Permaculture Plants: Comfrey

Comfrey is a “must have” plant in the Forest Garden.
Common Name: Comfrey

Scientific Names:
  • Symphytum asperum (Rough/Prickly Comfrey):
  • Symphytum ibericum (Dwarf Comfrey): 12-16” tall and wide
  • Symphytum grandiflorum (Large-Flowered Comfrey): 8-12” tall, 18” wide
  • Symphytum officianale (Wild/Common/Medicinal Comfrey): 3-5’ tall and wide
  • Symphytum orientale (White Comfrey): 2-3’ tall, 12-18” wide
  • Symphytum tuberosum (Tuberous Comfrey): 1-2” tall and wide
  • Symphytum x uplandicum (Russian/Caucasian/Quaker/Blue Comfrey) = natural hybrid of S. asperum and S. officinale: 1-4’ tall, 3’ wide
Family: Boraginaceae (the Borage or Forget-me-Not Family)

Comfrey growing as companion plants to fruit bushes.

Comfrey is a fast-growing, perennial, herbaceous, clump-forming plant typically with a deep tap-root (that helps draw up nutrients), large leaves (that can be cut and dropped in place or moved to an area where you want/need those nutrients), and small, pretty flowers (that attract a large number of beneficial insects). It can grow in a wide range of growing conditions. It is an ideal “fertilizer” plant in the Forest Garden.

Symphytum officinale

  • Comfrey is a native to Europe and Asia.
  • It has been cultivated since around 400 B.C.
  • Used medicinally in China for over 2,000 years.
  • First brought to Britain in 1800.
  • WIld Comfrey was shipped to North America by English immigrants and Russian Comfrey was shipped to Canada in 1954.
  • The name “comfrey” comes from the Latin for “grow together” – even ancient people understood the value of Comfrey!
  • Also known as “knitbone” after its traditional medicinal use in assisting the healing of broken bones.
Comfrey’s small flowers attract a lot of beneficial insects.

Primary Uses:
  • Mulch – can be cut 1-2 x per year (4-5 x per year if fertilized) to about 2 inches above ground and used as a green or “chop and drop” mulch. Avoid harvest in the first season.
  • Liquid Fertilizer – steeping chopped Comfrey leaves in water for several weeks produces a thick, dark liquid that can be diluted with water and “fed” to plants.
  • Mineral Accumulator – high in potassium, but also phosphorus, calcium, Copper, Iron, and Magnesium
  • Ground Cover – lower growing species can tolerate some foot traffic, plant 2-3 feet apart.
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on Comfrey
  • Spiders prefer to overwinter on Comfrey
  • Parasitoid Wasps and Spiders prefer to spend time and hunt on and around Comfrey
Secondary Uses:
  • Fresh eating – only Symphytum officianale (Common/Medicinal Comfrey) andSymphytum x uplandicum (Russian/Quaker Comfrey). Best when cooked.
  • Forage crop for pigs, sheep, and poultry, but reportedly cattle and rabbits don’t like fresh leaves (only wilted).
  • Medicinal – long history of use in aid of wound and bone healing.
Comfrey has medium to large leaves, and some species have tiny hairs on them.

AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information found
Chill Requirement: No reliable information found, but likely not required.
Plant Type: Small Tree to Medium-sized Herbaceous Shrub (while frost resistant, continued freezing weather will kill back above ground growth).
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer and Ground Cover/Creeper Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species/varieties available.
Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile
Flowering: May-September (depending on the species)
Life Span: No reliable information available

Comfrey roots are big and deep… perfect to break up hard soil and mine nutrients.

Size: See individual species list above
Roots: Some have rhizomatous and others have fibrous tap roots – deep and expansive
Growth Rate: Fast

Comfrey’s flowers come in a wide range of colors: purple, pink, blue, white, yellow… beautiful!

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade (about 50%)
Moisture: Medium, some species can be a bit more drought tolerant
pH: tolerates a wide range (6.5-8.5)
Special Considerations for Growing:
This is a great species to plant under fruiting trees. If you want to “chop and drop” frequently as a green mulch, consider fertilization with urine (yeah… just pee on it!) as a simple way to boost growth.
  • Can be propagated through root cuttings in Winter and Spring – should be planted about 2 inches deep.
  • Division in Spring.
  • Symphytum officianale (Common/Medicinal Comfrey) can self-seed.
Maintenance: Minimal.
  • Can be spreading. (Note: the use of “Bocking 14” cultivar is sterile and prevents its spread)
  • Can be hard to eradicate.
  • Poisonous – all parts of the plant contains pentacylic alkaloids (regular consumption can cause liver toxicity)
  • Note that leaves and stems are covered in small hairs that can irritate the skin.
Harvesting Comfrey… pretty easy with such large leaves.

Original Article Here


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