Well, most of my tanks are NPT which means dirt :)....so, I sprinkle a few handfuls of peat (the chopped up stuff that looks like dirt) from garden center into tank as I am setting it up. Now peat has this very weird ability to REPEL water when dry...which means it will float to top and make huge mess...so one would make it the 1st layer in the substrate although I don't use enough to cover whole bottom of tank (you should be able to see glass bottom). After that I add 1-1.5 inches organic dirt (check out planted tank section on this forum for NPT) and then about 1-1.5inches sand. After that, I plant the tank (i add hardscape 1st, then plants).
Peat is one of nature's water softeners. I have seen on other aquarium plant sites and forums where people add peat pellets (think you can get these at a well equipped garden center but also on line as well at aquarium plant websites) to regular gravel and/or other substrates. It seems I have also heard of a little bag/sack of peat that you can put in your filter, but I don't have personal experience with that.
I do know that fish and plants from Asia...Thailand, malasia, etc....like softer water and peat helps with this. Peat is also used in some Blackwater extracts that some people use instead of hardwood leaves or Indian Almond Leaves to add tannins and darken water for our fishies.
I do know that before adding peat pellets, test your water for hardness and pH. And then you need to monitor it for awhile afterward because messing around too much with the hardness of water can actually compound your troubles. It can make water more unstable so that it will be less able to fix itself regarding pH and other factors; our aquatic friends and plants like it stable, so even if it is harder water than they'd normally have, it might be better to leave it be rather than risk its stabilizing potential.