Mazlan acquired his love of gardening at a young age, and it has been his passion for over 55 years.
Can I Use MSG as Plant Fertilizer?
People will generally be surprised if you tell them to use Monosodium glutamate, commonly known by its abbreviation "MSG," as plant fertilizer. Their surprise is due to the numerous negative reports on the use of MSG. However, gardening hobbyists and even farmers in some Asian countries are happily (and successfully) using MSG as plant fertilizer and also as part of their pesticide mix.
This article reviews all you need to know about MSG as a plant fertilizer, including the benefits, downsides, and how to prepare such fertilizer.
If you are on a tight gardening budget, chicken manure is a good choice as it is one of the better organic fertilizers.
It has 2.38% nitrogen, 2.65% phosphorous, 1.76% potassium, and 0.46% magnesium oxide. It works faster than other organic fertilizers. However, chicken manure has lots of "side effects," including infectious diseases and insect pests.
So, what is the alternative for a cheaper, better, and safer organic fertilizer? What about MSG?
What Is Monosodium Glutamate?
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a seasoning and food flavor enhancer very popular in East and South Asia. It is made of sodium and glutamate, which is a naturally occurring amino acid found in the human body. It is used to enhance the taste of fried rice, fried noodles, soups, sauces, broths, instant noodles, and other Chinese dishes.
MSG Trade Name—Ajinomoto
MSG is available under several trade names and one of the most popular brands is Ajinomoto.
What Is MSG Made Of?
MSG is made from corn, wheat, tapioca, sugar cane, or other food crops that have high starch proteins. This is MSG's main raw material. Through the fermentation process, the sugar and starch are turned into glutamic acid.
MSG as Fertilizer
Recently MSG has grown in popularity and use as an alternative plant fertilizer. among gardening enthusiasts. This is most likely due to its high content of nitrogen and other minerals. If you are the type that likes to experiment and discover a new way to make organic fertilizer, then you should try MSG.
MSG as Insecticide for Plants
Some people also use it as an insecticide for plants. I have yet to try this and can't vouch for its effectiveness.
Is MSG Fertilizer Good for Plants?
Based on the findings of this study, MSG is as good a plant fertilizer as most regular fertilizers. The results of another experiment on the use of MSG as a plant nutrient also confirmed that MSG aids in plant growth.
It is a cheap and easily available alternative to gardening enthusiasts or farmers that are on a tight budget.
Why MSG Is Good as a Fertilizer
MSG is good as plant fertilizer as it contains:
- high level of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
- trace elements such as ammonium, sulfate, calcium, magnesium, organic matter.
- a variety of amino acids which are needed for plant growth.
These are all essential nutrients for healthy plant growth, with each playing its own specific roles:
- Nitrogen helps create food for the plant through photosynthesis.
- Phosphates encourage root growth, increase the uptake of other nutrients, and are the bloom booster.
- Potassium helps your plants grow faster and regulates the metabolic processes required for fruit and seed development.
- Organic matter can improve soil and helps in water and nutrient retention. It also promotes beneficial organisms in the soil, hence improving the efficient use of fertilizer.
- The amino acids can make the crop robust and improve crop resistance.
- Sulfur helps in the soil disinfection function and improves the efficient use of nitrogen.
MSG Benefits on Plants
When you use any MSG, your plants grow better with more flowers and fruits. It improves plant nutrition, accelerates growth, and strengthens plant antibodies.
A Large Amount of MSG Can Kill Your Plant
Be careful — only a fair amount of MSG is beneficial as fertilizer. A large amount is not favorable for plant growth due to its sodium content.
Ajinomoto claimed that the sodium in their MSG is sodium glutamate and sodium ribonucleotide and not salt as in NaCl, which is harmful to most plants. That said, it is still best to avoid large doses in fertilizer.
MSG Is Bad for Plants?
If you Googled "msg as fertilizer," you will find some sites that claimed MSG is bad for plants.
Due to Sodium Content—Leaf Burns, Scorch, and Dead Tissues
Negative criticism mainly centers on the idea that the sodium content in MSG causes "sodium toxicity." This leads to leaf burns, scorch, and dead tissues mainly on the leaves' outer edges. In plants that are more resistant to sodium, the leaves do not die but develop a dull hue that doesn't look good on ornamental plants.
As previously mentioned, you can avoid damaging your plants with MSG by using only moderate amounts as a fertilizer. Further, some plants, such as coconut trees, actually thrive on sodium as a macronutrient and will especially benefit from MSG as a fertilizer.
Effects of Sodium in Plants—Dehydrated Look
The other side effects of sodium in plants are that it can cause a "dehydrated look." This means that it can make the plant look sick as it begins to suffer from massic leaf drop. This is not a "good look" for ornamental plants.
Again, this is why only a fair amount of MSG is beneficial for your plants. Just follow the mix ratio as described below and it should be good to use as a fertilizer.
MSG in Large Scale Agriculture
You may also come across articles on the use of MSG in large-scale farming in the United States where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the unrestricted use of MSG as a plant-growth and crop-yield enhancer. This was way back in 1998.
Hence, US farmers can spray MSG on crops without restriction and with no limit on the amount of MSG.
This stokes a lot of folks.
Processed Free Glutamic Acid
The issue is on the safety of spraying "processed free glutamic acid" not only on plants but also on the environment.
However, this so-called "free glutamic acid" for large-scale farming is a synthetic product, unlike the MSG that we use in our food (which is processed via the bacterial fermentation of tapioca or similar crops, similar to how cheese, yogurt, and wine are produced).
This synthetic product also contains other components that are referred to as "impurities."
How to Make MSG Fertilizer
Now that we are clear on the differences between MSG for large-scale farming and at-home gardening enthusiasts, let's move on to its safe mix ratio.
How Do You Apply MSG to Plants?
- For small plants and plants that are less than a year old, mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of MSG to 5-liter water (1.32 gallon). Apply once every two weeks.
- For bigger plants or plants that are more than a year old, mix 5 tablespoons of MSG to 1-liter (0.26 gallon) water. Apply once every two weeks.
You can use this as foliar spray or apply it directly to the soil. Ideally, use this MSG fertilizer in the late evening.
Is MSG Good for Orchids?
I have yet to try MSG as an orchid fertilizer but several blog sites claim that it is beneficial, especially to accelerate orchid growth and to produce more flowers. However, it should be applied only to matured orchid plants.
MSG Mix Ratio for Orchids
To prepare the solution, mix 1 teaspoon of monosodium glutamate in 0.26 gallon (1-liter) water and mix it well. Spray to the roots and leaves once a week.
Which MSG Should You Use?
As mentioned earlier, MSG is available under several trade names. The brand Ajinomoto is the popular choice both as a food flavor enhancer and as an alternative plant fertilizer. Vetsin and Mong Lee Shang are two other well-known brands.
Ajinomoto and Vetsin can be slightly pricey and I don't use them often. There are other, cheaper brands that work just as well.
Is MSG Bad for You?
Since the late 1960s, a lot of negative press has claimed that MSG causes drowsiness, headaches, nausea, and even weight gain. However, much of the negative press about MSG is based on anecdotal evidence and rumors.
In fact, MSG occurs naturally in many foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, aged cheeses, and even breast milk. Additionally, the following scientific studies have debunked the supposed negative effects of MSG:
- Monosodium L-glutamate: a double-blind study and review
- Does monosodium glutamate really cause headache? : a systematic review of human studies
Further, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has concluded that MSG is generally safe.
The Truth About MSG and Your Health
References and Further Reading
- Scientists Have Known MSG Is Safe for Decades. Why Don't Most Americans?
The ingredient is a combo of sodium and a substance found naturally in mushrooms and Parmesan cheese.
- The Benefit of Adding MSG on the Growth of Tomato Plants
- Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG) | FDA
Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Effects of Different Organic Fertilizers on Soil Microbial Biomass and Peanut Yield
A pot experiment was conducted to investigate the effects of different organic fertilizers on soil microbial biomass and peanut yield using plate counting and Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis (DGGE) methods.
- The Effects of Monosodium Glutamate as an Alternative Fertilizer
This study aims to determine the effects of commercial MSG on the growth of corn plants.
- Fertilizers From Monosodium Glutamate Waste Encapsulated With Chitosan Nano-zeolite
The authors make fertilizer with a high slow release of zeolite, chitosan from the skin shell and monosodium glutamate (MSG) waste. The method used is demineralization, deproteination, and deacetylation to obtain chitosan.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Mazlan A
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on June 05, 2021:
Hi Rawan. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. BTW, have you tried MSG on your plants?
Rawan Osama from Egypt on June 05, 2021:
Thank you for sharing it
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on June 05, 2021:
Hi Liz. In an Asian kitchen, you are bound to find MSG or monosodium glutamate and someone somewhere somehow had the bright idea that it is also good for plants! Yup, an inexpensive homemade fertilizer. Give it a try and let me know if it works on your plants. Cheers and have a great and safe weekend.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 04, 2021:
This is a very helpful, interesting and well-written article. I had seen MSG as an ingredient, but never considered its use for plants before.