This post covers Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant. Comfrey, Symphytum, is a perennial herb that grows leaves two to three feet tall and has bell shaped flowers. It is originally from Europe and now grows in temperate climates around the world. It is a member of the borage family and has a tap root that is ten feet long or longer. This plant is one of the go to plants for permaculture.
Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator meaning that it mines and collects a number of nutrients that other plants can’t get to. Comfrey does this with a very long tap root by mining nutrients from very deep down that are out of reach for other plants. The nutrients are then brought up to the top and stored in the leaves. The leaves are used as fertilizer for other plants and is a high source of nitrogen and potassium. The potassium is beneficial to any flowering and fruit bearing tree. Shown in this photograph I have a comfrey plant in the ground next to an apple tree in my back yard.
The leaves grow very large (12”-18” long) and grow directly out of the crown. Comfrey leaves grow very dense and shade out weeds. The leaves are hairy and can be a skin irritant to some people. The plant is fast growing, producing huge amounts of leaves that can be harvested 4 to 5 times a year by cutting the leaves about 2 inches above the ground.
Flowers and Seeds
In early summer it produces pink bell shaped flowers (white flowers on some varieties). The plant can become invasive with seed spread. A cultivar of Russian Comfrey was created in the 1950s that is sterile via the seeds. This cultivar is very popular in permaculture environments. It is known as Bocking 14 and is the variety that I have in over a dozen locations on my Pasadena property. While the seeds are sterile on Bocking 14, the roots spread readily if dug up and replanted elsewhere. A one to two-inch root will grow a new comfrey plant. You can get several dozen plants via root cuttings from one original plant.
Comfrey makes a wonderful fertilizer, either as an addition to compost or as a comfrey tea. The tea is made by putting the leaves in a bucket and covering with water for four to five weeks. I will warn you that this mixture stinks to high heaven. I made some up this summer near the back door and had to move it far away from the door because of the stench. It can also help plants just by being planted and left alone. Tests have proven that nutrients in the soil get a boost just by having comfrey planted. My guess is it is because the leaves die back each year and the leaves decompose into the ground and deposit the nutrients. I have at least 1 comfrey plant under each of my fruit trees in Pasadena. I will do the same at the farm here shortly.
How to Plant
Plant comfrey roots two to eight inches deep. In clay soil go closer to two inches and in sandy soil go closer to eight inches.
*Comfrey has a long history of medicinal uses. It has now been banned by the United States FDA for internal consumption. There are several remedies for topical use dealing with broken bones and wounds. Years ago the plant was known as knitbone and boneset. The protein allantoin is what gives comfrey its reputation of healing bonds and wounds. Bocking 14 has the most allantoin of the comfrey varieties. In looking at WebMD, they still show many uses of comfrey as a medicinal herb. With the FDA issuing a ban, I’ll say you have to use your own judgment on how to use this plant. I have only ever used it as a fertilizer for my trees.
Amazon has Comfrey Bocking 14 for sale at the linked site.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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