Comfrey – the super-food for plants

Comfrey shoot

Comfrey shoot

The comfrey is growing! Planting a comfrey patch was on my list of Green Resolutions for the year. There are lots of good reasons to grow the stuff. It has hugely long roots that pull up nutrients from deep down in the soil – if you plant a comfrey patch and harvest the leaves for mulch or for your compost pile, then you are bringing those goodies back up into use by other plants. It is particularly rich in potassium (K), as well as nitrogen (N) and potash (P); in fact, it apparently has more NPK than farmyard muck. You can now buy comfrey pellets to use as fertiliser, but it seems easy enough to grow your own – and much cheaper. Once you’ve got a patch growing, you pretty much have free plant food forever.

You can use the leaves in a number of ways. One permaculture method, called ‘chop and drop’, involves simply chopping the leaves down and leaving them around a plant as mulch. Some people plant a ring of comfrey around an (established) fruit tree, then harvest the leaves two or three times in a season for mulch, cutting them down when they’re about 2 feet high, and before they flower. You can also put comfrey leaves in a bucket and leave them to rot down for several weeks, either with or without water, diluting down the resulting stinky goo to make ‘comfrey tea’, a liquid plant feed. The leaves also break down quickly and can be chucked onto your compost heap – or just leave it to flower, as bees seem to love it. According to Wild About Gardens, three types of bumble bee like comfrey flowers, including a little bee called Bombus Pratorum that is small enough to fly up inside the drooping flower.

You have to be a bit careful with comfrey, for a couple of reasons. The hairy leaves can apparently be an irritant, so it needs handling with gloves. It also makes large plants, and can be very invasive –  it sets seed everywhere, and you can never dig it out, due to the huge root-run. The variant I used (from The Real Seed Catalogue) is a type of Russian Comfrey (Symphetum x uplandicum) called Bocking 14, which is sterile and has to be propagated from cuttings, so shouldn’t spread too much (I hope!) Best to avoid common comfrey (Syphetum officinale), which runs riot along the river banks near us.

Comfrey cuttings - Super-food for my plants

Comfrey cuttings – Super-food for my plants

The crown cuttings arrived as little chunks, each with a shoot attached. I’ve potted them up, to be growing on while I decide where to plant them (I’ll have to think hard about this, as it will be pretty much impossible to dig up, once it gets going!) This is my first year of growing comfrey. If you have any uses or tips to share, I’d love to hear. In the meantime, here are some handy links on all things comfrey:

 

21 responses to “Comfrey – the super-food for plants

  1. It is brilliant stuff comfrey; I use the soup method, shoving it in a bucket along with some nettles which are also full of nutrients. The only trouble is the smell. Stinky goo indeed. A bit embarrassing when people come to the garden. They probably think I have a stack of corpses rotting behind the potting shed.

  2. I used to grow comfrey when I had an allotment – it was great for adding to the compost. Haven’t got round to planting any in the garden, but your post has reminded me that it’s something I should do.

  3. I do love Comfrey as it is a fab fertilizer and as you say the bees love it. My problem is it grows wild and has it’s roots in my veggie patch and is impossible to dig up.xxx

    • Yep, I’m a bit nervous about its thuggish nature. I’m hoping that, having a non-self-seeding cultivar will help. And I’ll try to plant it somewhere where it won’t matter too much if it gets a bit above itself! (Maybe along a ditch or by the compost…)

    • If Mrs T has any words of advice on how//where to grow the stuff, that would be wonderful! I’m a bit nervous about planting mine out in the ‘wrong’ place and then never ever being able to move it….

    • Thanks for visiting. I can’t take any credit for the idea…but I do love the simplicity of being able to ‘close a loop’ as it were, by growing and harvesting comfrey myself, and so reducing the need to buy in fertilisers from elsewhere…I’ll post here about how I get on this year with the comfrey.

    • Thanks so much for the link – that’s a brilliant idea! I did a permaculture course at a lovely organic fruit farm in Essex, where they leave patches of long grass and other weeds to grow up around their red currents bushes – which seems to camoflage the berries so well that they didn’t need to net against birds. (And this was growing on a small commercial scale.) I never thought to use the comfrey this way…Many thanks : ) !!

  4. I did not know you could make comfrey tea as fertilizer! Great tip! We planted comfrey in our swale this year but it is not doing so well. Not sure why. Great blog!

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