Sunday, 17 June 2012

More tea, Vicar?

Down at the bottom of my garden, in a dry shady place where nothing else will grow, I have a small patch of Comfrey. Actually, come to think of it, the patch is smaller than ever this year... There are basically only two plants now, the one in this photo and one that is round the side, almost out of sight between the two compost bins.

Comfrey has quite attractive flowers...

But I don't grow it for its flowers, I grow it for using as plant food. Comfrey puts down deep roots that search out nutrients well below the soil surface and it uses these to build big fleshy stems and broad fibrous leaves.

These leaves and stems, chopped and added to your compost bin will give your home-made compost a big boost. I prefer to use it to make a liquid plant-food usually referred to as Comfrey Tea. Why "Tea", I wonder? Presumably people think that it follows the same principles as the normal type of drinking-tea: add some leaves to water and drink the resulting infusion...

Making this tea is very simple. You cut the plants down to nearly ground level, chop them up (stems and leaves) put them in a large container such as a plastic dustbin or simply a bucket...

Then fill the bucket with enough water to cover the leaves, and set it aside for a few weeks. If you can arrange this, it's best to cover the bucket with a lid of some sort, to prevent things falling into it (such as beetles, small rodents and more rainwater! You will need to put your container somewhere well away from your house, because the Comfrey rots down very rapidly and comprehensively, ending up as a slimy dark green / brown sludge with an evil smell. This is your finished product, and it's full of nutrients that your veggies will love. It has good levels of the three main elements that plants need in order to flourish: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash (NPK).

The speed of the decomposition process depends on the ambient temperature. Higher temperatures promote quicker decomposition. I normally find that the tea is ready for use in about three to four weeks. The stems rot more slowly than the leaves, so I use the mixture in two batches. I pour off most of the liquid into a watering-can, and then top-up the remaining sludge (which will be mostly stems) with some more water and leave it another week or so before using it. A point to note is that the liquid will be full of fibres which will inevitably clog the holes of your watering-can's rose, so its perhaps best to remove the rose before using the can for Comfrey Tea.

I use my Comfrey tea on plants that produce fruits - such as Tomatoes, Squashes, Beans and Chillies. Since I don't have a lot of Comfrey I can't make a lot of tea, so I use it sparingly, and I generally don't use it on leafy vegetables. I also recommend diluting the Tea to make it go further. If I remember, I'll show you the finished result in a month or so, when the first batch should be ready to go onto my Tomatoes.

I know that Comfrey is easily propagated by root division and/or stem cuttings, so I have planted a few cuttings. These are simply sections of stem (mostly with a leaf attached), buried in the ground.

Note the bucket of Tea in the background. Must find a lid for it...

Due to the huge amounts of rain that we have had recently, even this area of the garden, which practically never gets any rain, is at least damp, so I'm hopeful that a few of the cuttings will take root.

If you would like more information on the cultivation and use of Comfrey, here's a good place to start:- an article all about it on the website called


  1. Hopefully this area at the bottom of your garden is well quarantined from the rest, Mark. I grew comfrey at the allotment and it took over. I'm still digging out seedlings 5 years later!

  2. I have a couple of patches - I leave mine whilst it is in flower as any passing bee loves them - but even after chopping it down you still get two or three more batches during the summer. The same tea works with nettles as well.

  3. Interesting. I really never knew this. I have no comfrey here that I know of. I think I would have a hard time cutting it while it is in flower.

  4. There's a tiny corner bed by our washing lines that I've earmarked for comfrey - once grown, never got rid of I've been told! I've heard similar comments to yours about the smell so I won't be leaving buckets of the leaves rotting in a corner, but it will still be useful in the compost bin. Can I bury chopped up leaves in the ground, I wonder?

  5. I have a huge comfrey plant and this year it has made a baby. I think I better try and dig the baby out before its gets deep rooted. I'm trying a nettle and comfrey tea mix this year. It smells bad, so thinking that must be good.

  6. We have loads of it on the plot too and it is swarming with bees. When we made comfrey tea we used a drip method. This was a hole in the bottom of a lidded bucket raised on bricks above a large jar.The comfrey inside the bucker was soaking in water and pressed under a brick. The liquid dripped out and we kept topping it up. We haven't made it for a while though but we did mulch between the potatoes with the leaves one year.

  7. Despite having lived for years (thought not recently) near the Bocking Research Station, I hadn't met comfrey in person until a week ago (while I was photographing birds' feet). I was impressed. Had only heard of the leaves but the flowers are lovely. There were more pink than white ones.

  8. I've herad of it but not seen it. I wonder why? I'd always be willing to entertain ways to boost the compost.

  9. Thats really interesting - I have heard that weeds have similar properties, ie they are able to find nutrients which other plants are unable to (which guess is why they become weeds.

  10. I don't have comfrey, but I've got nettles at the allotment which can be used in the same way, I must have a go at making a batch.

  11. Thanks for the educative post. worth a try.

  12. Learnt something new today, thanks.

  13. I bought some Comfrey Bocking root in april, they sold me 5 roots, I chopped them up
    into 9 pieces, now I have just planted out 9 plants.
    I m looking forward to cheap tomato feed next year!
    The weather is rubbish........ I wish you all good luck.


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