A garden without comfrey has a gardener without nounce stumbling through it. Yesterday, we looked at the medicinal uses of comfrey but comfrey has more uses to the gardener beyond bruising and breaks. Yet comfrey, like nettles, has become a maligned plant in the garden, they are unfashionable, deemed weeds and replaced by the more friendly borage. Borage too is a useful feed but for us it does not touch comfrey.
We grow Comfrey Bocking 14 on our plot, which is a Russian Comfrey, unlike wild comfrey it doesn't really spread from seed in the same rampant way and the plant is more like a rhubarb crown. It will increase in size year in, year out. We do have some wild comfrey on our site, you can see below the difference between the leaf shape from the photo above, which is Bocking 14. To give you an idea how easy it is to propagate. We brought one plant with us from Drovers and took root cuttings before planting it back in the soil. We now have comfrey all over the garden, we have it in the cottage garden as an early flower for bees - bees love it - we have it in the field as a large new bed by the glasshouse. It is a glorious flower, great for difficult soils and the benefits of it will save the gardener pounds not pennies.
Here are a few ways we use comfrey:
- Mulch: we pull the leaves from the plant and pile them around hungry plants, like spuds and tomatoes. We actually tear some leaves and place them beneath tomatoes and potatoes we are about to plant.
- Digging: we dig in the leaves of the plant when rejunevating a bed. It soon rots down and is great for the soil. Don't believe us? Look at the soil around wild comfrey, it is the most friable soil you will find in the wild.
- Liquid Fertilizer: leaves can put in a bucket with a small drip hole in the bottom with a another small bucket beneath. You weigh down the leaves with a brick and allow them to rot down. It produces a black, viscous liquid that doesn't smell as bad as comfrey tea (see below). When the small bucket is full, bottle and dilute 15:1 with water before using it for potassium hungry plants.
- Potting Soil: leaves need to be shredded and mixed with leaf-mould (this is leaves collected over a year ago and allowed to rot down in an open wired heap). Use this for potting on only and do not use for seedlings.
- Compost Activator: comfrey is high in nitrogen (see the table below) and is ideal for making a heap hot. Do not add it as a layer, dig in to the heap and distribute evenly.
What are the nutrients in comfrey in comparison to manure?
Nutritional Value of Bocking 14 Comfrey
Material Water % Nitrogen % (N) Phosphorus % (P) Potash % (K) Carbon-Nitrogen Ratio
Manure 76.00 0.64 0.23 0.32 14:1
Comfrey 75.00 0.74 0.24 1.19 9.8:1
Compost 76.00 0.50 0.27 0.81 10:1
Let's talk comfrey tea. Comfrey tea is not for the faint hearted and is a smell unlike any other you will ever come across, even fresh manure does not hold a candle to a barrel of well rotted comfrey tea.
We make comfrey tea in large water barrel that holds 270 litres and has a lid. You will need a barrel with a lid. This is important, do not forget this. Seriously, do not underestimate the need for a lid. We did once and the United Utilities showed up to check our drains after several complaints. We harvest one of our largest comfrey plants which easily fill the barrel to halfway. We do not cram it down as you need to allow the water to permeate through the leaves.
We then fill the barrel to within 8 inches of the top of the barrel, don't fill it to the top as you will need to sink a watering can into this barrel a month from now and you will be grateful of 8 inches. We then stir it with a stick, close it up and walk away for a month. Nothing will prepare you for what will come next.
A month from now you will pick a lovely summer's day, you will wend your way through your plot and pass the barrel. You will remember that you made comfrey tea and you will take off the lid. You will not be hit by a wall of odour. You will be hit by a fist of stench. The hairs in your nose will die and if you spill any on you, you will be smelling it for months to come and your friends will all be suddenly busy on a Friday night. You will have the power to empty pubs, restaurants and clubs. Small children will cry at your approach. There is no stench like comfrey tea. So why make it? Because it's bloody good stuff. You can dilute it down with water to the shade of weak tea and your plants will love you, your fruit will swell, your veg will sigh with delight, you will find if you use it weekly that your crops, your plants, all seem to be doing better than they do on the chemical, off the shelf alternative. You will soon discover that you don't have enough comfrey tea to go round or enough plants to do everything you need.
So what have we learnt about comfrey? #saveourskills
- It is a versatile plant both in it's solid and liquid form.
- It is high in nitrogen and is well balanced in the NPK range.
- That a plot without comfrey is a plot without practicality.
- That is is a hardy plant, bee friendly and plant friendly.