I love comfrey.
You may have heard talk of comfrey, comfrey tea or soup, ‘Bocking 14’ or something similar before but wondered what it is and why people bang on about it like it’s some sort of miracle plant. Well, in a way it is, and here’s why:
Comfrey is one of the most amazing natural fertilisers available to the home-grower!
Comfrey can be grown in any neglected corner of your allotment or kitchen garden, and indeed should be grown where you can.
There are a few primary reasons – the leaves can either be used as a beneficial mulch, compost activator or, most useful, to make a great liquid feed known as ‘tea.’ There are other centuries-old uses, such as a treatment in cut or skin abrasions, or as fodder for your animals on the plot, but we’ll focus on the more ‘direct’ uses.
Leaves taken from the comfrey plant can be used as as a great mulch or fast-acting compost activator; there is no ‘nitrogen robbing’ as the leaves break down and they give a nice boost to the growth of your veggies. They can also be used to line bean or potato trenches before you sow your runners or previous spuds.
Most peoples’ favourite use of comfrey leaves is to make an evil smelling broth known as comfrey tea. The simplest method is as follows; take a container of water and sink into it a good amount of comfrey leaves. That’s it. You can tether these into a bag if you like for easy removal (so they don’t block up any water-butt taps or watering can roses), or do what I do and trap them at the bottom under a bit of chicken wire and a brick. After a efw weeks the water will go a greeny-blacky-frothy-manky colour and will smell disgusting. Your plants will love it; dilute it into a watering can and water (directly to the roots if you can, using buried bottles or a similar method).
Some people prefer to make comfrey concentrate using a comfrey press (such as the one detailed here) – this is simply the juice from the breaking down leaves, with no added water. This can be collected, stored and when used it must be heavily diluted.
In terms of its N-P-K ratio, which is a common measure of the content of a fertiliser, taking into account the relative quantities of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), comfrey tea compares very favourably to commercially produced, non-organic liquid tomato feeds.
Comfrey: An invasive weed vs. sterile Bocking 14
Comfrey, it’s true, is widespread in British woodland, roadsides, hedgerows and the like. It spreads like wildfire and once it’s established, the roots are very difficult to remove. A new plant will happily grow from a scrap of root left behind, should you attempt to dig some out.
This can make it easy, you may think, for you to take cuttings of the roots yourself and transplant them into your allotment or garden; but beware! Wild (or common) comfrey sets seed liberally and will spread over your plot given half a chance. This is where the Bocking 14 cultivar comes into its own.
Bocking 14. Such a lovely, poetic name.
Bocking 14 is a sterile variety of comfrey; it will set seed but the seeds it does drop haven’t a chance of taking root in your plot. Marvellous for the home-grower as their comfrey patch can sit undisturbed, flowering away (the bees love it), and you won’t have to worry about cutting off the flower stalks to save nearby crops.
For this reason, Bocking 14 can only be propagated by dividing established plants, or more commonly, by acquiring root cuttings. As I mentioned above, comfrey is a tough little sod and given time it will re-grow from almost any fragment of root left in the soil. This makes getting your hands on some Bocking 14 easy enough, as a few segments of root and a bit of patience will be all you need to establish a hugely-beneficial comfrey patch on your allotment. Root segments are freely available on the internet (auction sites or from friendly gardeners willing to help out), or plants can be bought from garden centres or suppliers. Make sure you’re getting Bocking 14, though, as some centres happily sell potted-up wild comfrey.
So, there you have it: comfrey is awesome. Everyone growing their own fruit and vegetables should make space for some and reap the benefits.