Plants feeling under the weather?
Give them aspirin water!

By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder for PlanTea, Inc. and
Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul


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"Take two aspirin and call me in the morning."

We've all heard that advice from doctors. And moms have been dispensing this all-purpose cure-all to their families as a standard way of providing relief from headaches and sniffles, muscle aches and joint pain.

Then it should be no surprise to learn how an important aspirin ingredient--salicylic acid--is being used as an Earth-friendly first aid for warding off plant diseases.

Meet Martha McBurney, the master gardener in charge of the demonstration vegetable garden at the University of Rhode Island. In the summer of 2005 she tested aspirin water on tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, basil and other plants after reading about it in a gardening publication called the Avant Gardener (PO Box 489, New York, NY 10028). The results were well, astonishing...

"What caught my eye in the original Avant Gardener article was it said that aspirin is an activator of Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR). And that plants, when under stress, naturally produce salicylic acid, but not fast enough and in sufficient quantities to really help them out in time. So the bugs get them, and diseases get them, and they show even more stress.

"But if you give them aspirin, it helps boost their immune system, kind of like feeding people echinacea so they don't get a cold.

How much, and how often

The dosage that Martha used was 1.5 [uncoated] aspirins to 2 gallons of water. She also added 2 tablespoons of yucca extract to help the aspirin water stick to the leaves better. (The yucca extract can be substituted with a mild liquid soap.) Martha explained that the yucca (or soap) prevents the aspirin water from beading up and rolling off leaves of broccoli and kale leaves. Finally, she sprayed the plants every 3 weeks.

The summer when Martha first started testing aspirin water, was not the best, weather-wise. It was cool, rainy and damp. "But what happened was, by the end of the season, the plants in the raised beds with the aspirin water looked like they were on steroids!

"The plants were huge, and green and with no insects. We even saw some disease problems that reversed themselves. We think we got a virus on the cucumbers, and they aspirin water seemed to reverse it. The cucumbers ended up being very healthy."

Aspirin improves seed germination

Martha also sprayed the aspirin water on the seeds they directly sowed in the ground. The result, they discovered was 100 percent seed germination, compared to spotty germination in the other trial beds.

Scientists at the University of Arizona and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), curious about findings such as what Martha experienced, are studying how salicylic acid prods plants into releasing their natural defenses against harmful fungi, bacteria and viruses. According to an article by Dean Fosdick of the Associated Press, "They envision it as a commercially viable alternative to synthetic pesticides in a natural way to extend the life of susceptible yet popular crops."

Is it organic? Well, not really. Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is 'derived' from the white willow tree, Salix alba. Studies are now being conducted on plants using pure willow extracts to compare the effects to aspirin.

cut flowers

Cut flowers that last forever?

Well, not quite. But current research may explain a modern-old wives' tale of adding an aspirin to a vase of cut flower to keep the blooms fresh longer. Here's the explanation: The cutting of flowers is perceived by the plant as a wound, and so it stimulates the production of a substance that not only helps the plant fight off bugs, but also hastens aging or wilting, such as in the case of a cut flower.

Aspirin halts the formation of the substance, which in turn, keeps the flowers looking young and not wilting prematurely. (For more helpful tips about keeping cut flowers looking fresh, naturally, click here).

Scientists laughed, at first

Plants weren't the only things affected by the aspirin water. At first, scientists at the University of Rhode Island gave Martha a bad time about her experiments. Teased her, mostly. But by the end of the summer, they were so impressed that they are now conducting their own formal investigations.

healthy houseplant

"I've recommended it to just about everybody. The people who've tried it, that is, people who grow from oats to orchids, have found that plants do remarkably better when given small amounts of aspirin water. I've tried it on my houseplants, and it does really well. Plants are more vigorous and I'm having fewer problems with aphids and the typical things that can build up on houseplants over the winter."

"Uh, Martha," I broke in. "My husband is losing his hair. Maybe I should try aspirin water."

Martha didn't miss a beat. "Well, hey, you could give it a go!"

So the next time your plant is looking a little feverish or flushed, consider reaching for some aspirin for treating what ails it.

Meanwhile, keep your hands in the dirt, and your dreams on a star.

Want more gardening tips? You'll find a wheelbarrow load of them right here.

Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!

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