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In an effort to be more conscious of my usage and waste production, I have sought different ways I can reuse every day expendables. Of course, recycling and composting has become a primary part of my everyday practice, but there was one thing that was bothering me: What to do with my used tea leaves? I felt as if there was something more that could be done, when all the delicious and nutritious leaf juices have been extracted from the leaves. So I took to the internet, as one does in today’s day in age and looked for some ways that I could make the most out of my tea leaves!
Anyone who knows me, they know that I drink a lot of tea, and I am most often referred to as a tea snob by my close friends. I spend an obnoxious (but worth it) amount of money on top-quality, farm direct tea from China. I practice a type of tea drinking called “gong fu cha” which is sometimes also referred to as the Chinese Tea Ceremony. In essence, gong fu cha involves multiple short steepings from a much larger amount of leaf material which will produce brews that change in flavour and complexity over time with each steeping; because this is something I do nearly every day, I tend to have a lot of used tea leaves left over when I’ve truly bled them dry of all they have to offer.
I found some articles on the internet which suggested that tea leaves and grounds may be beneficial for your garden and probably your houseplants as well, but nothing concrete on the actual effectiveness of adding them to the soil of houseplants. I found plenty of information about how coffee grounds can be used to enhance the soil of your house plants!
I decided to do a little experiment in order to assess the value of adding my used tea leaves to the soil of my houseplants. During this rather frigid winter in the Northeastern United States, I have kept three small houseplants in a part of my home which is not heated and they were subjected to little to no sunlight during the winter. Only one plant survived and continues to thrive, and it is the one pictured above at the top of this article. In this particular plant, I would take my used leaves that were piling up after my gong fu sessions and I would work them into the potting soil of the plant, then I’d lightly water it. Sometimes I would even use my tea wash (the first infusion or brew during gong fu cha that you do not drink) to water the plant.
I cannot say for sure that the tea leaves are the reason the plant continues to survive, but I have been putting many leaves from my roasted oolongs, green teas, Taiwanese oolongs, white tea (silver needle) and Pu Erh (post-fermented tea) in the soil.
Based on my research, I was able to find information which supported using tea leaves in the soil of plants which thrive in an acidic soil environment. As the leaves decompose, they make the soil more fertile and their nutrients are slowly absorbed through the roots of the plant to help the leaves remain green and beautiful!
If you are a habitual tea drinker, whether you drink loose leaf or tea bags, you can use the leftovers to support your environment by mixing them with the soil in your houseplants or even garden soil to give back to the source, Mother Earth!