Comfrey is a perennial herb with hairy leaves and bell-shaped flowers. Native to Europe, growing in damp, grassy places, this ancient medicinal herb was once thought to protect travellers on their journeys.
Comfrey should be termed as a “super-plant” it can be used as a medicinal herb, tea, vegetable, animal feed and green manure. Tall and wide spreading, it reaches a height of 60 to 90cm. With large, coarse leaves and flowers which are blue or creamy white grow in spikes and bloom all summer. It is easy to grow, spreads rapidly once established and lives for many years.
To the organic gardener, Comfrey is invaluable. It’s easy to grow, easy to use and incredibly beneficial to the garden. The roots draw nutrients from deep in the soil and transfer all the goodness into their leaves.
Comfrey contains more Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potash (K) than most commercial feeds available and around twice as much Potash as farmyard manure or indoor compost.
Leaves can be used as a mulch or chopped and mixed with leaf mould to make a base for potting compost or you can make your own organic liquid feed.
Comfrey is especially valuable on crops that benefit from high doses of potassium, especially tomatoes, runner and dwarf beans.
Harvested leaves can be simply laid on the ground around your plants to mulch. Use as a top dressing, especially around soft fruit bushes. As they break down gently cultivate them in.
Comfrey is also incredibly useful as a compost activator. It is so rich that it not only enriches the soil but encourages it to heat up.
Growing comfrey in your garden should be planned well. Do not plant comfrey close to smaller plants. It is a pretty tough plant that will grow bigger every year and if given the opportunity to reseed itself, it will do so generously so do choose your location with care. There is usually a disused corner that will make a great site for your comfrey bed or it can be grown in a contained trench.
Comfrey will thrive in full sun or in partial to near full shade. Being a fleshy plant it will need a lot of water and a soggy patch will be a plus. Light sandy soils will benefit from organic matter.
Turn the soil over and remove any perennial weed roots. Comfrey grows very densely and will be difficult to weed. It does tend to shade out most weeds once established. If you have any manure - even poultry manure - fork this into the top 15cm (6in) of the soil. Comfrey is great for soaking up nutrients and, unlike most plants, will not burn with raw manure.
Sowing: Sow seeds indoors in autumn or sow directly in spring.
To produce a heavy yield, comfrey plants must establish before winter. Sow
seeds indoors in pots in autumn and plant out in spring or sow in spring directly where they are to grow.
Sow seeds thinly in early in spring. Water well until the plants are established.
Once the plants are large enough to handle, thin the seedlings to 30 to 40cm (12 to 16in) and arranging the plants in rows 90cm (36in) apart.
Fill 10cm (4in) pots with a decent potting mix, plant two seeds per pot, about 6mm / ¼ in down), Water well as required. In May, transplant outdoors to a prepared comfrey bed (as above). Arrange the plants in rows 90cm (36in) apart.
Water as needed during dry periods. Hoe between the plants to get rid of weeds. Enrich the soil regularly with compost or manure.Divide plants with multiple crowns or dig up part of the root and replant. Divisions or transplants can be planted up to early October. Cut leaves regularly from the base. This will stop flowering and allow the plant to put more energy into producing leaves.
Once comfrey starts growing, it doesn't stop until the first cold snap. In the winter the plants go dormant and a good layer of manure can be applied.
To get further plants, push your spade through the middle of a plant and lever up a portion. Take root cuttings (about 2 inches long) and away you go again. Be careful as the bits left over will happily root wherever they fall.
You will be surprised how quickly Comfrey grows. When the flowers appear take a cut. Use a pair of shears and cut about 20cm (6in) from the ground. Comfrey has little hairs on the leaves, which can irritate, so wearing gloves is recommended.
In the second year your comfrey patch starts to really pay off. In the spring it will leap back from its winter sleep. Your first cut will get the spuds off to a good start. After that you should get at least a further three or four cuts.
If it's the roots you're after, those can be dug in the autumn.
One of the major practical uses for the average gardener is growing comfrey as a green manure as it ‘fixes’ many nutrients and trace elements by its growth.
Comfrey can be cut several times per year, but remember - the first cut of the year in spring, should go in to the furrow before the potatoes. Allow to wilt after cutting, then layer to a depth of 3 to 5cm (1 to 2in)
It is a valuable addition to the compost heap as a compost activator - comfrey is so rich that it not only enriches the soil but encourages it to heat up. If you keep chickens you can feed wilted comfrey to them.
As a companion plant, Comfrey is beneficial to avocado and most other fruit trees
Slugs adore cut comfrey leaves, but interestingly leave the plants alone. Use this to your advantage to easily “harvest slugs” – place the large leaves on beds and leave overnight. When you return the comfrey leaves will be full of slugs. Remove and despatch the blighters. Repeat the procedure as required.
Comfrey contains high levels of the basic NPK nutrients, drawn up from the deep by its extensive root system. A liquid feed containing more potash and nitrogen than commercial feeds can be obtained by soaking the leaves for a week in a small amount of water, ideal for plants that benefit from high doses of potassium
Ingredients – A tub or container, preferably with a lid that is a minimum size of five gallons. A bundle of comfrey leaves, a brick and water – preferably rainwater. (you need about 5kg (12lbs) of leaves to a 20 gallon water butt)
Method – Cut the leaves and pack them tightly into a plastic container Weigh down with a brick and fill with water. Cover and leave for three to four weeks. If your container has a tap, place the leaves into an old potato sack to stop it getting blocked. The old leaves are also easier to remove. Be warned, it will smell terrible when ready!
Decant the liquid to a bottle, and dilute to one part 'tea' to about 10 to 15 parts comfrey. An exact ratio of feed to water isn’t necessary but don’t put it on the ground undiluted. It’s too strong for most small plants. Label the bottle and keep the concentrate in a cool dark place. Clear out the container putting the residue directly on the compost heap.
Comfrey can be cut several times a year, but if you find a shortage occurring, try adding a few nettles to your mix.
Comfrey has long been known in Britain as a medicinal herb, it goes by a wide array of folk names including “boneset,” “bruisewort,” “healing herb,” “knit bone,” and “miracle herb.” Needless to say, the many unofficial titles bestowed upon comfrey speak volumes about its actions as a medicinal plant.
It has been said that the Saxons referred to the plant as “Yulluc” and utilised it in travel magic. Comfrey was apparently also given to bards and minstrels to protect them in their wanderings.
All parts of the plant have healing properties. It is widely known for its use on bone, cartilage, connective tissue and for skin complaints; it can also help reduce bruising. Comfrey is an excellent source of vitamin B12 and has been found to break down red blood cells, therefore supporting its use for bruising.
The leaves can be made into an ointment or poultice and used externally as a poultice for rheumatic pain and bruises, for ulcers and soft swellings. A good handful of chopped comfrey leaves can be boiled wrapped in a piece of cotton or towelling and after cooling, applied to the required area for no more than eight hours.
The peeled roots of common Comfrey were cut up and added to soups. Tea was made from the dried leaves and roots, the roasted roots were used with dandelion and chicory roots for making coffee.
However, contemporary herbalists view comfrey as an ambivalent and controversial herb that may offer therapeutic benefits but can cause liver toxicity. This is one plant that is probably better simply used externally.
Comfrey, Symphytum officinale is a perennial herb of the family Boraginaceae. It is native to Europe, growing in damp, grassy places, and is widespread throughout Ireland and Britain on river banks and ditches.
The genus name Symphytum was used by Dioscorides. It is taken from the Greek sympho or symphein, meaning "to grow together," and phyton, the word for "plant,"
The species name officinalis is derived from the Latin meaning ‘of the shop’ or ‘of the apothecaries’. It was officially recognised as a medicinal herb.
It is commonly known as Common Comfrey, Boneset, Knitbone and Slippery-root.
|Average Seed Count||25 Seeds|
|Cultivar||Wildflower of the British Isles|
|Common Name||Knitbone, Bruisewort, Healing herb, Miracle herb.|
|Other Language Names||IR. Compar|
|Flowers||Pinkish, Purplish or White|
|Natural Flower Time||July|
|Foliage||Large, coarse green leaves|
|Height||60 to 90cm (24 to 36in).|
|Spread||60 to 90cm (24 to 36in).|
|Position||Full sun or part shade preferred.|
|Soil||Will grow in any soil but prefers moist rich soil.|
|Harvest||Use a pair of shears and cut about 20cm (6in) from the ground.|