- Growing Comfrey
- When and Where You Should Grow Comfrey
- Understanding Seed Germination of Comfrey
- Soil Preparation
- Starting Comfrey from Seed
- Planting Root Cuttings or Transplants
- How to Take Root Cuttings
- Watering and Mulching Requirements
- Companion Planting
- Harvesting and Using Comfrey
- Choosing the Best Comfrey Variety for your Garden
- Comfrey Seed – Buy Comfrey Herb Seed
- Soil Requirements
- Growing Zones
- Attracting Pollinators
- Harvesting Your Comfrey Plant
- Medicinal Properties
- A Great Companion Plant
- A Compost Booster
- Liquid Fertilizer
- The Wonderful Comfrey
- What Is Comfrey: Information For Growing Comfrey Plants
- What is Comfrey?
- Growing Comfrey Plants
- Comfrey Uses
- Growing the COMFREY Plants
- Fast Growing, Bountiful Harvest
- Planting Among Trees in Orchards
- All About Roots, Crowns/Offsets, One-Year, Two-Year & 3-to-4 Year Plants
- Root Cuttings
- Crown Cuttings
- One-Year, Two-Year & 3-to-4 Year-Old Plants
- For Best Results — Use “Fertile Holes”
- Sizes of Fertile Holes
- The Benefits of Growing Comfrey
- Growing Comfrey for Different Uses
- Planting Comfrey
- Growing Comfrey for Mulch
- Comfrey Planting Season is Here! (How to plan, plant and harvest)
- Comfrey, Symphytum Officinale (common comfrey) is sterile, spread by root not seed.
Many years ago, comfrey was grown as a popular medicinal herb. Reaching nearly five feet tall, with large, prickly leaves beneath hanging clusters of colorful, bell-shaped flowers, the true benefits of comfrey lie in the plant’s roots’ ability to break up tough clay soils, and its nitrogen-heavy leaves’ use as a nutrient-dense fertilizer. However, for years the herb was also prized for its supposed healing abilities. Before we tell you anything else we need to let you know that comfrey may no longer be considered safe for internal consumption by humans or animals. However, many people still use comfrey medicinally in topical skin preparations. These include, pain relieving salves and other topical treatments, including us.
Additionally, adding comfrey to your garden will attract “predatory insects”. These are the types of beneficial bugs that will protect your plants from pests that they are otherwise susceptible to. Moreover, if you allow that comfrey crops to bloom, the flowers are beautifully colored cream, pink, and blue flowers. All of which attract pollinators, which we all know is a much needed benefit for every garden.
Ready to start growing some comfrey? Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know to start!
When and Where You Should Grow Comfrey
Comfrey can be planted any time when the soil is not frozen, and seedlings are not facing immediate danger of frost. Planting is preferable in the Spring or Fall seasons. If planting in the Fall, try to get your seedlings or transplants in the ground early enough that roots will have time to establish before the first frost. Remember, essentially comfrey is a weed, and as such is quite hearty. Freezing temperatures will not kill comfrey roots.
Be sure to pick a spot for your comfrey plant that receives medium to full sunlight, and which has adequate drainage. If necessary, grow your comfrey in a container if you are concerned about the plant’s propensity to spread. Do not plant comfrey anywhere where you intend to cultivate other crops, as any broken roots will result in new comfrey springing up all over your garden.
One of the most important things to understand about comfrey is that once established, it is nearly impossible to get rid of. The first step in preparing to grow comfrey is selecting the proper placement in your garden. The second step is to determine which type of comfrey you wish to plant.
Understanding Seed Germination of Comfrey
Comfrey requires a winter “chilling period” in order to germinate, and it is very common to wait two years after sowing seed before seeing signs of germination. It’s for this reason that most gardeners forego starting their comfrey by seed. Instead, they choose to start with one of the widely available alternatives, such as a live root cutting. A great majority of gardeners also choose to begin their comfrey crops with a live root cutting or transplant due to the relative ease and simplicity of this method over germinating seeds. Check your local farms and nurseries for the best options close to you!
One of the great benefits to growing comfrey is the freedom it provides. You may choose to begin growing your comfrey indoors or outside, and you may begin with seed or a live root cutting or transplant. Regardless of the method you prefer, you can expect your comfrey crop to thrive in most growing conditions.
Comfrey prefers clay soil but will flourish in a variety of settings provided it receives plenty of moisture. Prior to planting your comfrey, follow the same general recommendations you would for the preparation of any quality vegetable bed or garden. Carefully weed the existing ground. Although comfrey’s roots will eventually overwhelm other weeds, it can take a few years to become established. Comfrey grows best in soil with a pH of 6.0-7.0, but as mentioned, will grow under a variety of conditions. Add any needed amendments to the soil and compost prior to planting your comfrey in order to achieve your ideal growing environment.
Additionally, if you are planting your comfrey near trees or shrubs, consider digging a trench into the portion of the soil that will separate the intended comfrey patch from the trees or shrubs. The root system of the other plants can detect the recent fertilization present in the soil and migrate into the comfrey bed unless a barrier is present.
One other thing you may want to keep in mind when picking a spot for your comfrey is its ability to speed up composting. Since comfrey’s six-foot long roots pull tons of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium from the soil. It makes a wonderful choice for decomposition into organic matter as well. According to researchers in British Columbia, the NPK rating of dried comfrey leaves is 1.8-0.5-5.3. For comparison, the NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) rating for kelp meal (another highly recommended soil amendment) is 1.0-0.5-2.5. Because of all the nutrients the plant uptakes, it becomes easy to see why comfrey is also often used as a compost accelerator.
Starting Comfrey from Seed
If choosing to start your comfrey from seed, it is critical that you select “true” or “common” comfrey. These are the seeds which are capable of reproducing. The other variety of comfrey, “Russian comfrey”, is sterile, which means that the seeds do not grow.
Now, the first thing you need to do in order to germinate your comfrey seeds is to break their dormancy cycle. This can be achieved through “stratification,” or the process of mimicking cold, moist winter conditions. The following is the stratification process recommended by Nantahala Farm:
- Place seeds in moist sand, vermiculite, coconut coir, potting soil, soilless potting mix, or paper towel. After this, place it in a baggie, cloth bag, or glass jar with lid. You will want to avoid placing in a paper towel if you can, as it is sterile and does not contain endogenous growth hormones that encourage germination. Additionally, don’t just use peat moss alone as it is too acidic.
- To assist your seeds in germinating, add a little kelp (seaweed) to the medium. Since kelp has naturally occurring growth hormones it will help seeds germinate. Additionally, it can help prevent damping off.
- Now, simply place the bag or jar in your refrigerator. You will want to keep them in there for the next 30 days (up to 60 days maximum). The reason you are doing this is to break the dormancy of the seeds by creating winter-like conditions. Do not put them in your freezer when moist though.
- After this, you will want to plant outside once the soil temperature is between 68-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Just remember, germination results are better when first planted in a warm greenhouse or sunny window.
- While the seed is still thinking about sprouting try to keep soil temperature between 68-80 degrees Fahrenheit. If needed, you can use supplemental heat such as a heat lamp or horticulture heat pads. You will want to adjust the thermostat for 70 to 80 degrees.
- Since we’ve now created the perfect environment for the seeds to sprout, you should seed them germinate in 10-15 days.
If starting seedlings inside and planning to transfer outdoors, wait to transfer until after the seedlings have been growing indoors for a few months. Then, you will gradually harden them to external conditions over the course of a couple of weeks before planting outside.
Of course, remember that comfrey may also be kept in pots outside and cultivated as desired. This can help prevent any spread of the plant’s deep root system, while still providing your garden with the many benefits of growing the herb.
Planting Root Cuttings or Transplants
While single comfrey transplants are available for purchase, live root cuttings are by far the most common and economical way to grow multiple comfrey plants or to begin a comfrey bed. Most often, you will get root cuttings that are 2-6 inches long roots from the comfrey plant.
To plant the cuttings, you place them horizontally about 2-6 inches deeper. Just keep in mind what kind of soil you have. The more clay, the shallower you can plant the cuttings and the more sand, the deeper you’ll want to plant.
Additionally, root cuttings and transplants are usually spaced about three feet apart.
To be clear, live root cuttings are pieces of living root that are planted entirely below the soil, at least two inches deep, in the hope they will create a new root system and generate a new plant. Transplants are young, small, whole plants that are transferred to a new, permanent location. Transplants are buried up to the crown only.
When preparing to plant root cuttings or transplants, soil preparation remains the same as previously described. It is recommended to provide compost both beneath the cutting at the time of transplant, as well as around the base of the plant. You can also add worm castings to the base of the plant for added nutrients.
While your plants likely grew a decent amount this first year, it is advised to not harvest anything from the plant in this first year. Since comfrey relies heavily on its deep root system, simply cut the plant’s leaves back and allow it to continue forming a strong root system.
How to Take Root Cuttings
Watch the below video to learn how to take root cuttings from a mature comfrey plant.
Watering and Mulching Requirements
Comfrey is known for its large taproot, which is a hardy, central root from which all other roots sprout laterally. Because of the depth to which comfrey’s tap root reaches, it is known to be a drought-tolerant crop. That said, when first planting, your comfrey plant will need frequent watering in order to become established. Once the tap root has taken hold, regular watering will help your comfrey crop thrive. Always remember to water and mulch after harvesting your comfrey, as well.
Comfrey is a nitrogen-hungry plant. It’s penetrating roots are happy to take advantage of any fertilizer provided. Moreover, one of the best options for feeding your comfrey is the comfrey itself! Mulch around your comfrey crop with the comfrey’s own leaves to help return some of that necessary nitrogen to the soil. Another option is to maintain a thick layer of grass around the comfrey bed. However, even without additional fertilization, once established, comfrey plants are notoriously difficult to eradicate. Regular feeding is not particularly necessary to maintain this crop, though mulching with a rich organic matter will certainly result in even healthier plants and more plentiful harvests.
When considering the planning of a permaculture garden, companion planting is always one of our primary concerns. It is here where comfrey really shines. Comfrey is an excellent companion to nearly every plant, as mature, dried comfrey leaves can become an excellent mulch, tea, or fermented plant juice. Comfrey is even an excellent mulch for itself!
However, comfrey will often take over wherever it is planted. In order to solve this problem, consider planting comfrey in a container or creating a solid barrier to prevent it from spreading. Also, as a perennial, though comfrey will die back in the winter, you can expect it to return even more generously each spring. Therefore, this crop has no rotation considerations.
A prime example of maximizing comfrey as a companion in the garden can be found when utilizing it to enhance your organic cannabis crops. We know that comfrey leaves are nutrient-dense, but did you know that they are one of the few naturally-occurring sources of potassium? By feeding your cannabis crops comfrey fertilizer throughout the flower cycle, you’ll be giving your plants the boost they need and want! Seriously, mix it up in a tea, ferment it or just mulch with it, your plants will thank you for it!
Along with potassium, comfrey is also a strong source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium. The high levels of nitrogen make the leaves an excellent bio-activator for your compost, speeding up the time it takes for your compost pile to become usable compost. Additionally, cutting off the leaves in the fall and mixing pieces into the top layer of your soil will allow the leaves to release their nutrients in time for spring planting.
Harvesting and Using Comfrey
Comfrey is a perennial plant, meaning that is it expected to live beyond two years. Comfrey blooms once every year between late spring and early summer, and unlike a shrub, can be expected to die back in the winter. It is certified to grow as a perennial in the United States in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. to find your USDA Hardiness Zone, or consult this map.
If you are only growing comfrey for the leaves, you can begin harvesting when the plant is about two feet tall. Cut the leaves back to within a few inches of the crown. The leaves can be dried and turned into a mulch, tea, or fermented plant juice for your other crops. Comfrey is widely known to be a highly beneficial soil amendment for almost every crop. Some farmers have also been known to use comfrey as an inexpensive and well-tolerated feed for certain ruminants, chickens, rabbits, and pigs. However, the safety of comfrey among livestock is contested.
If you would like for your comfrey crop to bloom flowers, you’ll want to wait before you harvest. The best time to trim the leaves for compost and tea is before the plant flowers. Of course, if you want the colorful blooms in your garden, you will need to wait for them to arrive. Regardless, remember to only harvest the leaves for your compost or tea-making, as the flowering stems have the propensity to take root if transferred elsewhere in your garden.
Additionally, the dark green leaves of comfrey are covered in small, prickly hairs which are irritating to the skin of some people. If you find this is the case, wear gloves when handling the plant, or beforehand as a precautionary measure.
Choosing the Best Comfrey Variety for your Garden
The two types of comfrey you are most likely to encounter are:
- Russian Comfrey
- Common or True Comfrey.
The primary difference is that Russian Comfrey (specifically the “Bocking #4 or #14” varieties most commonly available) is sterile, meaning that it does not “self-seed.” Conversely, the “True” or “Common” varieties of comfrey will self-seed and are said to be less vigorous growers, but with deeper colored flowers. At about three feet tall, True comfrey is smaller than Russian comfrey.
Most home gardeners greatly prefer the sterile, Russian varieties of comfrey. The advantage of these varieties over “true” or “common” comfrey is that you needn’t worry about the plant’s seeds spreading around your garden, for they will not germinate.
In addition, the Russian (Bocking #4 or #14) varieties of comfrey are larger and the blooms are said to be more brightly colored than the “true” or “common” variety, which is known for smaller plants with more richly colored darker blooms. Despite these differences, all types of comfrey offer the same nutrient benefits when used as compost or other type of amendment for any of your garden
Additional Tips for Growing Comfrey
- When planting comfrey, ensure you are selecting the sterile “Russian” (Bocking #4 or #14) cultivars. These plants rarely produce seed, and the seeds they do produce will not germinate, so you have a much lower risk of the plant taking over your garden. On the other hand, if you wish to begin your comfrey from seed, you must be sure to purchase “True” or “Common” comfrey seeds, which are capable of germination.
- Comfrey may be difficult to eradicate due to its long taproot. This central portion of the comfrey root structure is responsible for the resiliency of the crop. It can grow up to six feet into the ground! This is also how the comfrey leaves absorb such incredible amounts of nutrients from the soil, as well as how the crop is able to survive frost and mild drought. Each smaller root grows off of this main root laterally. However, if the ground around the comfrey is tilled and any of these roots are cut, that root cutting is then capable of starting a brand new plant, with its own taproot. For this reason, it is important not to cultivate the area around where the comfrey is planted.
- In order to make comfrey tea, place torn up comfrey leaves into a gallon-sized bucket. Fill the bucket about halfway with leaves and weigh the leaves down with something heavy, like a brick. Fill the bucket with water and set it somewhere far away from your home, as it will become very smelly. In about a month the leaves can be strained from the mixture and used as a dressing in your garden. The remaining tea should be diluted with water and applied according to your plants’ needs. Another method you may prefer is to skip the water and instead allow the leaves to decompose into an extract on their own. This extract should be diluted with water 1:15, then used in the same way as the tea.
Comfrey Seed – Buy Comfrey Herb Seed
USDA Zones: 4 – 9
Height: 60 inches
Bloom Season: Late spring through summer
Bloom Color: Purple
Environment: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Rich organic soil, pH 6.0 – 7.0
Temperature: 60 – 70F
Average Germ Time: If germination does not occur after 14 – 21 days a cooling period of 2 – 4 weeks is recommended
Light Required: Yes
Depth: 1/8 – 1/4 inch deep
Sowing Rate: 1 – 2 seeds per plant
Moisture: Keep seeds moist until germination occurs
Plant Spacing: 36 inches
Comfrey (Symphytum Officinale) – Comfrey has been used as a healing herb for centuries. The comfrey herb is native to Asia and Europe, but early English immigrants brought it to North America for medicinal purposes. Common Comfrey, Latin name: Symphytum officinale, grows to be approximately 60 inches tall. It has slender lance-shaped leaves and produces bell-shaped purple flowers that bloom from May to September. Comfrey, even when grown from Comfrey seed, has a deep root system with thick dark-colored roots. Comfrey may have violet, pink or creamy yellow flowers.
Comfrey contains chemicals that speed up wound healing. It has astringent, antifungal and antibacterial properties. Comfrey also contains a wide variety of healthy chemicals and nutrients. It has been recently learned that it can be a carcinogenic when taken internally, but it is still used as a topical treatment for skin irritations, cuts, sprains and swelling.
The form and size of the Comfrey herb might have you thinking it is a shrub, but it will die back to the ground in the winter and it does not get woody. Comfrey has a deep tap root, so it is extremely drought tolerant and a useful clay busting plant. It is also useful as a slug and snail repellent.
Leaves can be harvested and dried at any time. If you are growing it to harvest the leaves, you can make your first cutting when the plants are about 2 feet tall. Cut back to within a few inches of the crow. If you begin harvesting early, you won’t get flowers. Leaves, flowers and roots have all been used in traditional medicine, but use extreme caution if you don’t know what you’re doing. Comfrey should never be taken orally and even a topical application can cause problems.
For those of us who like to get the most out of our gardens, selecting plant that serve more than one purpose is the way to go! One of my favorite herbs, the comfrey plant, is a multitasking master. It can be used as a nutrient-rich mulch, a beautiful pollinator attractor, and a “compost booster”. Additionally, it has been used a medicine for at least 2500 years. Read on to learn why you need this spectacular plant in your own garden.
One thing to keep in mind when planting comfrey is permanence. Comfrey is a deep-rooted perennial, so planning out where to start a patch is very important. Attempting to dig out all of the root system to move your comfrey patch is easier said than done. You can’t leave even one little piece of its tap root in the soil. Otherwise, you’ll soon see a brand new comfrey plant popping out of the ground.
There are at least 35 recognized types of comfrey that have been cultivated. By far, the most common type found is “Bocking 14″—a Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum). It’s actually just a hybrid of common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and rough comfrey (Symphytum asperum).
Any average, well-drained soil will work fine to grow your comfrey, but it prefers moist, fertile soil. It’s not too particular about pH, but a neutral to acidic range of 6.0 – 7.0 is just about right. To get the most out of your comfrey plant, add some nitrogen into the soil. Working a bit of compost in before planting should do the trick. It’ll return this favor by growing lots of thick vegetation throughout the growing season, which you can use for various reasons.
You can easily start comfrey by seed, but it needs a winter chill to germinate properly. An alternative is to just purchase a comfrey plant from a nursery. They’re fairly common and shouldn’t be much trouble to find. Comfrey excels at self-sowing its seeds, causing it to spread quicker than you may want it to.
If you don’t want your patch to spread too quickly, try the aforementioned “Bocking 14” variety. It’s sterile, and therefore won’t spread by seed—it’s propagated by root cuttings instead. A three- to-six-inch root section can be planted horizontally about two to six inches deep. Make sure to plant deeper in sandy soil, and shallower in clay soil.
A healthy comfrey plant can bush out to 4 feet and reach a height of 3-5 feet tall. If you’re planting several near each other, plant them at least 3 feet apart. You can expect to see their violet, pink, or creamy yellow flowers in late spring or early summer.
Comfrey can grow in full sun or partial shade, but will begin to wilt if exposed extremely hot, dry conditions. If you’re in a hot climate, it’s best to figure out some type of irrigation to get the best from your comfrey plant. It’s frost tolerant and hardy in zones 4-9. The leaves can take temperatures of 15 degrees and still survive, and the roots can survive to -40 degrees! Depending on your location, it’ll die back each winter and return each new season, healthier and larger than the previous.
This plant’s small, bell-shaped flowers are wonderful pollinator attractors. I’ve seen all sorts of different types of bees, ladybugs, ants, and butterflies visiting mine regularly. My 4th year comfrey really puts off a lot of flowers, so there’s always a lot of buzzing and fluttering about around it.
Harvesting Your Comfrey Plant
Focus on keeping your plant happy during the first growing season so it develops a healthy root system. Wait until the second season to begin harvesting. Once your comfrey is about two feet tall, you’ll be able to begin harvesting the leaves. If you start cutting leaves any sooner there’s a good chance that it won’t grow any of its pollinator attracting flowers!
The leaves are kind of prickly, so you may want to wear gloves when trimming. It’s not just the leaves that can be harvested for making medicine either. Its roots and flowers can also be harvested for their medicinal attributes.
The Romans and Greeks cultivated comfrey as far back as 400BC for its medicinal properties. Its Latin name, Symphytum, comes from Greek words meaning “growing together of bones” and “plant’”. Besides being used to mend broken bones it’s also used for healing wounds and lung ailments, stopping heavy bleeding, and for topical skin treatments.
Even though it’s been used in traditional medicine for centuries, it’s strongly suggested to not take it internally. According to newer research, doing so can damage the liver and lungs, and even cause cancer.
If you cut yourself when you’re in your garden, just grab two leaves and rub them together to knock off the leaves’ prickly hairs. Mash up a leaf to make a poultice and gently put onto the cut, then wrap the other leaf around the wound. The comfrey will help staunch the bleeding, and will help kickstart the healing process. I cut myself pretty often, unfortunately… but, after learning this trick, I now cherish my comfrey patch even more than before!
A Great Addition to Personal Care Products
Comfrey is also one of the main herbal ingredients I use when I make healing salves and soaps. It’s great for topical wounds, so I like to combine it with other herbs that have similar strengths. A very effective and simple salve can be made using chopped plantain, calendula, yarrow flower, and comfrey. I use this for all skin-related problems: burns, rashes, cuts, scrapes and eczema.
A very basic explanation of this recipe is to infuse olive oil with the chopped herbs, combining them all in a jar left in direct sunlight for 3 weeks. (Just simmer the herbs in a double boiler if you’re in a hurry.) After your oil is infused, strain out the herbs with a cheesecloth. Add some melted beeswax to this to solidify it enough so that it can be kept in a jar at room temperature.
A Great Companion Plant
Comfrey is an awesome companion plant for several reasons, If you have fruit trees or an orchard, I suggest growing them there. This will keep them from spreading in your garden, and your fruit trees will directly benefit from this new plant friendship.
The main reason I suggest planting comfrey under fruit trees is the potassium boost trees will get by having it near. Potassium is one of the essential minerals needed for proper growth and reproduction. The deep tap root captures potassium and other nutrients far below the surface, making them available as mulch when the plant dies back each season. These nutrients are slowly released back into the soil as the leaves decompose.
An added bonus you will get from planting comfrey under your tree, is that you’ll creating a “micro-climate”. (This is a climate that differs from the surrounding area.) Comfrey’s long tap root helps it to be a pretty drought-tolerant herb, allowing it to keep large leaves all season long. As morning fogs pass over, droplets of water collect on the leaves, and are drawn down to the roots below. This extra bit of retained moisture helps to keep the soil around your tree from drying out, even during the hottest parts of summer.
A Compost Booster
As mentioned before, comfrey’s deep tap roots pull out nutrients from much further down in the soil than most other plants. A lot of these nutrients end up in above-ground plant parts: leaves, stems, and flowers. This wealth of nutrients can easily be shared with the rest of your garden!
To help give your compost pile a nutrient boost, chop up any of these parts that you prune off your plant and toss them in. To help them break down faster, chop them into pieces about 2-3 inches. Mix these pieces into your compost, or place them around specific plants or fruit trees as a mulch. You can prune your comfrey plant 4-5 times a year and it will keep coming back each time, ready for more.
If you decide to grow a lot of comfrey, you can make a liquid fertilizer out of its trimmings. You can easily make it in a food-grade bucket or barrel. Fill 3/4 of the your container with comfrey trimmings, and then fill with water. You’ll want to cover it and let it steep for 3-6 weeks. The biggest downfall is the smell created in the process, but it’s worth it!
You can dilute this fertilizer if you want to, or apply it full strength. Apply to your plants when they’re fruiting or as needed. Also, don’t apply before a rainfall, as most of the nutrients will get washed away back into the soil.
I hope this beautiful perennial will become a welcome guest in your garden this season. I’ve fallen in love with it so much that every spring I take root cuttings, and spread it anywhere I have room.
The Wonderful Comfrey
Comfrey is incredible. It’s a soil builder, a fertilizer, a compost enhancer, has medicinal properties, is a good feed source for animals, and much more. Let’s talk about this chief of plants.
Sign-up for our Free Weekly Newsletter from the National Gardening Association:
· Get fresh new gardening tips created by hundreds of gardeners worldwide
· Gain access to hundreds of Free articles, tips, ideas, pictures and everything gardening
· How to Videos for DIY Gardening Projects
Only a few plants make my “absolute must grow” list, and in this series of articles I’ve been featuring them one by one. In past articles I’ve discussed chickweed, lambsquarters, sunroots (also known as Jerusalem Artichokes), tomatoes and yarrow. Hopefully you’ve been enjoying the series. Today we take a look at one of the cornerstones of permaculture plants: Comfrey.
Comfrey is a perennial herbaceous forb that is semi-evergreen in the south. It’s a fairly finicky plant and sometimes you have to try a few times in a few different places before you finally get it established. Once you have it, though, it’ll continue to persist, growing bigger and healthier each year.
Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Bocking 14’)
Posted by dave
It loves rich, moist soil and hates the hot direct sunshine that comes from the west. Planted in an east location with west-facing protection, it can thrive in Texas. If you’ve failed at comfrey in the past, it was probably due to excessively hot sunshine. Also, as I mentioned, it likes moist soil, but it hates to sit in water logged soil. So it’s important to put it in a place that has good drainage.
So why grow it? The advantages of this plant are so numerous, it’s hard to even know where to begin. For starters, it is perhaps the most famous of all dynamic nutrient accumulators, and is the chief of “soil building” perennials. An informal study published by the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia showed a 232% increase in organic matter in soils that had been planted with comfrey, as measured against nearby soil that was treated similar but did not have comfrey growing. Many books have been written, arguments argued, questions asked and research done, over the soil building aspects of comfrey. I am satisfied with the knowledge that comfrey is a soil builder, and that’s good enough for me.
I plant comfrey along the edges of my gardens, and under my fruit trees. They don’t compete much with the surrounding plants, and they grow quite quickly. A few times during the season I will cut them nearly completely to the ground, and toss the cuttings as a living mulch in the gardens and orchards. The nutrients in the leaves fertilize the other plants and the organic matter provides nice protection to the soil to hold moisture and protect against the sun.
The leaves are also used in compost production. Have a “dead” pile of compost? Mix in some green comfrey leaves to kick it right back into production! I’ve heard of a technique where people will fill a bucket with comfrey leaves, then fill it with water, and you have a liquid comfrey tea that you can use as a water fertilizer for your plants.
Another area where comfrey really shines is in the production of animal feed. Amazingly, comfrey has about 7 times as much protein, and 8 times the carbs, as soybeans! Some comfrey tests have shown up to 33% protein. Growing comfrey near your chicken pens is an excellent way to supplement your poultry feed. Throw them a few leaves each day and watch your feed bill go down. Nearly all mammal livestock produce well on comfrey, but they hesitate to eat it because it has little hairs on the leaves. If you crush the leaves a bit before presenting it to the animal, they’re much more likely to eat it.
Comfrey also has numerous medicinal benefits, and is the subject of much controversy. It has certain substances (allantoin, rosmarinic acid, and various tannins) that promote skin regrowth and bone healing. In fact, one nickname of comfrey is “knit bone.” People in ages past have used comfrey to treat wounds, bone breaks and sprains, skin inflammations and more. The controversy arises because comfrey also contains a poisonous alkaloid called pyrrolizidine. This alkaloid can build up in the body and can cause liver damage and in extreme cases, death. This risk has led most countries (including the US) to ban the sale of comfrey products that are intended for oral consumption. So if you’re interested in the powerful healing effects of comfrey, you must first be prepared to spend a long time researching before you do anything medicinally with this herb.
The plant Comfrey consists of the plants in the Symphytum genus. The one you may have seen is Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) , which is the usual garden variety comfrey. It sets seed and can easily become invasive in certain conditions, taking over entire hillsides. I don’t grow that species, nor do I recommend it to you. Instead, I recommend cultivars from the Bocking series, which are sterile varieties of the Symphytum x uplandicum species. These have all the benefits, vigor and advantages of the other Comfreys, but they don’t set seed and therefore they stay exactly where you put them. Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Bocking 14’) is my favorite variety to grow, and it does very well for us in East Texas.
To get started growing comfrey, simply obtain some roots from another gardener or order them online. Plant these roots straight into the ground and the plant should emerge within a week or so. It’s actually very easy to grow them in the ground, but they hate being potted in a container. For this reason, you almost never see comfrey in garden centers. So just get your roots, plant them straight down under the surface of the soil with the bud right up at ground level, and you’ll be successful.
What Is Comfrey: Information For Growing Comfrey Plants
Growing comfrey plants in the garden can offer a wide variety of uses. Attractive and beneficial, this plant will add something extra to your medicinal herb arsenal. Let’s learn more about growing this herb in the garden and which comfrey uses are generally employed.
What is Comfrey?
Symphytum officinale, or comfrey herb plant, has a long history of use as a medicinal herb but not as a culinary plant. Otherwise known as knitbone or slippery root, comfrey plants have been used medicinally since 400 BC to stop heavy bleeding and to treat bronchial issues.
From the family Boraginaceae, comfrey is a perennial herb with a spreading habit that attains a height of up to 4 feet. This plant is native to Europe and Asia where is thrives in moist, shady locations and bears ½-inch long flowers in May. The leaves of the comfrey are deep green in color, hairy and 10 inches or so in length.
Growing Comfrey Plants
Growing comfrey plants requires a climate in hardiness zone USDA 3-9 (although some ornamental varieties are only hardy to zone 5) with rich, moist, alkaline soil (pH of 6.7-7.3).
Comfrey plants generally prefer shade to part shade exposures in warm moist soil, although some cultivars require full sunlight to attain highest yields.
There are some aggressive species and many self-sow readily. Propagation can be done via seed, division or separation. Sow comfrey seeds in fall or early spring directly in the garden or in a cold frame, and pot seedlings to be over wintered inside.
Division of comfrey herb plants may occur at any time; however, spring is suggested. Divide by cutting off 3 inches of root below the soil level and then plant directly into a pot or another area of the garden. As comfrey can be an aggressive spreader, you may want to plant within a physical barrier and deadhead flowers to rein in its spreading habit.
Comfrey plants are easy to grow and require very little maintenance once established. This perennial is generally frost and drought hardy as well as being primarily disease and pest resistant.
As mentioned above, the comfrey herb plant has a long history of medicinal usage. Useful not only for staunching blood flow and arresting some bronchial ailments, comfrey has also been used to heal broken bones. Comfrey tea is often ingested for internal illness and poultices are applied to external ailments.
Comfrey contains high amounts of allantioin (also found in nursing mother’s milk) and is said to increase the rate of cell growth, which in turn increases the number of white blood cells. The application of allantoin has been shown to heal wounds and burns more quickly and promotes healthy skin with high mucilage content. Due to this by-product of moisturizing and soothing, comfrey may be added to some cosmetics, cream, lotions and some people even add it to their bath water.
At one time, comfrey herb plant was used as a forage crop but has been found to be unpalatable to some animals and recently has also been found to be possibly carcinogenic. Today the herb is restricted as a food crop and essentially used commercially for cosmetics and ornamental uses, including its use as a dye. Comfrey fertilizer is also used for composting, mulching or green manure.
Some people eat comfrey, as it is a great source of plant-derived vitamin B12 primarily for vegetarians and vegans. Larger amounts of essential amino acids are found in turnip greens and spinach, so the jury is still out about whether the beneficial nutrition outweighs the possible harmful carcinogenic issues.
Growing the COMFREY Plants
Originating in the Caucasus mountains of Russia, Comfrey can withstand temperatures of -40° F below zero without winter kill. It thrives in Africa in 120° F heat and with 12 cuttings per year there, they hold the world record yield of over 140 tons per acre.
Comfrey can be planted spring, summer or fall, anytime the soil can be worked. In warmer climates (Deep South and Southwest USA), it can be planted and the leaves harvested throughout the year.
Comfrey grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9. But will grow almost anywhere. Comfrey prefers a sweet soil with a pH of 6.0-7.0 and grows best in rich, moist soil in full sun, but will tolerate some shade.* It will grow well in clay, light sands or loams — whether in dry or wet areas. Strong growing and deep- rooted, Comfrey adapts well to most any environment.
*An ideal range of sunlight exposure is between 4 to 6 hours. Afternoon shade of some form will still be useful, as any more than six hours can potentially cook the plants, particularly in states/areas with high spring/summer temperatures.
Because the Bocking #4 is so deep rooted, it will thrive in drought where most other plants are helpless. We do not sell the Bocking #14 strain of Comfrey as “it is shallow rooted and subject to drought,” and “it is disliked by rabbits and chickens — as being too bitter” according to Lawrence D. Hills, the world’s foremost expert on Comfrey.
Plant Comfrey in “fertile holes” to get established and it will thrive and live even through the hottest Summer or coldest Winter. Comfrey needs a 3 foot spacing for proper root development and highest yields. Strong, mature plants on a 3 foot grid will have the larger outside leaves touching the adjacent plants after 4 to 5 weeks growth.
Comfrey can also be grown indoors, in pots (1 to 5 gallon size) for a continuous harvest of fresh, small leaves. For this purpose best results are obtained by planting two-year or 3-to-4-year plants in the larger pots or 5- gallon buckets.
Plant crowns or plants NOW and have fresh leaves in two to three weeks!
Fast Growing, Bountiful Harvest
Comfrey roots can grow down 8 to 10 feet and out to a 3-foot radius bringing up minerals and nutrients that have leached down for thousands of years. Comfrey is a “dynamic accumulator”— each plant a super “nutrient-pump”— producing versatile, valuable leaves — year after year.
Comfrey leaves can grow to be 10” wide x 20” long with prominent veining and some soft bristles underneath. The top side appears smooth. The smallest leaves are slightly fuzzy and all leaves are tender. Large strong plants become a “fountain of leaves” comprised of 15 to 25 shoots and leaves, small to large, coming right out of the ground. The plants can be 2½ feet high by 2½ feet in diameter every month of the growing and harvesting season.
Comfrey begins its growth early in the Spring; the first cutting here in Nantahala, NC (3400’ elevation) is in mid-April and the stronger plants will be in the “fountain of leaves” stage. This growth should be cut off 2“ above the ground and as needed throughout the growing season. These fast growing leaves can be cut 3 to 8 times a year with each plant yielding 3 to 8 pounds per cutting.
Comfrey produces a small yield the first year, a larger yield the second year and comes into full production in the third season. Plants will continue producing leaves for 25 years or more and with optimum conditions you will reap thousands of pounds of nutrient-rich leaves from each plant.
For best results: Keep your comfrey plantings CLEAN (free of weeds and grass), CUT (monthly cuts bring on new growth) and FED (use organic fertilizers such as manure).
Planting Among Trees in Orchards
In Permaculture, comfrey is often left to grow around trees without cutting. The larger outer leaves will lay down forming a nutrient-rich mulch and ground cover. Leaves can also be cut and scattered around the orchard. However to obtain the highest yield as a crop, it should be kept free of competition from grass, weeds, and tree roots. The plants are then cut when at peak growth and manured.
All About Roots, Crowns/Offsets, One-Year, Two-Year & 3-to-4 Year Plants
NOTE: When planting root cuttings OR crown cuttings (laid flat) in a more dense, clayey soil and during cold Fall or Spring time, plant about 1½” to 2” deep. In sandy soil when it’s hot Summer, plant deeper — 3” to 4” deep. Water well and keep the soil moist. Use mulch (if available), but add extra nitrogen (as in manure, urine, etc).
Root cuttings are sections of lateral roots and are 2” to 6” long depending on the diameter. They develop buds 20 to 40 days after planting, and are best planted in beds, rows, or pots, and transplanted to permanent locations when a year or more old. Roots are laid flat and covered with 1½“ to 4” of soil when planted (see NOTE above).
Root cuttings take 1½ to 2 years to grow to the size of a one-year plant. Crown cuttings will make a large one-year plant in 1 to 1½ years. One year plants will reach full maturity in 3- to 4- years.
Large fields are planted using root cuttings or crown cuttings, the ground being prepared as when planting corn or potatoes. On large, mechanized farms it is set on a 4 foot grid, to allow room for machinery to cultivate between the plants. Large machinery is used for soil preparation and then frequent, but shallow cultivation. Keeping all grasses and weeds down is necessary to allow the plants to get established. After the plants have become established, cultivation can be reduced to 3 or 4 times per year. Comfrey can be planted as close as 18” apart in rows if intensive cutting of small leaves is desired.
Manure, and also a mixture of commercial fertilizer composted with manure, is used on some of these large plantings. This mixture has worked very well for those wishing to use artificial, commercial fertilizers, however you will have very poor results with artificials used alone.
In the Spring of the third year, you can seed white Dutch clover or Ladino clover throughout the planting. The clover will help provide nitrogen and keep the leaves clean. Raw mineral bearing rock dust is applied as fertilizer for the clover and Comfrey, This is broadcast one-half ton per acre, per year. Aged manure is applied at the rate of one bushel in the Spring and one-half bushel after the second cut is removed, per plant. This is dumped directly onto the plant itself. The Comfrey quickly grows up through the manure. “Raw and crude” chicken manure can also be used once the plants have a strong root system; in three years or more.
Large plantings using thousands of root cuttings (4,840 per acre on a 3-foot grid) require different methods and equipment. On a small-garden or homestead scale using crown cuttings or plants, it is best to use prepared holes. For roots, simply make furrows 2 to 4 inches deep and lay root cuttings in them spaced about 8 inches apart, to get them started growing into plants.
A bed can be set with root cuttings spaced 8 inches all over it (see NOTE above for depth). Transplant to permanent location in a year or so. Also soil-filled one-gallon pots can be massed together, set on plastic, and a crown cutting or root cutting set in them. The pots are easily watered/fertilized and can be transplanted, transported or sold at any stage. The plastic on the ground prevents the roots from penetrating the soil. Plants in pots are subject to winter kill unless pots are protected with mulch, etc.
Crown cuttings and what we call “offsets” are cut sections and new growths respectively, from old mature plants; usually 5 to 25 years old. They are the same grade of planting stock, are interchangeable as to size and quality, and are sold as the same Item, namely Crown cuttings. They are a body 3” or more in length with sprouts or shoots at one end. When planted they are laid flat or placed with the sprouted end up just above the soil surface or covered with 1½ to 4 inches of soil (see NOTE above). Crown cuttings and offsets already have sprouted buds or “growing points” and should have visible top growth 2 to 8 days after planting.
One-Year, Two-Year & 3-to-4 Year-Old Plants
One-year old plants have a body with crown and some roots. They are obtained by setting crown cuttings and allowing them to grow for a season/year. When planted they are set in their natural growing position. The green sprouting parts are leaf shoots and this top is placed with the sprouted end up just above the soil surface or covered with as much as two inches of soil. Firm the soil around the roots.
Crown cuttings and 1-year plants are best set in permanent locations, 2½ to 3 feet apart. However, planted on a 2- foot grid they will totally shade the ground keeping out all weeds and grass. The highest yield and optimum root development is obtained with the 3-foot grid spacing.
Remember — Plant Crowns or Plants NOW, Have Fresh Leaves in Two to Three Weeks!
Two-year old plants produce fast growth, being much stronger than younger planting stock. These are best when you need some strong and quick-growing leaf producers.
Three-to-four year old plants are the very best for producing a lot of leaves fast. These and the two-year plants are used for the “fountain of leaves”, indoors or out. They look great as an ornamental planted in groups of three.
Black plastic sheeting (6 mil) can be rolled out over plantings on 2- to 3- foot grids made on level ground. Holes are cut out in the plastic to allow growth of the Comfrey. Fertile holes are best used with this technique and plants can be fed later with liquid manure/urine. The plastic keeps all grass and weeds out and holds moisture in.
For Best Results — Use “Fertile Holes”
This method is to simply dig a hole for each plant on a 3- to 4 foot grid or 2- to 3 feet apart in a row system. Fill the hole half to 2/3 full with aged manure of any kind, and fill in the rest with good garden/top soil.
Add dolomitic limestone powder if your soil is acidic; Comfrey prefers a sweet soil — 6.0 to 7.0 pH.
Fill hole to ground level, blend and mix well with a narrow shovel. Soak with water, set a plant or crown cutting to correct depth, then firm the soil. That’s it!
Sizes of Fertile Holes
Generally, 1-gallon volume holes are dug for crown cuttings, 2 to 3 gallon holes for one-year plants, and up to 4 or 5 gallon holes for two-year and 3-to-4 year-old plants.
We have used a two-man power auger, digging holes 2½ to 3 feet deep and 10 inch diameter. They are enriched as mentioned above, then plants are set. The fertile holes get the Comfrey “super-charged” and quickly sending roots down and shooting leaves up. However, Comfrey will grow if simply put in shallow holes with some manure dug in later.
Here it is best said, “Sow sparingly and you will reap sparingly”.
The best long-term results come from digging the holes large and adding a variety of soil amendments (Azomite trace minerals, rock phosphate, green sand, high nitrogen manure, compost, rich barnyard soil, etc.) It’s hard to overdo it when adding these soil amendments as they will feed the plant for many years into the future. Comfrey can stand higher levels of nitrogen in manure than any other plant on Earth. Plant plenty of these “nutrient pumps” and behold the yield!
“Sow bountifully and you will reap bountifully”.
Advisory: If Possible, Test Your Soil Before Planting!
We have received a customer report regarding comfrey problems that
their soil (containing compost/manure originally acquired from an unknown source)
tested positive for persistent herbicide residue which killed their plants.
(Namely, clopyrid: this herbicide “passes through the animal’s digestive tract
and can stay active for years,” according to the report).
To prevent issues that cannot be managed by following the planting instructions, or
if you have experienced comfrey/plant growth problems not related to weather/moisture exposure,
please consider contacting your county’s USDA Agriculture/Cooperative Extension Center
and sending a soil sample from your planting area to test specifically
for persistent herbicides/pesticides (such as clopyrid).
Each county office may have different directions for acquiring a sample
and may charge a small fee for testing; be sure to check this information beforehand.
Testing may take up to two weeks. While testing your soil is not mandatory for growing comfrey,
when dealing with unexpected blights such as persistent man-made herbicides
it is better to be safe than sorry!
There are many benefits to growing comfrey. Learn how to grow this perennial herb and why it’s making its way into permaculture gardens everywhere.
This article may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Many years ago, a friend gave me a comfrey plant. She swooned about the many benefits of growing comfrey. Without a doubt, I was excited, but a little skeptical about this so-called ‘super plant’. Could this one plant really have such a big impact?
After one season, that one plant appeared to make a difference in the health of my soil, so I rushed out to buy more plants!
This perennial herb grows in USDA hardiness zones 3-9. Although comfrey is tolerant of a variety of growing conditions, I’ve found it grows best in full to partial sun and in rich, loosened soil. The more compacted the soil is, the more shade it prefers.
Permaculture gardeners seek out plants that are multifunctional and help our gardens to work like mini-ecosystems, which saves us time. And you guessed it — comfrey is one of these plants!
The Benefits of Growing Comfrey
- Attracts pollinators with its blue, pink, purple, or white bell-shaped flowers.
- Provides habitat for beneficial insects under its huge leaves, which helps to keep the garden pest-free.
- Fertilizes with nutrient-rich mulch. Comfrey is known to be a nutrient accumulator, reaching its roots deep into the ground to mine the subsoil for nutrients (potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and more). Next, nutrients accumulate in the fast-growing leaves so you can use them as a fertilizing green mulch.
Here are one gardener’s soil test results before and after mulching with comfrey.
Here are 7 uses for comfrey in the permaculture garden.
This herb even has amazing healing properties. Learn how to make your own comfrey salve!
Growing Comfrey for Different Uses
There are two types of comfrey that gardeners most commonly grow:
- True/Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
- Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) also called the Bocking 14 cultivar.
Let’s take a minute to talk about the properties and uses for each.
This is the original ancient herb, nicknamed ‘knitbone’, that is grown for medicinal purposes.
The active medicinal substance in this herb, allantoin, is a cell proliferant, and has traditionally been used to heal broken bones, external injuries, and a host of other ailments. I use a comfrey poultice on bruises, and it helped me heal a scar on my face.
Comfrey is usually recommended for topical use such as in a healing salve. The leaves and roots are both used fresh or dried.
Recently, I noticed that allantoin is the primary healing ingredient in Whole Foods brand hand lotions.
Comfrey leaves are giant!
In fact, the plant’s most potent concentration of healing properties occur just before flowering. As a result, this is the best time to cut it back for medicinal use.
Since this variety proliferates wildly from seed, cutting the plant before it flowers keeps it in check.
Because true comfrey is a prolific grower, you can cut the foliage back four to five times per year for mulch without any harm to the plant. However, true comfrey is most commonly grown for medicinal purposes.
Buy true comfrey as seed, live root, or plant. I like starting true comfrey from seed.
Would you like to learn more about using “super plants” like comfrey in your permaculture garden?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Russian Comfreys (Bocking 14 or Bocking 4)
These cultivars are named after Bocking, England where they were developed.
They’re a hybrid of true comfrey and another variety called prickly comfrey. While true comfrey can spread easily, Russian comfrey has sterile seed, so it won’t take over the garden.
That benefit, plus the fact that it is a vigorous grower, is why many permaculture gardeners grow it as biomass for mulch.
This is what really makes this plant a star in the permaculture garden: its ability to feed the soil with nutrient-rich leaves. Mulch with the leaves to transfer those nutrients to the soil.
Vegetarian gardeners looking for non-animal fertilizers will find this herb to be a valuable source of nutrients and green manure.
Although the Bocking varieties do not proliferate by seed, the plant will grow in width and eventually need to be divided. And that’s how you can produce more of these plants for mulch over time!
Buy this cultivar either as live root cuttings or as a plant. Because the seeds are sterile, you can’t grow it from seed. I like to plant Russian comfrey root cuttings.
Comfrey will be there a long time, so choose your site well for planting. It can be planted almost any time of year that the soil is workable.
Simply avoid the dead of winter when the ground may be frozen, as well as super wet periods when soil shouldn’t be disturbed. In addition, avoid the height of summer when temperatures in your area are at their peak.
When planting root cuttings or mature plants, soak them in water beforehand for about an hour. I recommend this for all of your perennials because it helps them transition to their new home more easily.
Whether planting root cuttings, mature plants, or seeds, plant them about three feet apart.
Planting Root Cuttings
My preference for is planting root cuttings of Russian comfrey, which are more economical than purchasing mature plants. Additionally, digging a small hole for planting root cuttings is easier than the larger hole needed for mature plants.
Dig a small hole 2 inches deep in clay soil or 4 inches deep in sandy soil. Lay the root cutting down laterally and cover. Top with a high-nitrogen mulch, such as manure or clippings of grass or clover, and water well.
Planting Mature Plants
Use a digging fork to loosen the soil where you intend to locate the plants and dig a hole at least 1 foot deep. Loosen soil at least 6 inches below the plant. So the bigger the plant is, the deeper you should dig and loosen.
Mix in manure or rich compost at the time of planting. Water well and top with mulch.
Sowing comfrey seeds is only possible for true comfrey, so only go this route if you have a lot of space and don’t mind the plants spreading over time.
Sow seeds in the spring when the ground is workable to a 1/2-inch depth and three feet apart.
Growing Comfrey for Mulch
This is an excellent herb to grow for chop-and-drop mulch around perennial edibles. See how I use it under fruit trees in my article How to Build a Fruit Tree Guild.
Chop the leaves into pieces and use them around the garden for a fertility boost. Chopping the large leaves into pieces allows them to break down faster and prevents the mulch from forming a mat on the soil surface.
Read more about this practice in my article Mulching in the Permaculture Garden.
In the picture below, I’m preparing to spread buckets of true comfrey mulch around the garden. However, I’ve separated the flowers so as not to spread seeds around the garden.
I have to be diligent about chopping down my true comfrey plants before the flowers drop their seeds, but otherwise, true comfrey is easy to work with.
After five years, I’ve never had more than a couple of volunteer plants develop around the garden. If you notice the volunteers while young, they’re easy to dig up and transplant, or throw in the compost for a nutrient boost.
Both varieties can be used for medicinal purposes and mulching purposes interchangeably, by the way. It’s just important to remember whether or not you have the sterile seed variety, so you know how to manage the plants in the garden.
Buckets of comfrey mulch! <3
- Does Comfrey Really Improve Soil?
- 7 Ways to Fertilize the Garden with Comfrey
- The Lazy Gardener’s Way to Make Fertilizer
Do you grow comfrey in your garden? Which type do you grow?
Comfrey Planting Season is Here! (How to plan, plant and harvest)
Comfrey, Symphytum Officinale (common comfrey) is sterile, spread by root not seed.
Organic gardeners are mad on comfrey because she gathers and shares such mineral riches – silicon, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, iodine and and and ….! These come via a set of wondrous tap roots that slide through surface feeder roots (no competition here), making comfrey the ultimate fruit tree companion. The dense clump of foliage that eventually builds up, keeps weeds away (no more mulching required); returning to the soil, come autumn, all that nutrition. Wondrous indeed.
Being high in protein and low in fibre makes comfrey a high food value for animals, and is excellent chook fodder. Grow along the edges of paddocks or runs for grazing that doesn’t annihilate the entire plant. Or grow in rotational runs to allow for rest and rejeuvenation. Or harvest and feed fresh.
Those same wondrous tap roots are, however, impossible to get rid of – so think carefully before you plant it! Trust me – you don’t want it invading your vegie patch or compost area. Keep the ever clumping comfrey in check with boundaries like roads and driveways, animal runs or paddocks, mowing strips and regular harvesting.
Start your cuttings in pots if your soil is sandy or heavy. Plant out when sprouted and growing well. Plant direct into good/ free draining soils.
To plant root cuttings direct. Plant root cuttings in a group of three at 20cm spacings, rather than as lonely singles (everyone does better in a community!) Make a shallow trench about 4cm deep and big enough to accommodate all three cuttings. Work a layer of compost into the original dirt and press the cutting in, laying it flat on it’s side. Cover thinly with compost, lay wet newspaper on top and mulch.
Pay special attention to the new plants for their first summer by keeping them weed free and moist. Splash some liquid feed on them when you feed your garden.
Steadily increase your comfrey by taking new root cuttings in spring, from 3 year old plus plants.
You can harvest the foliage of mature plants (3 years plus), about 5 times from late spring through autumn.
Cut about 5cm above the crown of the plant. Higher is better as the white bits at the bottom of the leaves can (and will) resprout! I use a knife.
Feed your comfrey after harvesting with liquid feed or rotten manure.
Use the leaves
- direct in the soil of your vegie patch, turning in as you would a greencrop
- to make a nutritious liquid feed
- to activate your compost heap
- beneath seed potatoes, kumara shoots, and tomatoes.
Care for it every spring. Weed young plants. Feed with a generous layer of rotten manure or seaweed, then mulch with wet newspaper; brown, dry stuff on top.
In order for comfrey to keep on giving, you need to give some love after each harvest. Add a dob of manure or dose of liquid feed.
Order your comfrey from Kahikatea Farm