Origin of Comfrey Bocking Varieties
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Stuart Anderson
Posted on: March 23, 2007

[My] query is to ask you what "Selected from Bica" means in your product description for Comfrey Bocking 4. In fact, I’d be interested in knowing the provenance of your stock and will I be able to differentiate the Bocking 4 from the Bocking 14 I already grow. I mean visually, I know it has different qualities, which is why I’m interested in buying it. Please don’t think for an instant that I’m questioning your integrity by asking where your Bocking 4 came from, it’s just that I’ve tried all the specialist suppliers I can think of in the UK, where it originated and couldn’t find anything, which is how I came to be speaking to you!

The Bocking varieties were developed by Lawrence D Hills, founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association, in the 1950s. There were 21 Bocking strains, most of which were different in only minor traits and were of little or no commercial importance. They were selected at his research station at Bocking in Essex (U.K.). I don’t believe Mr. Hills is still alive, but the Henry Doubleday Research Association continues to operate as "Garden Organic" in the U.K. Because of the health controversies surrounding the medicinal use of comfrey, I believe the HDRA (or Garden Organic) is not currently doing any further research or development on the herb.

Our stock come from the HDRA in the 1970s. The HDRA price list at the time described No. 4 as "the best comfrey for stock feed." No. 14 was described as the "best all round comfrey for every garden -- early and rust resistant" and was recommended for "green manure, poultry, horses, pigs, compost, cooking and medicinal purposes."

Lawrence Hills detailed the development of his many varieties of comfrey is his book, "Comfrey: Fodder, Food & Remedy" (Universe Books, New York, 1976). Hills selected Bocking No. 14 from the Stephenson strain and Bocking No. 4 from the Webster strain, two commercially available strains when Hills began his work on comfrey at Bocking. In his book he described Bocking No. 4 as "the dominant in the [Webster] strain, about 50 to 60 per cent. The flower colour is Bishops Violet 34/3 when fully open. It has strong stems and small wings. The leaves are broad and round tipped, their proportion is 5 to 10, but they have no incurling, therefore they appear far wider than a No. 1 for example. The edges are unserrated, and the veins are prominent, with bristles thickest on the underside so that they appear smooth. At the leafy stage these leaves are very large, recovering rapidly after cutting. The stems, as in all the variations under trial, are solid." He described No. 14 as "the dominant in the Stephenson strain, 80 to 90 per cent. The flower stems are slender and frequent and are entirely wingless. The flowers are Imperial Purple 33/3 fading to Lilac Purple 031/3. The flowers are pointed, slightly serrated at the edges and vary in propportion from 5 to 12 and 3 to 6."

I could not find the original source reference to "Bica" because our company’s earliest correspondence dating back to the 1960s and 1970s was lost to water damage a few years ago. ‘Bica’ had been mentioned in the Richters catalogue for many years as the origin of Bocking No. 4. I believe that name was taken from either a HDRA catalogue or a research report. There is no reference to "Bica" in either "Comfrey: Fodder, Food & Remedy" or his earlier book, "Comfrey Report: The Story of the World’s Fastest Protein Builder" (Henry Doubleday Research Association, Bocking, Essex, 1975).

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