Apart from being the best drink in the world (we may be biased), tea can be put to good use around the home and garden for a variety of money-saving, environmentally-friendly purposes. So never throw away tea, put it to good use instead. Some of my favourite uses for used or leftover tea include the following
Health and Beauty
- Tea is a natural mild antiseptic and astringent which makes it a useful remedy for blemish-prone skin. You can buy beauty products containing tea, especially green tea, but why not make your own? If you have very fair skin you might prefer to use green tea, but black tea will give your skin a sun-kissed warmth without seeing the sun. Simply steep the tea in hot water as if you were going to drink it, let it cool, then soak it into a face cloth. Apply to the skin, leaving it for five to ten minutes, then rinse.
- Tea’s texture makes it a useful skin exfoliant too: put a tablespoon of dry tea in a bowl, add a little olive oil, or you could use your favourite cleanser. Apply it to your face, allow it to sit for at least a couple of minutes, then gently rub in circular motions. Rinse off and you will have lovely glowing skin.
- Both black and green tea can make dull hair shiny and help prevent dandruff and a dry scalp. Simply resteep used tea in hot water, allow it to cool, then use the tea as a rinse after shampooing. Massage it into your hair and scalp, leave for five minutes and then rinse.
- Puffy eyes: one from my grandmother’s book of household remedies, this works especially well with tea bags. The antioxidant properties of tea will reduce redness and irritation and make you look less tired. Put two used tea bags in the refrigerator for half an hour, lie down and place the bags on your closed eyelids. Rest for 15 minutes and remove.
- Tea can be used to treat mild burns and other irritations, including sunburn and razor burn. Again, this is particularly effective if green tea is used. The astringent properties of tea make it a mild anaesthetic. Just make tea, soak the affected area for fifteen to twenty minutes, then rinse. This also works well for blisters.
- The tannins in tea can kill common skin fungi, such as those that cause toenail infections, and can reduce swelling and irritation. Chill a used teabag in the refrigerator for thirty minutes, apply to the affected toenail for fifteen minutes, and repeat two to three times a day.
If left soaking for long enough, tea will stain but the acidic nature of tea makes it brilliant for cutting through grease, fighting dust, and as a general cleaning product.
- Wooden furniture and floors are already tea-coloured so tea is perfect for cleaning wood. Use strong, brewed liquid tea to deepen the colour of wood, remove grease and make it shine. On very light wood you might prefer to use green or white tea but black tea is great for dark wood.
- Windows, mirrors and other glass: again, the natural acids in tea cut through smears and grease. Put cold, brewed tea in a spray bottle, spray on and polish with a dry cloth.
- Sprinkle used, dry tea leaves on a dirty carpet or rug, leave for ten minutes then vacuum them up and your carpet will be clean. Use white or green tea on light carpets to avoid possible staining.
- Before clearing your fireplace of ash, sprinkle wet tea leaves over it. This will stop the dust from the ash escaping and make it easier to clean.
- Tea is highly absorbent so will absorb unwanted smells as well as imparting the lovely scent of tea. A handful of tea leaves in a dish in the refrigerator will reduce odours. If you wish you can use pre-scented tea, for example, Earl Grey, or add a couple of drops of an essential oil to the leaves.
- Add the leaves to potpourri and drawer sachets, making sure the leaves are dry of course! This will help repel moths, fleas and other unwanted insect visitors without needing to use pesticides You can also use this method to make your car smell nicer.
- Related to the previous point – if you make your own soap, tea is an excellent additive because it is mildly astringent, a light exfoliant and is a natural colourant. And it smells of tea”
Apart from its most obvious use, in a teapot, tea is the cooks’ friend in other ways
The book Culinary Tea by by Cynthia Gold and Lise Stern opened my eyes to a world of uses for tea as a flavouring for other foods. Experiment with different flavours: Lapsang Souchong adds smokiness, Earl Grey adds citrus notes, and so on. The book is packed full of recipes but some basic techniques include:
- Broth making: steep tea in plain water, milk or any broth to impart a lovely deep complex flavour. It goes beautifully with mushrooms, but I have also used it to create tea-marbled hard-boiled eggs. It can be added to sauces and salad dressings too and can be used as the liquid for cooking rice, couscous or pasta.
- Any recipe that uses other acids, such as vinegar or lemon juice, can have this substituted with tea.
- Poaching and braising meat and fish: steep and strain tea then use it as you would water. As a general rule, the stronger the meat or fish, the darker the tea that goes best with it: Green and white tea pair especially well with fish and seafood, whereas dark oolong or black teas are best for lamb and beef. Pork and chicken work well with any tea.
- The acids in tea, along with the tannins, make it perfect for tenderizing meat. Use strongly brewed tea as a marinade for meat before grilling or roasting.
- Curing and smoking: adding tea to a cure or brine mix gives an interesting added flavour. Tea can also be used with both hot and cold smoking techniques: it can be added to the wood used for smoking, or used in place of it.
- Tea leaves can be ground over food just like pepper. This method can also be used to add the flavours of tea to flour for cakes, cookies or puddings, or to add to savoury dishes just as you would any other spice.
- Tea is acidic so if you’re growing acid-loving plants like camellias, azaleas, heathers and rhododendrons, they will be particularly appreciative of you adding tea to their environment. Also, if you’re struggling with a chalky or otherwise alkaline soil, tea is a very useful additive. Even if this isn’t the case, nearly all plants happily tolerate slightly acidic conditions, and tea leaves have other benefits to the gardener.
- Assuming you’ve made the switch to plastic-free biodegradable tea bags, or are using loose-leaf tea, tea is a great addition to the compost heap. Its acidic properties help decompose plant material, suppress fungal problems, repel pests and encourage plant-friendly bacteria to grow.
- Tea is absorbent and will, therefore, retain water: put a handful of tea leaves at the bottom of a plant pot before adding compost. The water will be released slowly where the plant most needs it, that is, at the roots.
- Tea makes a useful mulch: a scattering of loose tea leaves around the base of a plant will suppress weeds, provide nutrients for the plant and earthworms, and repel slugs and snails.
- Anti-fungal and mild pesticide spray: As mentioned, the tannins in tea have anti-fungal properties and repel many harmful insects. Steep used tea bags in hot water, put the resulting brew in a spray bottle and spray it on the leaves. If you’re concerned that it might damage a particular plant, start with a weak brew and test on one small area first.
This list is not exhaustive but hopefully has given you some money-saving ideas as to how you can put all that used tea to good use. Are there any other ways you’ve used tea in the house or garden? Let us know in the comments…
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