Our latest podcast is up at 2 Midwest Guys where we recap our tour to Brambleberry Farm a permaculture nursery and farm. If you are looking for permaculture plants, want a local source, and what to see what you are getting before ordering online or from a catalog they have quite a bit, including Comfrey.
With all of the talk about comfrey in the podcast (2 Midwest Guys.com), in the tour, in classes, on the blogs, on Facebook, I think it is about time we added comfrey to the Herb Blurb.
Comfrey as a permaculture plant
Comfrey is a great and almost necessary plant in permaculture. It has deep tap roots that can go down 12 feet or more into the soil to m in minerals out. You will almost always find comfrey in any permaculture designers tool box of go to plants. Typically they are planted around fruit or nut trees. When the trees are just planted and establishing themselves, a ring of comfrey around the tree can boost tree growth. It is extremely fast growing. You can harvest the leaves several times over the season. Here in the Midwest comfrey will die back to the ground during winter. The leaves can be added to compost as a nutrient booster. You can make comfrey tea as a fertilizer for plants. You can feed it to livestock. I can say that our chickens completely devoured a comfrey plant when we first got them. The additional minerals found in the leaves benefit, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, cows, pigs. We haven’t seen any of our pets eating it yet, that being the dog and cats. I mentioned harvesting several times a season. Harvesting consists of cutting the leaves back, and you use the leave portions for teas, compost, or feed.
We haven’t had much luck with starting comfrey from seeds. The best way to spread it is through root cuttings. After 2-3 years the plants are well established and you can split them. Much like you would split a hosta. Taking a spade you can divide the root mass into several clumps. Only 1 inch of root is necessary to propagate. The Russian variety do not spread by themselves. Be warned, once you introduce comfrey into an area it can be difficult to remove, since it can regrow from only 1” of root. It is best to cut back all leaves when propagating and allow the plant to send out new shoots from the crown and/or roots.
Comfrey can survive in just about any soil and condition. It does prefer partial to full sun. When on a tour at Brambleberry farm we were told that if you do not expand and move the ring of comfrey around your tree to keep it roughly with the drip line, the tree will shade them out and the comfrey will die out. I believe it is a combination of root competition with the tree and the shade that does it in. The one nice thing about it is as it grows it chokes out all the other plants around the tree, and if you plant in a ring, you have a nice little circle to mow around…if you mow. Throw in some garlic, and you have a good pest deterrent. Add an annual climbing pole bean once the tree is established (2-3 years and 4-6’ tall) and you have the makings of a nice little plant guild. The beans fix nitrogen, the tree is the pole to climb for the beans. The garlic deters moles and other rodents from eating at the tree. Comfrey mines minerals, and all of its other functions.
Bees love the purple flowers that come out in the spring for a mature plant. In the 3 years we have grown comfrey the bees, honey bees, bumblebees, mason bees, and even butterflies have been seen on the purple flowers. We have never observed any insect damage to the comfrey plants. No caterpillars, no Japanese beetles, no aphids and no real leaf damage whatsoever.
Comfrey ad a medicinal herb
As if all the above reasons are not enough to make you want some comfrey. It also has many medicinal properties. While the FDA says it is a plant that has toxic effects, a person would have to consume insane amounts of the plant to reach the levels they say are harmful. Let us not forget, these are the same people that say fluoride, GMO, and thousands of other chemicals are safe. I used to deal with these people on a regular basis for 16 years. My confidence in their ability to determine what is and is not save is absolutely zero.
Comfrey a great first aid for external treatment for wounds and to reduce inflammation associated with sprains and broken bones. Keep this herb growing in the garden so it is readily available for external salves and poultices to help broken bones heal faster.
From WebMD: Comfrey is used as a tea for upset stomach, ulcers, heavy menstrual periods, diarrhea, bloody urine, persistent cough, painful breathing (pleuritis), bronchitis, cancer, and chest pain (angina). It is also used as a gargle for gum disease and sore throat.
Comfrey is applied to the skin for ulcers, wounds, joint inflammation, bruises, rheumatoid arthritis, swollen veins (phlebitis), gout, and fractures.
WebMD also states that it is Unsafe to take by mouth, however many people have done it for years
I can speak from personal experience that I have used comfrey on swollen and sore joints due to arthritis, my wife has used if for deep and severe bruises and sprains (she is a kick boxer). We have used in when I am so accident prone and had cuts, scrapes, deep bruises due to my own clumsiness. We have a athlete who has injured ankles and applied it. In all cases the healing process seems to go much faster than not using it.
Purdue researched comfrey as a feed crop to animals and in the 70-80’s it was used as a feed crop. Here is an article on comfrey as an alternative feed for livestock. https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/comfrey.html
Brambleberry farm has comfrey for sale, and if you are interested in a tour we are heading out June 7th for a plant sale and tour of their property. Details on the tour are below. The cost is $10/person paid to Darren and his wife Espri.
Recently my co-host of 2 Midwest Guys and I took a trip down to Brambleberry Farms in Paoli IN. Brambleberry is a permaculture nursery and plant farm as well as teaching permaculture, designer, and speaker. Darren was nice enough to show us around and talk to us. What was supposed to be a 1-2 hrs tour and talk turned into over 6 hours and a new found friendship.
Darren and his wife Espri were great hosts, despite us taking so much time away from Darren’s farm duties. We walked and talked about the 6 acres of property they have and how they are using it, now, in the past, and future plans. We will have a whole future podcast dedicated to them over at 2 Midwest Guys.
It was very refreshing to meet someone who also is a certified permaculture designer and is the same mindset. We discussed that there really is no “right” way for permaculture. It is a science, a tool, a design playbook. You take the foundation from your training and build upon it for you selected area, and intention. The people that say you “must” do it this way or that miss the bigger permaculture principle of experimentation. Darren told us about how he has tried different techniques and experiments in the 11 years while at this site. Some things I was looking at trying in the future. He wasn’t afraid to tell us what failed, or didn’t work. He was more interested in the education and learning from these experiments. We all viewed these unexpected results as lessons to learn, improve, and make it better next time.
It was good to learn that Darren thought the same I do as that you do not have to be 100% dedicated to permaculture, green living, and hug a tree daily as some who giver permaculture courses do. Or that you do not have to beat the drum to summon the mother earth wood spirit fairies to bless you before the class begins. Permaculture is about improving what you have, using what you have, and designing using science and logic. Teach others what you have learned through experience and trials.
We didn’t get to see the inside of the house but that was amazing that he and his wife built and are living in a straw bale house they built themselves, collect rainwater for the domestic use, and has a working example of reusing grey water. I was fascinated by the incorporation of class bottles into the structure. Hopefully this will be on the next trip down.
Darren was excited that we drove all the way from Indy to meet him and see his farm. It is a 2+ hr trip one way for me on the Southside of Indy. It was well worth it. Besides finding another like minded person, the education was worth it alone. Add to that a local nursery that sells permaculture plants at a reasonable rate. Darren charges the same for plants as some of the catalogs but he is local, and the plants have been adapted to the climate here in the Midwest. You are not getting them from Florida, Texas, North Carolina or other places. I like to see the plants I am buying vs. a catalog. They are picturesque of what the tree/plant WILL look like eventually. Darren has examples of mature plants and trees on his property. You see the live potted plants, trees and bushes before buying and hoping they live. The icing on the cake, COMFREY. He has comfrey everywhere! I have been searching for permaculture plants and to date only knew of a few places selling it, and there were all online and from faraway places. Darren has comfrey to spare, and good sized portions for the money.
Because of my rules, I was only allowed to buy a few items on this round. I picked up some comfrey (the main reason for my trip) but also elderberry, cold hardy fig, and a Goumi bush. There was so much more I wanted, but I needed to process it all. As an added bonus I got some corkscrew weeping willow. I have never come across this type of willow before and was fascinated. I have a few cutting rooting as we speak. I will be buying more when we go back for the group tour in a month or so.
Daren also sells 100% grass fed beef. I may have to place an order and pit it up as well for our next trip down.
The farm has a farm incubator project, that if this interests you I would highly recommend. It could be a great opportunity for the right person or persons. I copied from their site, but you can contact them for more details. The site says deadline is Feb, but they are still looking for the right fit future farmer.
Farm Incubator Project
Independent farming situation:
We have about ¾ acre of garden space, 1 acre pasture, and housing available for a couple or individual to rent in exchange for 16 hours of labor/week (8 hr/each for a couple or 16 hrs for an individual). Minimum stay is one year, with the possibility to extend up to three years.
The living situation is a mobile home that we originally brought onto the property to live in while building a house. In the six years we lived in the trailer we spent some time making it more sustainable. We landscaped with vines and edible perennials to help seasonally shade the home, and built a passive solar greenhouse onto the south side to heat the trailer and grow seedlings for our farm. For water, we set up a rainwater harvesting system collecting off an adjacent workshop. We started our market garden by building no-till mulch beds around the trailer.
We completed our house, a beautiful and functional straw bale home with attached greenhouse and earthen plasters, rainwater system, and young edible landscaping, in January 2010. We have also evolved away from growing market produce and are focusing on a fruit/nut/berry nursery, grass-fed beef, handcrafted wooden utensils, and raising three delightful children.
Following the predicted permaculture pattern of use zones, we have not been able to upkeep our old garden beds, even though they are only 200′ away from the new house. Living in your garden seems the best way to keep it tended and we found that we needed to abandon the old systems to focus on the new ones around our house.
In fall2011, we decided to open up the old home, its gardens and systems to ambitious people, eager to apply their experience from working on other farms but without financial resources to buy or lease land. The agreement would be that you can use the garden space and house as you like, even re-doing the beds and pathways. You would be responsible for the electric bill (our was usually around $40/mo) and procuring either propane or wood for winter supplemental heat (there is a woodstove–we used about 2 cords of wood a winter), but your rent would be in the form of work exchange (16 hours a week total) helping us with various projects, mostly farm or homestead related. The rest of your time it is up to your own ambition to work the land and landscape around you to grow things. We are happy to lend our experience and advice, but you will be doing your own work and finding your own markets. This project has been a success so far, with the previous couple staying two full years and creating a solvent and growing produce operation, selling at a co-op and two farmers markets in Bloomington, IN.
Total garden bed space is around 3/4 acre. There is also a one acre pasture area with a 10 x 12 chicken coop which is pretty brushy and un-fenced, but has a number of half-grown fruit trees and good potential.
Brambleberry Farm is exactly one hour south of Bloomington IN and one hour northwest of Louisville KY, both with thriving local food movements and full of outlets for local food (Bloomington Farmers Market , Louisville Farmers Markets ). There is also a great farmer’s market 10 min north of us in Orleans,IN and a natural foods coop 5 min away in Paoli (LostRiverMarket & Deli ).
Sorry, but we can’t allow dogs.
Since you will be farming on your own, prior experience is highly recommended. Applicants must submit a resume (can be informal list of work experience), and3 references: 1 former employer, 1 living situation (i.e. roommate/housemate),and one personal reference (such as a mentor or friend). Send application to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 28, 2014. Applications may be accepted after this time, check brambleberryfarm.org for availability
I want to thank Darren his wife Espri for hosting us, and I want to especially than “V” for being such a great host and new friend to my 3 YO “P”