Botanical preparation revisited..again.

Isn't it kind of funny I come back to some of the same themes in this blog?

Well, it is to me...And it's kind of important. I'm happy to do it. The two most frequent questions we get about our aquatic botanicals are "Do I have to boil and soak them?" and "Why can't I add them to my tank all at once?"

Well, first off, you HAVE to boil or soak your botanicals before use. Simple as that. Why? There are several reasons, really. First, because they are terrestrial materials that your adding to your closed system aquarium, for one thing, and although they come from sources we know to be reliable and free from pesticides and agricultural chemicals, they are still "dirty" from collection, handling, storage, and packaging. 

In addition, most botanicals require boiling or submersion to soften their tissues to help them absorb water so they can sink in your aquarium. Some are very "cooperative", sinking straight to the bottom with a mere few minutes of boiling. Others are much more "stubborn", and will take a longer time for the water to be absorbed.

This is as much a function of their "structure" as it is of their weight. Some of the lightest botanicals actually sink rapidly after boiling, while others, such as "Jungle Pods" shown above, can take over an hour of boiling to get them to "stay down!"

The "post boil soak" in room temperature water that we talk about so often here is recommended because once you boil these materials, they begin to leach out some of the materials bound up in their tissues (such as sugars, lignin, tannins, other organics, etc.), all of which come in a larger "dose" upon first contact with water. Much of this is released while boiling (have you looked at the color of the water in your pot after prepping your botanicals?), and more of it will continue to leach out in the first day or so after this process. So, being the conservative aquarists that we are, we highly recommend a day or two soaking in freshwater after boiling to "crack off" some of the initial release of these bound up organics before the botanicals are placed in your aquarium.

Of course, the inevitable followup question to the "soak" recommendation is, "Well, I want those tannins! Won't I lose a lot of them with the soak?" The answer is, no, you really won't. This is just the initial materials bound up in the first or surface layer of the botanicals, and once waterlogged, they will continue to slowly leach into the water column over weeks and months.

One exception to the boiling process is leaves. We recommend a 10 minute or so "steep" in boiling water, followed by a freshwater rinse, and ideally, an overnight soak before use.  The overnight soak is optional, but I would not forgo the "steep." Most of our experienced customers do it differently- they give the leaves a rinse in warm water and add them right into their tanks. Guava leaves, which tend to leach less tannins than Catappa leaves, are candidates for this "expedited" prep process.

Their thought is that leaves, being thin, relatively pliable botanicals, will loose enough tannins in those first hours to shorten their "usable life span" of tannin-releasing in your aquarium. I have not personally noticed this, but it's your call. I've never experienced a problem either way; I think my policy is to recommend the most conservative action to our customers, all thing being equal, which is why we recommend the soak. Again, it's your call here.

Many hobbyists want to know why we don't recommend adding all of your botanicals to your tank at one time. It's a fair question. In an established aquarium, adding a significant quantity of anything at one time can be potentially problematic, so we think it's just common sense to avoid doing this. These materials can influence water chemistry with their tannins- we know that. Rapid changes to established aquariums are a no-no in any hobbyist's book.

And, when you add a bunch of botanicals that have been "softened", there could be a significant release of bound-up organics, etc. in the first hours after they have been boiled. You don't want a large release of organics in your established, stable aquarium. The potential for pH drops, bacterial blooms, oxygen depletion, etc. is always there if you rush it. There is not special danger posed by botanicals that you wouldn't face by adding a large quantity of any other organic material to your tank all at once. This is just common sense. I cannot stress enough to not rush it. There's just no point.

In a future piece, we'll once again resist the "yucky biofilm phase", the "algal growth phase", and other "rights of passage" you endure when utilizing these materials in your aquariums. Like any other approach to aquarium keeping, the "New Botanical" approach has its guidelines, recommendations, tips, trick, and "best practices" to follow. As part of the ever-expanding community of "tinters", we always look forward to hearing about your experiences, and listening to your recommendations!

There is so much to learn and share about using botanicals in the aquarium, and we're happy you're a part of the process!

So stay smart. Stay aware. Stay observant.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics





Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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