8 Mar 2006
Top Five Things to Do With Oil Barrels When There’s No More Oil To Fill Them – #2. Make Comfrey Liquor.
Comfrey is the superhero of plants. It is truly wonderful, so multifunctional as to almost be outrageous. Comfrey is what is known as a dynamic accumulator, that is it is incredibly good at mining nutrients from deep in the soil and bringing them to the surface. The combination of comfrey and oil drum can be a win/win for any gardener. Many types of comfrey grow in Europe. The native comfrey to the UK is wild comfrey (Symphytum officinale). This is a tall stout perennial with broad hairy leaves. Some of the names it was known by in England include knitbone, boneset, blackwort, gumplant, Nip bone and Ass Ear. The flowers are bell like, white or mauve, and are found from May to June. Comfrey makes a very deep (up to 3m deep) taproot which draws up potassium, calcium, iron and phosphorous from deep in the soil.
New plants grow easily from even the tiniest piece of root. You can read more about what a wonderful plant it is here. Comfrey is one of the most useful medicinal plants. It is used to make healing poultices for sprains, bruises and abrasions. It contains a substance called allantoin, which promotes healing in connective tissue. Medieval herbalists called it ‘bone-set’ and the root was lifted in Spring, grated and used like plaster of Paris is today.
At Ragman’s Lane Farm, one of the UK’s leading permaculture demonstration sites, they have a quarter acre plot of comfrey (see right), into which the main nutrient flows from the farm are directed, including the effluents from composting cattle manure and the septic tank which would otherwise create pollution problems. The comfrey devours all this and grows prolifically, and is harvested a couple of times a year and placed in huge barrels (see below left), allowed to rot and make comfrey liquor which is then pasteurised, bottled and sold. It forms a key part of the farm’s income.
On a domestic scale, an old oil drum, (cleaned out) can be placed, raised up off the ground, with a hole drilled a couple of inches from the bottom and a tap fitted. Place it near your comfrey patch (always use Bocking 14, the only variety which won’t spread, available as root cuttings here) and just as it starts to flower, cut it and throw it into the barrel. Leave it a couple of months and then start to tap it off. The resultant liquid is dark brown and doesn’t smell much. It can be mixed 10 to 1 with water and used as a plant feed. The alternative way of making comfrey liquor is to add leaves to water, but it does end up producing the most unholy stench you ever encountered, one which if you get it on your hands, a week later, despite frequent soapy washing, will still be there! Your plants will love you for it. You can plant the comfrey around your compost heap to take up all the nutrients that would otherwise be leached out. You can also use your barrel to throw in noxious weeds like creeping buttercup and couch grass in such a way that they rot down, their nutrients are made use of and they are no longer a danger of re-rooting. Using an oil drum in this way can add a lot to your garden, increase your crops and create a nutrient cycle. Comfrey liquor, nectar of the Gods!