April 30, 2014
5 Herbal Teas for Plant Starts
Courtesy Rachael Brugger

Our garden is started here at home, and our seedlings are being grown by a friend in the greenhouse. When you run an herbal farm and sanctuary, you are constantly in the market for new plants. You can either grow new plants from seeds or take cuttings—this is where many of the medicinal herbs get really fun. There are quite a few of herbs that don’t grow very well from seeds, instead preferring to be started with cuttings.

Plenty of chemicals are available to help anyone make more plants. The problem with them is … the chemicals. Why not use natural methods instead?

Chamomile Tea
A common problem when growing seedlings is damping off. When you keep soil wet and warm for a long period of time it is a perfect situation for fungal growth. Not all fungus in the soil is a good thing. In fact, this type of fungus in conjunction with a tiny growing seedling will result in your sprout withering and dying fairly rapidly.

In our greenhouse, there is usually a spray bottle filled with chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea at the ready. We make this tea just like we would if we were going to drink it. Spraying it on the plants and soil, or regularly watering it in will prevent the spread of any of the white, fuzzy fungus. The tea will last a couple days in the greenhouse before you need to make new.

Once you get some of your perennials established, you can often forget about the need to purchase more. Cuttings are taken in a variety of ways at different times of the year depending on the plant. It is best to look up how your plant is propagated to understand this. Some root best from cuttings of the spring green wood, while others do best from hardwood cuttings. When you understand your plant you can use any of our favorite rooting teas to help you out. Remember to always prepare you cutting properly. Cut just above a node at a slant and remove all but the very top leaves.

Comfrey Tea
Comfrey (Symphytum spp.) tea has been used successfully for encouraging rooting. You can use any part of this plant to the same effect as all parts contain alantoin, a chemical that gives it its ability to encourage cell growth and is therefore used for cuts in humans. Cell proliferation is just what you want when you are trying to get a cutting to root.

Honey Tea
Honey tea is one I haven’t tried, as I’m fairly protective of our honey supply. If you add a spoonful of honey into a cup of warm water and allow it to dissolve you have prepared the necessary tea that can be used in place of a rooting hormone. Spritz, water or soak your cuttings for best results.

Willow and Cottonwood Teas
Willow (Salix spp.) or cottonwood (Populus spp.) tea can be used interchangeably and might be the most commonly used for rooting. Both trees are in the willow family, so they both contain the chemicals responsible for their popularity. To make a willow tea rooting mix, cut new spring growth (green or yellow shoots only) into short lengths and soak them in warm water for 48 to 72 hours. Take your cuttings and soak them in the willow tea for several hours or overnight. If that isn’t possible, you can water the soil where you’ve planted your cuttings at least twice. Willow tea can be kept up to 2 months if tightly sealed and refrigerated.

Synthetic rooting hormone powders rely on Indolebutyric acid (IBA) to encourage root growth. Trees in the willow family are very high in IBA, especially in the growing meristems, or buds, of the tree. This naturally occurring chemical is responsible for cell proliferation, so it jumpstarts growth. Salicylic acid (SA) is another compound found in this family, and while it can help us with a headache, it also helps a new plant fight off the attacks of bacteria and fungi.

For all of the rooting teas, you will know that they have worked when a very gentle tug on the top of the plant yields resistance and it doesn’t try to lift out of the soil. Once you get started making your own cuttings or naturally tending your seedlings, you’ll be hooked. Who wants to go back to the over-tired plants in plastic pots at the home improvement center after a summer of homegrown “from scratch” goodies?

Get more tips for starting news plants:

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