutrient source made from raw animal manure soaked in water. The primary benefit of the manure tea is to supply plants with soluble nutrients, which can serve as a liquid fertilizer. Sources of manure include pig, cattle, goats and poultry manure.
Manure tea contains high numbers of ciliates, low fungal biomass, with high numbers of nematodes. It does not go through a brewing aerobic process like the compost tea so it is of less quality than the compost tea. Follow this step to make a manure tea.
- Place manure in a burlap sack
- Fill a barrel with water.
- Suspend the burlap sack in the barrel of water.
- Cover with a towel.
- Allow sitting for 7-14days to get an excellent result
- Drain out your manure tea.