Photos by Joey Prince
In college, a friend who didn’t shave her armpits lent me her copy of Inga Muscio’s feminist treatise Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. Paging through it instantly gave me a ton of great ideas, like supporting female-run businesses and LGBT rights and checking out my vagina with a compact mirror. Then there were some I wasn’t immediately sold on, like abortion via reflexology and, more specifically, using menstrual blood as plant fertilizer.
The period-blood-fertilizer reference is buried among descriptions of alternative feminine-care products: “You can squeeze the blood out into a jar, fill it with water, and feed it to your houseplants, who… [a friend] assured me, ‘absolutely adore the stuff.’” Shocked, I googled the trend and, sure enough, found a few green-living and apocalypse-prep websites supporting the idea of gardening with the crimson wave.
Blood contains three primary plant macronutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Plants demand these in large amounts so they can actually survive or whatever. The granddaddy of the bloody nutrients, though, is nitrogen, which helps boost plants’ overall luster and growth. So, as a poor gardener and menstrual-cup enthusiast, I decided to collect my next cycle to help grow some plants.
Menstrual cups—in case you’re a slave to riding the cotton pony and are unhip to them—are flexible silicone thingies you fold and stuff up your holiest of orifices to catch blood. Most people pour their period down the toilet, but for my own personal Shark Week, I emptied my cups into a mason jar instead. At the end of the cycle, I added water to make the balance about one part blood to nine parts water. I decided to conduct the experiment for one week on an indoor plant and an outdoor plant. The plan was to water aloe (indoors) and Bibb lettuce (outdoors) each morning with blood tea.
I invited my friend Joey to photograph the first day, and was surprised how easy it was to convince him. He pointed to the sticky jar by my nightstand. “How do you think that’s going to go over with dudes?” he asked. “Is that gonna freak guys out?” I hadn’t thought about that—the idea of frightening potential sexual conquests out of my bed. Welp.
Day two kicked off with the lady-nutrient dump. Nothing immediate happened, good or bad. Same with day three, but it rained that night, and I wondered whether the deluge would wash away any of the vag vitamins from the lettuce. I added a dribble more in the evening, just in case. The aloe was obviously fine and safe on my bedside table.
That night I proved Joey wrong and had a man over. The dude asked about the jar full of sick-looking brown cooch soup, but once I told him about the experiment he accepted it and even continued to text me throughout the week. After that I started keeping the tea outside—on my fire escape, by the lettuce. Even though Night Three Dude wasn’t shaken, I started to worry about spending days in my tiny, hot bedroom surrounded by blood plants and jars of blob. My dad asked whether I was OK. I wasn’t sure about myself, but the lettuce leaves seemed to have perked up outdoors. The aloe looked kind of the same.
On day five I called off the aloe’s blood-tea treatment. The sun baking it had made the concoction smell unholy, and I couldn’t deal.
A 2004 commenter on one of the hippie sites I consulted warned that menstrual blood attracts ants. I half-expected insects to have ravaged the lettuce by day six, but she looked fine—actually, she looked great and perky. One might even say thriving.
On day seven, Joey returned for our special lunch date. I rigorously washed the vibrant blood lettuce and prepared a little summer salad with strawberries. Finally, it was time for a taste test. It tasted… like lettuce. I’ve grown this variety of Bibb lettuce in a few states now without blood, and it’s always about the same.
Despite the lack of obvious taste difference, the soil was clearly packed with nutrients. When making the salad, I chopped the heads down to the bottom of their stalks, and one week later a head had grown back, at least three inches tall.
The result was remarkable, but I couldn’t keep it up. I’m supposed to move in a few weeks, so I’ve been doling out various belongings I can’t carry south. One roommate reserved most of my plants but couldn’t handle the Aunt Flo–fortified Bibb. I ended up giving it to Night Three Dude, who emphatically accepted it, and now some blood lettuce grows in Bed-Stuy.
The fact that I grew something from my body is still exciting to me. You won’t see a dude doing that. Some message boards promote menses fertilization as a transcendental way to strengthen “ritual herb” growth, and I’m into that witchy shit. Maybe my next blood project will be for mystic purposes. Anyone got some white sage seeds to share? I have some spells to consider for the next time I fly the Japanese flag.