Benefits of Growing Comfrey (Bocking 14)
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) is a member of the family Boraginaceae which is huge plant family containing more than 2000 species in 146 genera worldwide, also known as the Borage or Forget-me-not family.
While comfrey is officially classed as a weed in our gardens, it is a plant that we may wish to grow because of its amazing use as an instant fertilizer.
The leaves do not rot down slowly like other plant leaves. Lacking fibre, they very quickly turn into a thick black liquid that is rich in potash, nitrogen and phosphorous. Your garden plants and vegetables adore this mixture and will reward you with strong healthy growth.
Comfrey needs very little care once established, and unlike other weeds can be kept under control easily.
Growing comfrey in your garden will save you a fortune on buying fertilizers, plus you have the added advantage of knowing that your comfrey is organically grown.
A cultivar of Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) unimaginatively called 'Bocking 14', is a strain developed in the 1950s by a British organic horticulturalist, Lawrence D Hills, and is named after the town in which it was trialled.
Bocking 14 is of particular interest to gardeners because its flowers are sterile, meaning it can't self-seed and become a real pest in the garden. Instead it must be propagated by division of existing plants. Comfrey has long, strong and spread out bulbous roots, each of which are capable of forming a new plant.
It is their roots that leech all the goodness from the soil that is normally lost through heavy rainfall. Comfrey then retains those chemicals in its leaves and that is why it makes such a good fertilizer.
It is easier to keep Comfrey under control simply by digging over the area around them where you do not want them to grow.
Having said that, Comfrey, once established, is extremely difficult to get rid of completely as their underground roots spread far and wide and new growth could pop up anywhere.
If you buy or are given an offshoot of comfrey, plant it in an area of good draining but not sandy soil. They tolerate both full sun and shade, but do like plenty to drink, especially during the growing season.
They are nitrogen hungry and so welcome the addition of well-rotted manure or chicken manure to their growing bed. Unlike other plants, they will not suffer from nitrogen burns if manure is directly applied.
Old grass trimmings or even diluted urine can be added to satisfy their thirst for nitrogen.
Don't be tempted to cut down your new comfrey plant in its first year, nor permit it to grow any flowers, as this will deplete the plant's energy reserves at a time when you want it to grow as strong as possible before it is struck down by frost in the autumn.
Comfrey is perennial, but it needs its energy reserves to survive its first winter.
The following year you should be rewarded with strong healthy leaves which you can start harvesting when they reach 2 feet tall, which should be by mid-spring.
Thereafter you should be able to harvest the leaves of the Comfrey plant every 4 - 6 weeks until early autumn when you want to stop to allow the plant to build its reserves for the winter.
To harvest the leaves, chop the whole plant down to just 2" high. It will regrow and rapidly.
The harvested leaves can be dug straight into the soil to supply nutrients to early crops, or turned into comfrey tea which is a smelly but extremely rich fertilizer for your garden. Simply add water to your leaves in a large bucket and leave to rot.
Comfrey can be added to the compost heap but it should be well mixed with fibrous material to stop your compost heap turning into black sludge.
Medicinal Uses of Comfrey
Comfrey has long been used in herbal medicine.
In fact, the old name for Comfrey was 'knitbone' a throwback to the time when Comfrey was used to repairbroken bones. Whether this actually worked or not is anyone's guess, remembering that bones have a habit of knitting themselves back together anyway without any intervention needed.
What scientists do know Comfrey has is a substance called allantoin, which speeds up cell re-growth.
Comfrey has been used in folk medicine since early times, for the treatment of:
- bronchial problems
- gastric ulcers
- varicose ulcers
- severe burns
- female disorders
Comfrey also contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are substances that when ingested can lead to liver failure.
At least 1 death has been implicated by the internal use of Comfrey.
Some herbal product manufacturers have begun removing pyrrolizidine alkaloids from their products, but under laws laid down by the US Food and Drug Administration, they should still be labelled for external use only.
There is some evidence that when used externally, Comfrey can and does assist a variety of ailments.