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.