Comfrey fertilizer is considered a powerhouse in the permaculture garden. Here are seven comfrey uses for building healthy soil and growing healthy crops.
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- Comfrey: The Permaculture Star
- 7 Comfrey Uses for Enriching and Conditioning Soil
- Growing and Using Comfrey Leaves
- Comfrey Can Activate Compost
- How to Grow Comfrey
- Comfrey varieties
- Its reputation as a dynamic accumulator
- How to use it for my garden
- Comfrey’s antifungal – isn’t that bad for my soil?
- Am I allowed to eat it?
- Can I feed it to my animals?
- Medicinal uses
- Where should I plant it?
- How to grow it
- Want to know more?
- Comfrey Fertilizer: Information About Comfrey Tea For Plants
- Comfrey as a Fertilizer
- Comfrey Plant Food
- Comfrey Fertilizer and Mulch
- Comfrey Fertilizer Tea Is Full of Natural Potassium
- Growing Comfrey is Easy
- Harvesting Comfrey
- To make Confrey Fertilizer Tea
- How do you grow and use comfrey in your yard?
- Join list.
- There is Comfort in Comfrey
- Growing Comfrey in the Garden
- Comfrey Uses in First Aid
- Making a Comfrey Poultice
- Soothing Comfrey Cream
- A Free Ebook Just For You!
- Comfrey Medicinal Uses: The Herbalist’s Notebook
Comfrey: The Permaculture Star
If permaculture design had a poster child, it would be comfrey! It is a multi-functional, prolific, and low-maintenance herb—all the things we look for when selecting plants for the permaculture garden.
Among comfrey’s many attributes are its beautiful purple flowers that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. Meanwhile, the large leaves shade the soil and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Read more in my article about growing comfrey.
It is also one of the most potent and effective medicinal herbs. Learn more about comfrey’s medicinal benefits in my article about how to make herbal salve.
Comfrey is famous for harvesting nutrients from the soil and accumulating generous quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, potash, and calcium.
Some researchers disagree with these claims, while other practitioners have demonstrated its capacity for quick soil building.
One thing everyone agrees on, however, is that comfrey is fast-growing and provides a lot of biomass for building soil quickly and feeding beneficial soil organisms. This reduces the need to purchase a lot of fancy and expensive amendments.
I first learned about comfrey in my permaculture design certification course over ten years ago. At the time, I was leery of how many accolades a single herb could accumulate! So of course I had to go out to my own gardens and run my own experiments.
Sure enough, I was glad to have this powerhouse in my garden doing some of the heavy lifting for me. I’m excited to share all the ways that I’ve put it to use.
Would you like to learn more about using herbs to improve the biodiversity of your garden, reduce maintenance, and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
7 Comfrey Uses for Enriching and Conditioning Soil
Here are seven uses for comfrey to take advantage of its ability to enrich and condition the soil.
1: Activate Compost
This is the most versatile of all the comfrey uses I mention in this article. Activating a compost pile allows you to more quickly make a rich and balanced soil amendment, which can then be used anywhere organic matter is needed.
Comfrey cuttings make an excellent bioactivator in the compost bin. If you have a large amount of dried brown material—such as fall leaves—layering it with comfrey cuttings is an efficient way to balance out the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and jumpstart decomposition.
To give the compost pile an immediate kick into high gear, collect comfrey leaves and crush them. We use garden scissors to quickly cut through the leaves roughly. Add a small amount of water and stir/crush for a minute or two.
Add more water to liquefy, then pour the entire solution onto the compost pile. This quick little extra step is the equivalent of chewing food. The pre-digestion helps beneficial microorganisms of the compost pile (like those of our stomachs) work faster.
The finished compost will have a higher nutrient content with the addition of comfrey fertilizer.
Comfrey cuttings are ready to be used as green manure, green mulch, or crushed and added to the compost bin.
2: Comfrey Green Manure
Green manure is an alternative to—or supplement to—animal manures as a soil amendment. Green manure plants are simply cut back and turned into the soil.
For those on city lots who may not have easy access to livestock manures, green manures are the way to go. In fact, out of all the comfrey uses in the garden, this is by far the simplest.
Manure sources are rated for their NPK values (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) since these are the primary nutrients that plants need for healthy growth.
Compared to animal manures, comfrey values of NPK are relatively low. However, its nutrients are more immediately bioavailable to plants. Whereas animal manures can burn plants if added during the growing season, comfrey green manure can be applied at any time.
When using comfrey as a green manure, add chopped comfrey to garden soil in the fall. Gently mix it into the top layers of the soil using a digging fork. By spring, it will have mostly decomposed and enriched the soil.
Comfrey cuttings and compost soil are added to beds in the fall as a green manure soil amendment.
Alternatively, comfrey manure can be added in the early spring—at least two weeks before planting. To jumpstart the decomposition of the comfrey manure at this late date, try the quick method explained above under Activate Compost.
Note: Comfrey plants may not emerge from their winter slumber until late March/early April depending on your location, so there may not be comfrey leaves to chop and spread before the growing season gets underway.
To counteract this potential problem, see the next step!
3: Powdered Comfrey (The Best-Kept Secret of all the Comfrey Uses!)
Having dried comfrey on hand is a habit that I’ve grown accustomed to
I use the dried comfrey leaves to make a healing salve for cuts, scrapes, bites, bruises, sore joints, and all manner of external ailments.
Dried and powdered (root or leaf) comfrey can also be used to build and fertilize garden soil.
Make your own by air drying comfrey or by using a dehydrator (here’s mine) at 95 degrees until crisp. Remove the dried leaves from the stems and use a blender or coffee grinder to make a leaf powder. Store in an air-tight container.
Simply mix powdered comfrey into the soil with a digging fork, about two weeks before planting. Remember that powdered comfrey is more concentrated than fresh leaves, so a little goes a long way. A sprinkle along each row should be plenty.
Powdered comfrey fertilizer can be used in late winter/early spring garden before comfrey plants have woken up and produced leaves. The powder also decomposes more readily than fresh leaves, which is better for the spring garden.
Flowering comfrey underneath my cherry tree.
4: Condition Soil on Future Perennial Garden Sites
Comfrey’s roots reach deep into the earth, breaking up heavy clay and creating channels for aeration and better water absorption.
Over time, its decomposing leaves and roots fertilize the soil. This dual action of decomposing leaves and roots can help improve marginal land.
If you have an area with compacted soil where you plan to grow edible perennials in the future (such as a food forest), plant the area with soil-busters like comfrey to break up the hardpan and loosen and condition the soil in preparation.
Since comfrey prefers rich soil, give it a head start in poor soil by adding a shovel of manure or compost.
5: Boost Seedlings When Transplanting
Young perennials (fruit trees, berry bushes, asparagus, herbs, etc.) and fruiting vegetable seedlings (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, etc.) will enjoy a nutritional jumpstart from comfrey.
At the time of planting, bury a few comfrey leaves underneath each planting spot. As the comfrey leaves decompose, they will provide essential nutrients and help the young plants grow strong and free of pest and disease.
One giant comfrey leaf could boost a couple of seedlings.
6: Comfrey Tea Fertilizer
Compost tea is an excellent way to provide an immediate nutrient boost to established plants. It is made by steeping fresh plant matter in water for a certain amount of time, straining the liquid, and using it to water stressed plants for a mid-season boost.
Out of all the comfrey uses list here, this method takes a bit of extra time and planning. However, its effectiveness is noticeable very soon after application.
Comfrey compost tea can help overall growth, and encourage better flowering as well as more vigorous growth in perennials and mature fruiting vegetable plants (i.e., tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, cucumbers). Do not use comfrey compost tea on young plants.
To make a strong comfrey compost tea: Fill any size container halfway with fresh comfrey cuttings. Fill with water, cover, and steep for 3-6 weeks. Warning: This will smell really bad! Strain off the liquid and dilute by half. Or if using a hose end sprayer, no need to pre-dilute.
To make a weaker (less smelly) comfrey compost tea: Add one gallon of water for every quart of fresh comfrey cuttings. Let sit for three days, stirring daily, then strain and use full strength.
For a quicker comfrey compost tea: Measure one quart of water for every ounce of dried comfrey. Boil the water and pour over the dried comfrey. Let it cool for 5 minutes, then cover and steep for 4 hours. Strain, then dilute with 1 gallon of water unless using the hose end sprayer.
Be sure to compost the leftover plant solids.
I like to air-dry comfrey on a clothesline.
7: Comfrey Mulch (My favorite of all the comfrey uses!)
Mulching is a great way to protect soil and prevent erosion.
Mulching with comfrey—also called chop-and-drop—can help to retain moisture and protect beneficial soil organisms. Comfrey mulch is a slow-release fertilizer that is best used under fruiting vegetables and edible perennials.
I grow comfrey underneath my perennial edibles, such as fruit trees. I can chop and drop the comfrey to feed the fruit trees, or I can pick up the cuttings and take them to the vegetable garden.
Read more about growing comfrey under fruit trees in my post The Cherry Tree Guild.
Here’s the kind of comfrey that I buy for planting. Also see: How to Build a Fruit Tree Guild
For more information about using comfrey mulch, see my article about growing comfrey.
As you can see, comfrey fertilizer has many uses in the permaculture garden. By reducing costs on imported soil amendments, creating healthier plants, and improving yields, it provides a lot of value to gardeners.
- 5 Reasons to Grow Yarrow
- 5 Weeds You Want in your Garden
- How to Grow Perennial Sunflowers for Mulch
How have you used comfrey in your garden?
>>> Get my free 19-page Guide to Organic Soil Amendments for more ideas:
Growing and Using Comfrey Leaves
Poulticing is a warm, comforting treatment, and making one is a caring act . . . something you can actually do for a person. After all, that too counts in the healing process.
Comfrey Can Activate Compost
Town dwellers who must buy manure for their compost piles could save money by keeping a few comfrey plants. Bocking No. 14 — a narrow-leaved, fine-stemmed type with very high protein and potash content — is especially good for kicking the decomposition action into high gear. For best results, scatter comfrey cuttings throughout the compost heap. (Our planting is a mixture of Bocking No. 4 and 14 and we’ve used the two interchangeably. When time and supply allow selectivity, however, it’s good to know about the special properties of each variety.)
You can also condition your soil with comfrey – it’s one of the best plants for this. The roots range to depths of 8 to 10 feet, bringing up nutrients from the mineral-rich subsoil, breaking up heavy clay and aerating the land with their channels. The leaves themselves may be buried as “instant compost” to give row crops season-long nourishment.
How to Grow Comfrey
Comfrey may be planted whenever the soil can be worked (the cuttings will do best, however, if transplanted while dormant). We’ve had good luck with root cuttings started both spring and fall. When we expanded our patch we put out 150 sets in late autumn, with a raw wind in our faces, and every single one made a plant. They came up later in the spring than their full-grown neighbors, but soon bushed out like all the rest. We’ve even transplanted 50 whole, growing comfrey specimens in midsummer, about the worst time we could have chosen. Cutting off all the leaves, taking a big ball of soil each time and watering very well by bucket brigade kept each of our victims alive . . . better luck than we had any right to expect.
The least expensive way to plant a comfrey patch is with root cuttings (see the box with this article for our supplier’s current prices). They come in 2- to 6-inch lengths and are planted in a flat — horizontal — position at a depth of 2 to 8 inches . . . on the shallow side for heavy clay soil, deeper in sandy loam. Even hopeless-looking little nubs of roots can form good plants, so be sure to make use of all those crumbs and pieces in the bottom of the shipping box.
Crown cuttings cost a little more, include eyes or buds and are set out flat at a depth of 3 to 6 inches. We bought some of these along with the root cuttings in our first order. The latter were less impressive at first but soon caught up, and by transplanting time we couldn’t tell the difference. Probably any advantage crown cuttings have in size and development is canceled by the greater shock of relocation.
We wouldn’t even consider buying a whole plant by mail order. If you can get one locally, however, you can bring it through with good care.
Once you’re growing comfrey on your own grounds, propagation can be done by dividing multiple-crowned plants . . . or simply by digging up a piece of root and setting it in the earth as I’ve described. Magic!
The best planting layout — recommended by North Central Comfrey Producers — is a grid of lines three feet apart each way with the plants located at the intersections. (No, that isn’t too much space . . . just wait a couple of years!) This plan leaves clear aisles in all directions for cultivation while the crop is young. We rototill our patch several times a season, and any weeds that remain close to the stalks are sickled down when we harvest.
As easy as comfrey is to grow, it does need good soil. We enrich our patch with manure from the henhouse and goat shed, and add a bag or two of rock powder every three years.
In the four years we’ve been growing comfrey, we’ve seen no insect damage. (Yes, we do know what bugs look like . . . we have ’em on our beans, squash and cucumbers.) Possibly the thick, fuzzy leaf discourages marauders.
Neither have we had any diseased comfrey plants in all that time. In fact, the original specimens have grown into thick, bushy crowns with new offsets which may be used to start fresh plantings or to sell or trade. On the basis of our reading and our own experience, I think it’s safe to say that comfrey is highly resistant to pests and to illness.
Bringing in the sheaves of comfrey is a natural hand task that has its own rhythmic satisfaction. When the foliage is 12 to 18 inches tall, we cut the leaves with a sickle by gathering a bunch together and shearing them off two inches above ground. After such a harvest, the plants will grow enough to be cut again in 10 to 30 days. About two weeks is the average in our experience.
At the end of a sunny, non-humid day — when food value in the leaf is at its peak — we sickle our way through the patch. On such occasions, the garden cart becomes our hay wagon to convey the cuttings to their drying spot on the grass. Since comfrey leaves are so high in moisture and protein, we spread them out well to avoid the heating and spoilage that would take place if the foliage were heaped up. Two days of good clear weather does the job, and we pile the result in big cartons and store it in the garage.
One point about laying your crop on grass to dry: You’d best finish harvesting your winter’s supply by mid-August, or the heavy dews that appear later in the summer (here in the East, anyhow) will hinder the process. A rack or wire netting screen that holds the drying comfrey up off the ground can considerably extend your “haying” season for the plant.
Comfrey for Self-Sufficiency
Since this article was written, we’ve found the farm we’d wanted for so long. Living here, we depend more than ever on our goats, rabbits, hens, pigs and—now—sheep. And so, of course, we’ve laid out another comfrey patch, based on starts we brought from our acre homestead . . . mostly the wide-leaved variety, Bocking No. 4.
As we live into our farm, walking the fields, listening to what they want to be, we think more and more of a large plantation of comfrey . . . larger than the one we left behind. Rototiller cultivation and hand harvesting would still be practical, and soil improvement could be carried out gradually on a spot basis. (A shovel of manure and wood ashes for each plant gives us more value from the materials at hand than we’d get from broadcasting the stuff.)
Whatever the scale of your comfrey operation — whether you set out a whole field’s worth with a tobacco planter or plant a row beside a city garage — you’ll find the plant pays for its keep. Maybe, once you start your experiments with this crop, you’ll come up with uses we haven’t discovered. If you do, let us know!
SPECIAL NOTE: This article was originally published as “Comfrey for the Homestead” in the May/June 1974 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. At that time, comfrey had not yet been declared potentially poisonous to humans and animals and this article contained information about using comfrey as a vegetable, in tea and as livestock fodder; none of these applications are advisable, according to FDA and FTC recommendations. Comfrey contains at least 8 pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can build up in the liver to cause permanent damage and sometimes death. Because of this, comfrey preparations are not sold for oral or internal use in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada or Germany.
For more information about comfrey, its uses and its toxicity to humans and livestock, please consider the following resources.
Cornell University Department of Animal Science: Plants Poisonous to Livestock – Symphytum officinale
University of Maryland Medical Center – Comfrey
The German Commission E
Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs
If you wish to use comfrey for topical applications to aid the healing of bruises and rashes, be certain that you can positively identify the plant. Comfrey is often confused with deadly foxglove and can lead to accidental and fatal poisonings, according to A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants by Steven Foster and Roger Caras. If you grow comfrey, you can make your own herbal medicine.
We get a lot of questions about comfrey and its role in the garden. It’s often toted as one of ‘must have’ plants due to its multifunctionalism, and overall we agree – this plant is unusually useful. However there’s also a fair bit of confusion about some of it characteristics, such as will it spread and take over your garden? Is it really a dynamic accumulator? Am I allowed to eat it? Doesn’t it deter fungi in the soil? So in the name of efficiency, I’m writing this blog to answer all these questions plus more.
The first thing to get clear on is that there are *many* comfrey varieties with different characteristics. The more common ones include:
Creeping comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) is also known as dwarf comfrey and as its name suggests, it will creep through the whole space that you plant it in. Therefore only plant it if this is what you want. It’s also been described as ornamental comfrey. This is the comfrey that will quickly become a “weed” in your garden, so be careful where you place it. Image from here.
Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) is the most popular type of comfrey for the grower, it’s a hybrid of Symphytum officinale (common comfrey) and Symphytum asperum (rough comfrey). There are two main cultivars used, Bocking 14 and Bocking 4, both were developed in the 1950s by Lawrence Hills (founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association) and named after the place they were developed, Bocking in the UK.
Bocking 14 was apparently chosen from over 20 different varieties trialed by Hills due to having the highest yields with high potash content. Bocking 14 is sterile, so doesn’t set seed and can only be propagated by division. However it will still slowly increase in size so it’s wise to dig it up and divide it up every few years.
Bocking 4 is said to have a deeper tap root – up to 8-10 feet, while Bocking 14 is around 6 – 8 feet. It’s described as the preferred type for a farming context as it has the highest concentration of protein, is more rust resistant and is also recommended as a good fodder for livestock, including pigs and chooks. Image from our garden.
Its reputation as a dynamic accumulator
Along with a decent list of other plants, it’s known as what’s called a dynamic accumulator. However there isn’t actual solid, scientific evidence on how effective comfrey is in this regard. There are some well written, clear articles you can read about this here and here which summarise it nicely.
My personal approach is that while the science it still out on its role as a dynamic accumulator, I still recommend this plant be included in your garden for a *range of reasons*. We use it to stablise slopes with its great root system, medicinally, as mulch in our orchard and as fresh food for our chooks.
In our young orchard, comfrey is planted directly downhill of the trees, stabilising a steep bank, we slash the leaves and use them as mulch (image on right), cycling the nutrients back into the soil.
How to use it for my garden
Despite the science not being bullet proof, you can’t ignore the countless gardeners who swear that by adding comfrey to your garden you end up with healthier soils and crops. There are endless methods you can do this, have a read here and here for just some of them.
Comfrey’s antifungal – isn’t that bad for my soil?
I’m not sure. In our own garden we haven’t seen any evidence of this and we’re really big on encouraging fungi in our soils through strategies like using ramial woodchips. The only references I could find to its antifungal properties were in a medicinal context, rather than gardening.
Am I allowed to eat it?
No, is the short, legal answer.
In 1984 the Poisons Advisory Bureau (through the National Health and Medical Research Council) placed it on the Poisons Schedule in Australia. The Council listed comfrey as a dangerous poison, only to be available through pharmacists, by doctor’s prescription. This decision is thought to have come about due to a public scare in the late 1970s with newspaper headlines reading things like ‘Liver damage can be done by herbs’, ‘Popular Herb is a Killer’, ‘Scientist Warns Herb is a Killer’, ‘ Health Drink Causes Cancer, says CSIRO expert’ and ‘Comfrey is a Killer’.
Why are people scared? Comfrey has pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA’s), these are regarded as potentially hepatoxic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic. PA’s are believed to have an accumulative effect in the body and may cause hepatic vein blockage and liver toxicity. In the early 2000s the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also removed comfrey products from market for this reason.
Can I feed it to my animals?
My understanding that in moderation, yes. I feed it to our chickens as part of a mixed leafy green mix and they love it. Some folks say their chickens will only eat dried or aged comfrey (so the prickliness of the leaves goes away) – if you have rough comfrey (Symphytum asperum) this may be extra important to do. If you’re unsure – do some local research, talk to some animal experts or don’t do it.
I use comfrey medicinally in two key ways – I’m sure there are many, many more, but this is what I know:
- Also known as “knit bone”, comfrey leaf can be made into a poultice and applied to breaks, sprains and bruises. I’ve used this my whole life and there’s a notable improvement, i.e. decrease of swelling, bruising and pain, each time I’m able to apply a comfrey poultice quickly.
- As outlined above, you’re not meant to ingest comfrey at all. However I grew up drinking comfrey and dandelion ‘green drink’ my mum would make us when sick – without a doubt it helped us feel better (other ingredients included fresh apple or carrots and ginger).
I actually have a memory refusing to drink it as I knew I’d get better quicker and was trying to take as many days off school as possible. But I’m not a health professional, so please don’t take this as advice, just note that I’m still alive, healthy and that to this day I continue to eat and drink comfrey sporadically (not every day) as I want to.
Where should I plant it?
If you’d like your (non-creeping) comfrey to remain a blessing and not a curse, don’t plant it in your annual vegetable garden/s. No matter what variety you choose, the seasonal digging that you do to harvest crops and prep the bed will inevitably result in you digging into the comfrey’s root zone. Each time you chip a bit of the root off it will blossom into its own vigorous plant and eventually take over the whole veggie patch. Instead, plant it somewhere where you won’t be digging – like your orchard, a designated bed or beneath/amongst some perennial vegetables/berries.
Saying all that, I do know people who like to grow it on the edge of the annual gardens as a border to prevent grass from creeping in – this is risky business as I’ve outlined above. You could however plant comfrey on the *outside* of the annual garden which I’ve seen many times. There’s a border (i.e. timber sleeper) between it and the actual garden bed, keeping it contained while still highly accessable to chop and drop as mulch onto the garden.
How to grow it
Comfrey is dead easy to grow. In short, hack a small chunk of root off and pop it in the ground – it will grow. You can read our blog about how to do it here.
I’m no expert on comfrey and am always interested to learn more, so please send through your own experiences and information on what works (or doesn’t work) for you.
Want to know more?
- Comfrey: Past, present and future, Lawrence Hills
- Comfrey: Fodder, fuel and remedy, Lawrence Hills
- Comfrey by Penny Woodward
- Coe’s Comfrey
- Facts about Dynamic Accumulators
- Does comfrey really improve soil?
- Herbs are Special
Comfrey Fertilizer: Information About Comfrey Tea For Plants
Comfrey is more than just an herb found in cottage gardens and seasoning blends. This old fashioned herb has been used as both a medicinal plant and food crop for grazing animals and hogs. The large hairy leaves are an excellent source of the three macro-nutrients found in fertilizer.
As such, it makes an excellent liquid fertilizer or composted tea to feed plants and help reduce insect pests. Making comfrey tea for plants is easy and requires no special skills or tools. Try comfrey fertilizer on your plants and see the benefits in your garden.
Comfrey as a Fertilizer
All plants need specific macro-nutrients for maximum growth, bloom and fruiting. These are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Much like humans, they also need micro-nutrients such as manganese and calcium. Comfrey has the three major nutrients plus high levels of calcium, which can be very beneficial if harvested and made into comfrey tea for plants.
This nutrient-rich food is applied as a liquid soil drench or
as a foliar spray. The composted leaves yield a rich deep greenish-brown liquid. The nitrogen content in comfrey fertilizer helps with green leafy growth. The phosphorus helps the plants remain vigorous and fight off disease and pest damage. Potassium is instrumental in flower and fruit production.
Comfrey Plant Food
Comfrey is a hardy perennial plant that grows quickly. The plant needs no special care and grows in partial shade to sun.
Harvest the leaves and put them just halfway in a container. Wear long sleeves and gloves to protect your hands and arms from the prickly hairs on the leaves.
Making comfrey tea will only take a few weeks. Weight the leaves with something heavy to hold them down and then fill the container with water. In about 20 days you can strain out the leaves and the deep brew is ready to add to your containers or spray on garden beds.
Dilute the comfrey plant food with water by half before you apply to plants. Use the removed leaf debris as a side dressing along your vegetable plants. You can also try using comfrey as mulch or as a compost enhancer.
Comfrey Fertilizer and Mulch
The herb’s leaves are easy to use as mulch. Nature will take its course and soon complete the rotting process, allowing the nutrients to seep into the ground. Just spread the leaves around the edges of plant roots and then bury them with 2 inches of soil. You can also dig a trench 6 to 8 inches deep and bury chopped up leaves.
Plant fruiting vegetable seeds on top but avoid leafy and root crops. Comfrey as a fertilizer has many forms, all of which are easy to use and make. The best thing about the plant is you can cut the leaves several times in a season for a constant supply of this nutrient-rich, useful herb.
Comfrey Fertilizer Tea Is Full of Natural Potassium
This is my first year growing comfrey. It was hard to find at the local nursery but after hearing about all its great qualities, I decided I just had to have it in my gardening arsenal. With three times the amount of potassium that is found in regular manure tea, it’s hard to find a fertilizer that packs a bigger potassium punch. Comfrey is high in calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen, which are essential for vegetables and plants to grow and set fruit.
Are you growing comfrey in your garden? It’s the perfect plant to help in your efforts to fertilize your garden organically!
Growing Comfrey is Easy
From the post – Six Fantastic Resaons for Growing and Using Comfrey
Comfrey is a vigorous growing plant, often spreading 24-48” wide. If garden space is at a premium, consider placing your comfrey in large tubs to contain them.Once you have established a comfrey patch it will be bard to get rid of it. Even small bits of root can produce new plants. Your comfrey will grow in full or partial sun and is hardy from zones 4 – 9.
In cool climates the plant will die back in the winter, re-shooting again in the spring. In warmer climates it will rarely flower, because it needs a winter chill, but it also won’t die back so the leaves are available all year round.
Divide young plants in the spring as the leaves begin growing. The roots are hardy, no need to be gentle. Dig up and separate the roots with a shovel or sharp knife, divide into smaller pieces and re-pot or give away.
Comfrey is a fast grower and the leaves can be harvested at least 4 times a year, the first cutting is usually are ready by mid-spring. Cut the leaves back to about 2 inches above the soil or take individual leaves as they get hand size. You can count on another cutting every 6 weeks until early autumn when you should leave plants to leaf out and build up winter reserves.
Fine hairs on the leaves can irritate some people so wear gloves when you are harvesting. Dry leaves by spreading them in single layers and use any one of the dehydrating methods found in this post. When the leaves are dry, store them whole, lying flat in boxes or gently crumbled and stored in jars. Roots should be washed with cool water, cut into thin slices and dried. They can then be ground into powder or kept in small chunks until used.
To make Confrey Fertilizer Tea
Have patience! It’s going to take 20-30 days.
How much comfrey do you have for the process? I’m just beginning with comfrey in my yard and I’ve chosen to keep it contained. I have one bucket on the deck (growing nicely, thanks) that I’ve taken a few cuttings from.
My first batch is made with 10 big comfrey leaves in a 48 ounce plastic container with a lid. Place the leaves in your chosen container and weigh them down with a rock or stick. Add water to cover the leaves. You want them under the water for the entire time.
Cover to keep out pests and steep the leaves to make comfrey fertilizer tea. After a few weeks your mixture will form a dark, thick (smelly) liquid. This is the stinky but effective part of the process.
Once your batch is done it can then be diluted 12:1 – 15:1 prior to application on your garden plants.
Some people make big batches in five gallon buckets. They continually have a batch brewing and just keep adding water and leaves to the bucket. A nozzle at the bottom of the bucket lets you pour off tea, dilute it and have it readily available. The same process would work on a smaller scale with one of those one gallon sun tea dispensers.
Comfrey plants can be hard to find at your local nursery, because it can be invasive. Ask them to order it for you. While it may take you a few weeks to make a batch of comfrey fertilizer tea, the stinky outcome and the benefits to your garden, are well worth the wait.
Other fertilizer posts found on PreparednessMama: Manure Tea and Worm Casting Tea
How do you grow and use comfrey in your yard?
Shared with: Homestead Barn Hop – Natural Family Friday – Clever Chicks Hop – From the Farm Hop –
I can vouch for comfrey. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. This has been a good 35-40 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Our neighbors had a beautiful old black quarter horse, that was very gentle. My folks wanted to buy her from the neighbors, for some of my younger siblings to ride, and they eventually did, but she came with a chronic problem. She had gotten her back fetlock/ankle (near the hoof) caught in some barbed wire when she was a young horse, and it had gotten cut up, and she lived with a grey/white growth on the wound, about the size of a softball. It was hard, almost like a hoof material. It may have been growing off of the bone, I don’t know. It would eventually get caught on something and break off every few years, and and start bleeding, and she would have an open wound that had to be cared for. They had tried all kinds of different medications and cures, several from the veterinarian. It would eventually stop bleeding, and would start getting that grey/white hard material over it to seal it closed, which was good, but it would continue to grow and eventually would build up again and the cycle would start over.
After my folks bought Lady, as she was named, they dealt with the same problem, initially. Then a friend my father’s, who was another person who loved animals, was visiting, and offered some of his extensive experience with herbal medicines. He said, “What you need to do, is treat that with comfrey root.” He went on to harvest some of his comfrey root, and bring it to the house, all ground up in a meat grinder into a poltice. He also brought some bare roots for my folks to plant for themselves. He gave them a big bag of the root to be used in the treatment of Lady, and advised them to keep it refrigerated and grind it themselves on demand to plaster that poltice on and cover it with a cloth bandage, and change as necessary. My folks took his advice, and I don’t recall exactly how long it took–I don’t think it was much over a month, if that–it may have been, but that wound healed up fast, and healed up well, and covered with skin and hair again, and they never had another problem with that wound again!
I was just down to my folks yesterday, and although I have thought about get some for myself to plant, many times over the years, I just happened to ask my dad for some of his comfrey root, because after 40 years, he still has it growing down there, although I doubt that he has used it since. It is almost like a memorial to Lady, may she rest in peace.
The plant is also excellent to use topically on sprains, pulled muscles, swellings and fractures. It is a wonderful first aid herb to have on hand in case you or someone you know twists their ankle. A foot soak or a poultice of comfrey can bring relief and help speed up the healing process.
But comfrey must be used with caution and respect. It is such an excellent and speedy wound-healing remedy that it actually should not be used on deep wounds or lacerations. It could potentially heal the top layer of skin before the bottom layer, resulting in an abscess. So please do avoid comfrey for major skin wounds, and use it only for bruises, sprains and minor cuts and scratches.
In addition, much debate surrounds the safety of consuming comfrey internally, even though for centuries it was used in Greek medicine and by European physicians for respiratory and digestive issues. The controversy is due to the fact that the plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be harmful to the liver in high doses. These alkaloids can do damage — especially to people who already have a compromised liver — so it is advised to use comfrey topically and not internally to be on the safe side.
That said, there is no reason to fear this plant when it is used correctly. Just don’t use comfrey on deep open wounds, and avoid all internal use.
HOW TO USE:
There are many ways to use comfrey topically on the body through compresses, poultices, liniments and infused oils. One of my favorite ways is to make a simple compress. If you’ve never made one before, it may sound daunting but it is actually very straightforward. A compress is simply a cloth soaked in an herbal tea (or sometimes a tincture or oil) and then placed on the the body. The skin absorbs the healing properties of the liquid and penetrates to the affected area. Compresses can be applied warm or cold. Warm compresses will be more relaxing, help with muscle tightness and bring more blood to the area. Cold compresses are constricting, slow down circulation and can help reduce bleeding and pain.
My back is a little broken. I blame it on a bag of compost, although my chiropractor blames it on all the tapping I do at the computer. If I’m to harvest potatoes and plant pumpkins, I need a plan of action, a multipronged, throw‑everything-at-it approach: chiropractor, shiatsu massage, if necessary, painkillers – and comfrey.
Comfrey may not be an obvious choice, but it has always been such a kind plant to the garden that it should come as no surprise that is kind to the body, too. Once known as knitbone, Symphytum officinale has a long history of wound healing, particularly broken bones, torn muscles, sprains and aches. It was even applied internally, although many herbalists are cautious of using it this way because it contains powerful pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage and abdominal distress. However, only slight absorption occurs with external application. As such, a compress or poultice is considered more suitable for home use.
Part of comfrey’s magic is down to the presence of allantoin, a chemical that stimulates cell production and thus supports wound-healing. I have read that it was even used in the same way for plants: if a branch was damaged or a graft needed to be hurried along, a wrapping of comfrey was called for to do its wonders.
Its other use, of course, is as a plant food. For every 1kg of leaves, you need 15 litres of water, but it doesn’t need to be precise. Cut the leaves 5cm from the ground, fill a container, add the water and wait four weeks. Then use this liquid on any plant that needs nourishment: once a week for tomatoes, chillies, aubergines, cucumbers, and other fruit in pots once the flowers appear; every other week for other crops in pots and whenever anything in the ground needs a little boost. The leaves are rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous because comfrey’s extensive tap root can mine all the good stuff deep in the soil.
Its vigour means it will self-seed with abandon. However, the variety Bocking 14 has been bred to have a higher nutrient content than wild comfrey and produces little seed, so it won’t spread around.
Those deep roots mean it is a pain to remove, so make sure you site it well. A mature plant will grow to at least a metre tall and the same again in width. You will need at least two plants, approximately 60cm apart. It does best in part shade, and mulching with grass clippings, compost or manure will mean a greater show of leaves.
I started growing comfrey a couple of years ago, but my reasons were NOT strictly altruistic. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of my herbs, but I particularly love perennial herbs like comfrey that are well suited to a pot and can be brought indoors during our cold Kansas winter.
There is Comfort in Comfrey
Comfrey (Symphytum officianale), a member of the borage family, is a fast-growing, leafy perennial. The Latin name is from the Greek symphis, which means “growing together of bones” or “knit together.” Comfrey has appeared in the Materia Medica since the Middle Ages and some references to the plant date back as far as 50 AD. True to its Latin name, comfrey was applied externally as a poultice for bruises, sprains and fractures. It was taken internally for a variety of medical aliments ranging from broken bones and gastric ulcers to the treatment of female disorders.
Comfrey contains allantoin, a substance commonly used in the cosmetic industry. Allantoin promotes granulation and cell formation which aids in healing at the cellular level. It has both anti-inflamatory and keratinolytic effects and is useful in the treatment of skin conditions following post radiation in cancer patients. It is now formulated synthetically. Comfrey also contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), a known hepatotoxic agent. Overuse of substances containing PAs can lead to severe liver damage and for that reason Australia placed Comfrey on the Poison Advisory List in 1984. Germany and Canada followed suit and in 2001, the FDA asked major manufacturers to remove comfrey from their standard list of ingredients.
(Note from Editor: It should be noted that the studies that led to this decision involved isolating PAs and injecting them at high concentrations into rats. Since a chemical in isolation behaves differently than when present in a whole plant, rats are different than humans, and it is unclear whether common comfrey (S. officinale) or Russian comfrey (S. uplandicum) was used, there is dissension among herbalists regarding this decision and whether comfrey is indeed toxic. We err on the side of caution and recommend avoiding comfrey for internal use particularly in the case of preexisting liver conditions, and if considering internal use we recommend researching this matter for yourself so you have all the facts.)
Growing Comfrey in the Garden
Comfrey is also useful in organic gardening due to its rich nitrogen content. When mulched, the fast-growing leaves make a great compost activator. The leaves are so fast-growing that I can harvest comfrey leaves and within a week they have already grown back by half to their pre-cut size. Needless to say, I am definitely comfortable with comfrey.
Comfrey Uses in First Aid
Remember when I said that my reasons for growing comfrey were not altruistic? Well, it turns out that I am a bit of a rebel at heart. I’ve done extensive reading on comfrey and concluded that when used externally, comfrey is a useful and beneficial herb. As it turns out, I was correct.
Last summer, my husband and I were moving one of my failure-to-thrive beehives. We’d had a delayed and wet spring, and one of my more aggressive hives appeared sickly. I decided to isolate them on a friend’s property away from my healthy hives. After a month of quarantine and a good dose of sunshine, they bounced back and were ready to return to the bee yard. Moving is very stressful to bees. We usually try and move them as near to or after sunset in order to give all the foragers a chance to return to the hive. A rumble or two of thunder is usually enough to send them scurrying back home. I knew the forecast of an impending storm would further aggravate the aggressive nature of this particular hive. I pulled on my Bug Baffler, a protective mesh shirt and a long gloves, but I confess, in my hurry to beat the storm, I opted to forgo my protective pants.
As a beekeeper, stings are to be expected, especially in times of high stress. I got stung on the tender flesh of my inner thigh, not just once, but twice. Normally, I get a localized reaction from a sting, swelling and then itching for 2-3 days. But sensitive areas like the face or inner thigh can be painful and I expected a fair amount of swelling and itching.
I quickly took stock of my herbs and remembered the comfrey leaves I was in the process of drying. Recalling comfrey’s anti-inflammatory effects when applied externally, I decided to make a quick poultice from the steeped comfrey leaves.
Making a Comfrey Poultice
Comfrey leaves should be harvested right before the flower blooms and be used dried or fresh. Steep fresh chopped leaves in water that has been brought to a boil for 20-30 minutes. Strain with a kitchen strainer. I prefer to use a French Press for my herbal teas or tisanes.
Wrap the steeped leaves in cheesecloth, muslin or felt to make a poultice and apply externally. Do NOT apply to broken skin or open wounds. Reapply every 10-15 minutes over the next hour, as needed. Much to my surprise, I had instant relief from the comfrey poultice (more on poultices here)! I then soaked a cotton ball with comfrey and taped it on the sting overnight, and the swelling was gone the next morning.
The tea can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months for cool, soothing use. Do not take internally. Use comfrey for no more than 10 days in a row. Do not use comfrey in the presence of active liver disease or in conjunction with medications that impair liver function.
Soothing Comfrey Cream
Comfrey can also be made into a lovely soothing cream. My husband uses comfrey cream for skeletal muscle pain with great results. And of course, I keep my comfrey cream handy for the pesky bee stings. The following is a recipe for Soothing Comfrey Cream that I make here at home.
Ingredients 2 cups dried, crushed comfrey leaves (order here)
2 cups organic olive oil
1/2 cup beeswax pastilles
1 ounce organic emulsifying wax (or another ounce of beeswax)
2 ounces shea butter or lanolin (your choice)
2-1000 mg vitamin E capsules
5-6 drops essential oil of choice Directions
- Loosely pack a 1 quart mason jar with comfrey leaves. Fill with the olive oil, or enough to cover the comfrey leaves, and allow to infuse for at least 30 days.
- Strain comfrey leaves, yielding approximately 1 1/2 cups of infused oil.
- Place the 1 1/2 cup of infused oil in the top of a double boiler which has been brought to a boil. Turn down heat to a low simmer.
- Slowly add beeswax pastilles and emulsifying wax. I use an organic beeswax/emulsifying wax combination of about 2/3 cup.
- Blend in shea butter or lanolin until melted. Lanolin will produce a slightly greasier formula which can be easier to apply.
- Puncture vitamin E capsules and add oil to the mixture. Vitamin E is soothing to skin and is a natural antioxidant that prevents oxidation and rancidity.
- Add 5-6 drops of essential oil depending on the use. Your choice, but my favorites are lavender to soothe tension and/or lemongrass to aid in healing ligament and muscle tears. Wintergreen is useful for sore muscles and chamomille aids in the reduction of swelling and bruising. You can add a combination that works for you or 2-3 drops to each individual container.
- Pour the melted mixture into containers with lids. Allow to solidify and cool before capping with lids. Label and date.
Using herbs is a personal choice. The use of medicinal herbs has been well documented as an alternative treatment for disease and acute injuries across the world. In many cultures, herbs are used to promote health and restore the human body to a state of balance in order to facilitate the healing process.
Learn more about the internal use of comfrey in our post The Comfrey Controversy: Can and Should One Use Comfrey Internally?
To learn more about the medicinal uses of herbs, consider enrolling in the Introductory Herbalism Course or the Intermediate Herbalism Course. Or check out The Herbarium for extensive plant monographs and articles on herbalism, and learn how to integrate herbal medicine into your daily life.
Bee the Change!
Rebecca O’Bea is a beekeeper and avid gardener from Kansas. A budding herbalist and student at HANE, she can be found most days knee-deep in compost and blogging about her daily life at The Bee Queen. Some photos provided by Rebecca O’Bea, used with permission for this article.
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Comfrey Medicinal Uses: The Herbalist’s Notebook
Esperantistka 6/10/2018 4:21:07 PM
I have a lot of Russian Comfrey plants (already mighty ones) and I can sell Comfrey roots. Please see my son’s website ( www.plantsale.weebly.com ) which he built as student project and he uses it to fundraise money to pay for his tuition in GTC. Shipping is $6.99 for the flat rate small box. “Comfrey leaves are a main ingredient in a healing salve we use for wounds, scratches, sunburn and a variety of other skin irritations experienced in a typically busy summer. And the leaves and roots go into tea along with other herbs for coughs and congestion—and especially for an asthma tea. Several years ago, when I was both working and going to school, I started to develop ulcer symptoms. Comfrey tea became part of my daily regimen and within just a few weeks, all my symptoms were gone. It’s hard to imagine our home medicine chest without comfrey in one form or another. Comfrey Medicinal Uses Comfrey has several medicinal actions. It is known as a vulnerary and as an astringent. These properties make it useful in the healing of minor wounds, both internal and external. Comfrey can be used for minor injuries of the skin, where it will work to increase cell production, causing wounds to heal over rapidly. It can be used internally for stomach and duodenal ulcers, where it will have the same effect. Comfrey is also demulcent, producing a mucilage that coats and soothes irritated tissues. It will help reduce inflammation, and at the same time lessen scarring. Comfrey also has expectorant properties and has a relaxing effect on the respiratory membranes. Since it helps relax and soothe membranes, it is useful in coughs, asthma, and bronchitis. As an astringent, comfrey can also help control slow bleeding, as in the case of ulcers. Comfrey Plant Description Comfrey is a tall, rough-leaved plant found growing in waste places and old fields. It can become a nuisance since it reproduces rapidly—even from just a tiny bit of root. Comfrey roots grow deep in the soil and are covered with a dark brown bark that reveals a white inner core when cut. The stems and leaves are covered with coarse, bristly hairs. Leaves are large near the bottom of the plants, up to 12 inches long, and get smaller toward the top. The stalks of lower leaves are long, and when torn, they produce tough and rubbery fibers that stretch before tearing. The leaves are lance- or oval-shaped, with softly pointed tips. They occur alternately along the stem and have simple, smooth margins. Generally, the leaves, stems, and roots all produce a extremely mucilaginous juice when broken. Plant height is up to 3 or 4 feet.” …”I have heard of at least one woman who uses Comfrey regularly who says that only one cup of tea should be made and that cup is to be drank throughout the day. Three to four times a day.” “A natural salve option to use instead of conventional ones like Neosporin. A Healing Salve… I’m not a fan of Neosporin because it’s made with petroleum jelly and there are natural options that work just as well. My homemade healing salve (or “boo-boo lotion”, according to the kids) is helpful on cuts, bruises, stings, poison ivy and skin irritations. It also helps diaper rash and baby skin irritations – just don’t use with cloth diapers or line them first. It’s easy to make and some of the ingredients even grow in your front yard during the summer… One of the herbs I use is Plantain, which grows in most parts of the country and is great for the skin. Most people just know it as a common garden weed. This salve is naturally antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and astringent. It also doesn’t contain petroleum and never goes bad, so I make it in big batches, but you can reduce the size if needed. I always keep this on hand while gardening for skin irritations and bug bites. Healing Salve Ingredients 2 cups olive oil or almond oil 1/4 cup beeswax pastilles 1 tsp echinacea root (optional) 2 Tbsp dried comfrey leaf 2 Tbsp dried plantain leaf (herb-not banana!) 1 Tbsp dried calendula flowers (optional) 1 tsp dried yarrow flowers (optional) 1 tsp dried rosemary leaf (optional) Healing Salve Instructions Infuse the herbs into the olive oil. There are two ways to do this. You can either combine the herbs and the olive oil in a jar with an airtight lid and leave 3-4 weeks, shaking daily OR heat the herbs and olive oil over low/low heat in a double boiler for 3 hours (low heat!) until the oil is very green. Strain her herbs out of the oil by pouring through a cheesecloth. Let all the oil drip out and then squeeze the herbs to get the remaining oil out. Discard the herbs. Heat the infused oil in a double boiler with the beeswax until melted and mixed. Pour into small tins, glass jars or lip chap tubes and use on bites, stings, cuts, poison ivy, diaper rash or other wounds as needed. https://wellnessmama.com/3520/homemade-healing-salve/
- Drill a hole in the bottom of the large container, before adding the leaves. Place a smaller container under the hole in the larger container, to catch the drippings.
- You could add some water to steep the leaves in, but this produces a very strong odor. You are allowing the leaves to rot in the water and the high nitrogen content in the leaves assists in rapid rotting. Since this solution is already somewhat diluted, you will only need to mix this liquid with three parts of water. Used straight, it can be too strong for the roots. Use every time you water. To lessen the odor, use a container with a top. A top and a spigot would be ideal.
- Used as mulch: Add a layer of leaves as a mulch, at the base of plants and in planting beds. You can chop them first, to speed their decomposition, or leave them whole. If the leaves are dry and try to fly away, wet them down and top them off with a layer of compost.
- In compost: You can toss excess comfrey leaves and plants into your compost and still benefit from the released nutrients when you use your finished compost. This is the best use of the stalks, which take longer to breakdown. It even acts as an activator and helps to speed up the composting process.
- In the soil: Line the bottom of planting holes and even containers with a couple of leaves, then plant as you normally would. The leaves will slowly decompose and release their nutrients–with no odor.
- Leaf mold: Because comfrey leaves decompose into a liquid, they cannot be used alone, to make leaf mold. However mixed with other types of shredded leaves they will again act as an accelerator and you will have lovely, earthy, nutrient-rich leaf mold in record time. Leaf mold can be used as a fertilizer, a side dressing or even a potting soil.