Sprouted Seed Teas

Sprouted seed tea, or SST, is made from seeds that have been partially sprouted after being soaked in either water or a mild nutrient solution. The germinating seeds are rapidly gaining recognition for supplying natural hormones, enzymes and vitamins at very low costs respective to packaged biostimulants. They are becoming very popular in the no-till and living soils community, but with little verifiable scientific research on plants, SST biochemistry and dynamics remain elusive.

Background

 Barley Sprouts - Photo courtesy of Buildasoil

Barley Sprouts - Photo courtesy of Buildasoil

Most of the scientific information so far regarding sprouted seeds has come from the health, nutrition and beer industry. Typically they are looking at the vitamin, hormone and enzyme levels of the sprouts. Much of the current scientific research examines the vitamin content of germinated seeds. Many different research experiments have been conducted, but few if any have been conducted specifically pertaining of how to apply these SST’s in a horticultural setting.  This article will attempt to cover the phytochemistry (plant chemistry) of sprouted seed teas to help you understand how different types phytochemicals of seeds will offer different benefits to your plants.  It should be stressed that plant hormone regulation and the effects are very complicated and still not a fully understood field. It is important to remember this is a new area of interest in horticulture and one that has great potential but also great risks so proceed with caution. 

SST Dynamics

The germination of a seed releases a potent combination of hormones, enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids, which facilitate the rapid growth and development of a sprouting plant. There are many caveats to SST’s, first and foremost is to not overuse these teas. Paracelsus, a famous Swiss alchemist from the 1500’s once remarked that the dose makes either the poison or the medicine. In no clearer case is this true with SST’s. Plant’s use fertilizer usually in milligram levels but plant’s use hormones at the microgram level. The complex interplay and dosing of hormones can throw a plant’s growth out of whack and the large doses of enzymes can catalyze the soil biochemistry so rapidly, that nutrient depletion or imbalances can rapidly occur from accelerated chemical reactions. We reached out to Jeremy Silva from BuildASoil to understand these parameters little deeper.  Let’s now take a look at the hormones, enzymes and vitamins found in sprouting seeds.

 

Hormones

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Auxins, cytokinins, gibberellins, abscisic acid, and ethylene are the best-known plant hormones. All are in some way involved in regulating plant growth and development. Some promote growth by stimulating cell enlargement or division while others inhibit growth by inducing dormancy. We will go over a few of the major hormones to help paint their picture in plant growth.

 

Auxins

Auxins are typically associated with the cloning gels used for rooting cuttings. You might have heard of indole-3-butyric acid (IBA). IBA occurs naturally but is produced synthetically. IBA is contained in most of the cloning gels and powders on the marketplace. Another naturally occurring auxin is Indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) typically found in high concentrations in the fresh shoots of the willow tree. In low doses, auxin can stimulate the growth of roots, while with high doses it stimulates the production of another hormone called ethylene. Ethylene is thought of as the aging hormone in plants. In addition to causing fruit to ripen, ethylene can cause plants to die.

Depending on the specific tissue, auxin may promote axial elongation (as in root shoots), lateral expansion (as in root swelling), or isodiametric expansion (as in fruit growth). Auxin also plays a role in maintaining apical dominance, which means the plant’s center stem grows taller while the lateral (side) branches grow slower or stay dormant.

 

Cytokinins

Cytokinins are a class of  phytohormones that promote cell division in plant roots and shoots. They are involved primarily in cell growth and differentiation (changing cell types), but also affect lateral bud growth, and leaf aging.

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The ratio of auxin to cytokinin plays an important role in the effect of cytokinin on plant growth. More cytokinin induces above ground growth of lateral buds, while more auxin supresses lateral bud growth and also induces below ground root formation. Administering the proper SST at the proper time is the key to using these products effectively.

Cytokinins have also recently been found to play a role in plant pathogenesis. For example, cytokinins have been described to induce resistance against Pseudomonas syringae in tobacco.  Kelp has very high amounts of cytokinin. Corn made in SST’s is also very high in cytokinins.

 

Gibberellins

Gibberellins are plant hormones that are essential for many developmental processes in plants, including seed germination, stem elongation, leaf expansion, trichome development, pollen maturation and the induction of flowering.  Gibberellins are well known to elongate the internodes on plants.

79 different gibberellins have been isolated, many of these from the seeds of a wide variety of species. Gibberellic acid-3 (GA-3) is the most widely used, and is produced commercially by growing the fungus in huge vats and then extracting and purifying the GA-3. GA-3 is sprayed on seedless grapes to increase grape size and yield, and it is used on navel oranges, lemons, blueberries, cherries, artichokes and other crops to decrease or increase fruit set, delay rind ageing, etc. These effects are highly dependent on concentration and stage of plant growth. For example, 0.02 micrograms GA-3 promotes flowering of morning glory, but 2 - 20 micrograms inhibits flowering.

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Enzymes

Enzymes are large molecules that speed up the chemical reactions inside cells. Each type of enzyme does a specific job. Enzymes are special proteins that act as biocatalysts, speeding up the rate of chemical reactions. They do this by lowering the activation energy required for a reaction to take place. Most seeds release a variety of enzymes like Amylase, Cellulase, Chitinase, Phosphatase, Protease, etc. It is these enzymes that we’re after.

So these enzymes serve as catalysts for the chemical reactions caused by beneficial microorganisms, which are themselves releasing these enzymes in the form of exudates to also break down the substrates, or organic matter, in the soil into other smaller molecules like glucose, sulfates, phosphates, ammonia, etc.  The enzymes splitting and decomposing organic matter not only benefits the plant by releasing available nutrients, but also directly benefits the microorganisms. When bonds of the substrate in the soil are broken they release available energy that the microorganisms require to survive and function properly. Enzymes also act as a direct food source for the microorganisms as well. Being amino acid chains, microorganisms break the peptide bonds holding together the carbon rings making up the structure of the enzymes, also releasing the energy the microorganisms require to grow and develop.

In other words, these different enzymes increase the rate of the natural nutrient cycling already occurring within the soil. So the trick is to activate as many of the enzymes as possible at their most diverse peak during the germination process, and then apply them to the soil before potentially losing them to degradation.  All credit to understanding enzymes goes to Terry Brooks from BioTorch.com.

 

Vitamins

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It is well known that seeds in general contain a wide array of vitamins like vitamin C, E, K and the whole suite of B vitamins. What is incredible is that very little is actually known about how plants use vitamins and what pathways they are a part of. It is regrettably difficult to discern plant vitamin pathways from the literature or databases. One thing that seems certain is the vitamins somehow do play an important role in certain metabolic pathways.

Types of Seeds

Due to the complexity of the phytochemicals released from the seeds, and due to the fact that not much research is available, we will cover three predominant types of seed used for SST’s. They are corn, barley and alfalfa.

Corn

Some of the phytonutrients corn seeds contain are vitamin C, E and K, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (niacin), vitamin B3 (riboflavin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid and selenium. Corn seed is also known to be contain minerals like calcium, iron, zinc copper, sodium and manganese and is relatively high in potassium, phosphorus and magnesium.

 

Corn is known to be high in Cytokinins.  Cytokinins will increase the width and tensile strength of the side branches and stimulate leaf growth and lateral bud formation.  Typically cytokinin rich teas are applied during the flowering phase of growth. The response will vary depending on the type of cytokinin and plant species.

Barley

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Barley seeds contain minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. The mineral elements include calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and sulfur. The vitamins include: biotin, choline, B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (niacin), vitamin B3 (riboflavin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and folic acid. Some of it’s protein-bound amino acids include tyrosine, arginine, and lysine in smaller amounts.

Barley seeds also contain at least five proteins with chitinase activity. These chitinase enzymes have been shown to inhibit the growth of fusarium, a type of pathogenic fungi.  It also looks like barley seeds contain quite a bit of gibberellins, which would make barley seed tea a good candidate to apply during vegetative growth and possibly throughout the life cycle.

Alfalfa

 Alfalfa Sprouts are high in triacontanol

Alfalfa Sprouts are high in triacontanol

Alfalfa is rich in carotene, protein, calcium and other minerals, vitamins in the B group, vitamin C, D, E and K.  Alfalfa is also well known for its natural growth hormone called triacontanol. Triancontanol is a fatty alcohol and is a growth stimulant for many plants. Triacontanol significantly increases the amount of chlorophyll in leaves, thereby improving the rate of photosynthesis and it increases the rate of cell growth and multiplication.  This fatty alcohol is well known for making plants grow faster and bushier. Alfalfa seed teas might be best served for a transitional tea between during the first few weeks in flowering, however they might also be used in vegetative growth depending on the strain.

The key to remember with alfalfa is that because it contains triacontanol, you have to be very careful about how much you use. Typically you will use ½ the amount you would use with most other seeds.

Assorted

Just about any type of seed could theoretically be used for SST’s.  We have documented barley, corn and alfalfa but other plants such as: wheat, rye, millet, quinoa, amaranth, teff, grass seed, sorghum, beans, lentils, clover, chick pea, fava and fenugreek have also been used in experimental trials.  The main concern is the lack of complete data sets on which phytochemicals the plants are producing. That would definitely hold true for the brassicas like radish, broccoli and mustards. There is definitely a huge gap of knowledge when it comes to fully integrating these SST’s into horticultural practices.

Considerations

 These barley seeds are not fully sprouted and will not provide the full hormone, enzyme and vitamin levels when used.

These barley seeds are not fully sprouted and will not provide the full hormone, enzyme and vitamin levels when used.

There are many deliberations to consider if producing your own SST’s.  Be sure to wash the sprouted seeds well just before blending them. The seeds shells can contain an inhibitory hormone called abscisic acid, which is known to regulate seed dormancy. If you don’t wash them well, you could potentially be applying a hormone that will slow plant growth temporarily. Also you will want to use organic seeds to prevent pesticide and fungicide contamination.

Using different seeds for use of their specific hormones at certain stages in the plant life cycle can be very beneficial. The timing must also be right and should only be used at specific times in the life cycle. Used at the wrong time may have adverse effects. Many of these seeds contain hormones and enzymes can disrupt normal growth and cause abnormal plant development if applied too often or at high doses.

For those wanting to try their hand at SST’s, the best resource available is at:

buildasoil

Here you can find proper instructions, recipes and ratios that have at least been empirically tested to some degree. As always, remember that SST’s are still a bit in the experimental phase and to not over apply.

Sprouted seed teas might be a grower’s best tool for accessing bioavailable hormones, enzymes and vitamins.  With synthetic plant growth regulators looking less and less appealing, sprouted seeds might just provide the natural bioavailable hormones for a fraction of the cost.

Questions?