This article was originally published in Garden Culture Magazine US24 & UK26.
Ancient homeopathy has certainly gained a lot of traction in today’s society. Herbal remedies have a huge market helping to cure anything from the common cold to an overly flaccid and lazy John-Thomas. There is almost no ailment that an ancient Chinese remedy can’t fix, using all sorts of weird and wonderful things to do it with. We could all do with a little extra vim and vigor to help re-enforce a waning vitality, and my indoor plants are no different from my failing manhood in that respect.
Enter OHN (Organic Herbal Nutrient). It is an herbal remedy that is produced specifically for plants. It helps boost a plant’s performance much in the same way as an herbal tonic is supposed to improve that of humans: the natural medicinal/beneficial aspects of a plant are extracted into a solution that can be used by your plants to help them suffer all sorts of stresses that the environment can throw at them. Let’s face it, environmental stresses are a big part of growing, so having a viable workaround for them can be a bit of a lifesaver for a lot of lack-luster growers.
So, what exactly is it then?
While OHN stands for Organic Herbal Nutrient, don’t assume that it is in any way a replacement for an NPK fertilizer or a nutrient-rich organic amendment. It is much more of just a name. Essentially, you are creating a tincture of five particularly potent natural herbs: garlic, ginger, licorice, cinnamon, and angelica. Their individual medicinal properties are combined to form an incredibly potent cocktail that helps ward off pathogenic microbes from your root zone and encourage more beneficial aerobic bacteria to populate the media.
It’s easy to make though right?
Er, no. In fact, it is probably the most labor-intensive and fiddly of all KNF techniques to master. Partly because of the number of separate ingredients you have to ferment and deal with, but also because it requires daily attention for about a month or so. If that’s not enough to put you off, then pat yourself on the back! It is incredibly rewarding to make (and use) and has a fantastic shelf life, essentially improving over time like a fine wine. It is an incredibly effective weapon in a grower’s arsenal for maintaining plant health and can also be used as part of the IMO1 process. So, don’t be lazy; get a batch started while you’re reading this.
Where do we begin?
Before anything, think of how much you are going to want to end up with based on the fact that you finish with roughly two times your starting volume of each jar for each input. Also, it has a typical application rate of 0.5-1ml per liter, so it is quite concentrated. Basically, don’t go balls-deep and use two-liter mason jars for the fermentation stage, as you will end up with roughly 20 liters of the final solution once all combined.
Your next task will be sourcing the ingredients. If you can find fresh ingredients for everything here, it would be an incredibly amazing feat. Realistically, you will have to get dry ingredients for a few inputs and rehydrate them. Unless you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh angelica/cinnamon or fresh licorice root, you will need to begin with a stage of rehydration using a low alcohol beer, so of course, you need to make sure you buy extra for yourself and have a little party for one while you are at it.
You will need:
- A few glass jars
- Dried Ingredients – twice the amount of angelica than any of the other herbs.
- Low alcohol beer or rice wine, enough to fill each jar to two-thirds full.
Step 1: Prepare Herbs
Chop each dried herb into half an inch sized cubes and fill each jar to as close to one-third full as possible. Prepare two jars of Angelica; for special Korean reasons, you need to use double the amount of angelica when preparing OHN.
Step 2: Add Beer
Fill the jar to the halfway mark with low alcohol beer. Pour at an angle to prevent frothing.
Step 3: Label
Label the jars, then drink all the remaining beer.
Step 4: Store
Cover with a breathable lid and leave for two days.
This is when the action really starts. Two days after beginning the hydrating process of the dry inputs (and ridding yourself of any hangover), you need to begin fermenting. Get your remaining fresh ingredients and arm yourself with a shit-ton of brown sugar.
You will need:
- More glass jars
- Fresh ingredients
- Loads of brown sugar
- Elastic bands
- Breathable lids
Step 1: Prepare the fresh ingredients
Gently smash and cut up the fresh material to expose a nice amount of surface area for fermentation.
Step 2: Add sugar
Add equal weights sugar to the fresh ingredients and thoroughly mix together. With the rehydrated ingredients, simply add sugar until the volume of the jars reaches the two-thirds mark.
Step 3: Fill the jars
Particularly important with the fresh ferments is the volume you aim for. You want your jars to end up about two-thirds full after five to seven days. So, make sure to fill it so it doesn’t settle below this after fermentation, then remove any excess if the fermented volume is over this amount.
Step 4: Store
Cover jars and set aside for storage for the next five to seven days.
Now that you have fermented all your ingredients, you can begin to make them into a medicinal tincture. It involves a great deal of high percentage alcohol, so get ready to get a mother-freakin’ party started along the way. It isn’t particularly tricky from this point, but it does involve daily care, so avoid doing this over a time when you’re due to go on holiday or anything.
You will need:
- Larger containers for the separation process, one for each input. (if using plastics make sure they are HDPE)
- Lots of vodka (mixers optional)
- Cling film
- Stirring tool
Step 1: Add Vodka and stir
Add your vodka to each jar, leaving a few inches to allow for stirring.
Step 2: Cover
Fill to the brim with vodka, then cover with cling film (or lid). This prevents the alcohol from evaporating off.
Step 3: Stir it up
Stir it once a day for 14 days, in a clockwise motion.
Step 4: Strain your juice
Strain all of the liquid into your separate storage container (label it accordingly). Put the solids back in your original ferment jar.
Step 5: Backfill the fermenting jar
Back-fill the ferment jar up to two-thirds full with the recently strained liquid, then fill it to the brim again with more fresh vodka and stir. Then seal each container.
Step 6: Repeat till funny
Repeat steps 1 through 4 up to another five times and then discard the remaining ferment and solid ingredients onto your compost pile.
Step 7: Form like Vultron
Recombine the individually extracted ingredients together and set aside for storage or usage.
Step 8: Self-Congratulate
Breathe a sigh of relief you needn’t stir anything up on a daily basis for a good while. You have now made OHN
Step 9: Use it!
Use as and when needed
Alright! Er, but how do I use it?
OHN can be used throughout pretty much any stage of growth as a root drench or applied as a foliar spray. Use it at a rate of 0.5-1ml per liter, although, if you have managed to age your OHN, then you can start to slowly decrease that dilution rate as it increases in potency over time. Additionally, it makes for one of the ingredients that can be used in the IMO process, further enhancing your collection of indigenous microbes. It will improve the overall health of both your plant and soil to a dramatic effect – pushing you ever closer to the perfect harvest.
Chore time over
Ok, so OHN is the most fiddly of all the KNF inputs to make, but it really is an effective one and gives great personal satisfaction after having gone through the entire process. Tinkering with the input list is also possible; you can add almost whatever ingredients you feel may have additional medicinal properties to add to the efficacy of the solution. Just make sure to always do twice the Angelica of anything else.
Anyway, go get yourself onto Amazon or something and get sourcing your dry ingredients! The sooner you get cracking, the sooner you will have your greedy mitts on a unique magical elixir.
Read more articles in the Korean Natural Farming series:
- A Guide to Korean Natural Farming
- Korean Natural Farming: Master Cho Biography
- Korean Natural Farming and Indigenous Microorganisms
- Korean Natural Farming: Feed Ferment To Your Plants
- Korean Natural Farming: DIY Organic Growing Inputs
- The Fundamentalists of Korean Natural Farming
- Korean Natural Farming: DIY Water-Soluble Organic Nutrients
- Merging Hydroponics With Organics In Korean Natural Farming