Comfrey (Symphytum spp.) is regarded by many as one of the worst and most invasive plants that you can have as it self-propagates so vigorously, but it is an amazingly useful and beneficial plant in many ways! Many species can spread through seed and others through tubers which regenerate from broken roots.Native to Europe and Asia, Comfrey is an herbaceous perennial and a member of the Borage family that grows in grasslands and along river banks and can reach as high as 5 feet tall. Large pointed dark green leaves can grow to 8 inches long, and the plant features beautiful purple, blue and white bell shaped flowers. First documented in Rome over 2000 years ago,
Comfrey serves many purposes for anyone who farms or grows a garden. The comfrey plants have one of the first flowers of the year, beautiful groups of purple trumpet-like blooms that are enjoyed by our honeybees and LOTS of natural local pollinators!
When grown under fruit trees, the deep tap roots bring some of the best nutrients and minerals up from up to 2 meters deep in the ground that cannot otherwise be accessed. These nutrients are then relocated and dispersed throughout the plant, and contain a balance of N, P and K, high levels of Potash, and are a significant source of Potassium (K) which aids in plant growth and reproduction.
Once the comfrey plants grow to about 4 feet in late spring, we chop them to about 6 inches from the ground on a stretch of cool days. This will ensure that we get at least another good harvest this season, up to 5 or 6 per season as the quickly growing large foliage is continuous until early November.
While many question the term “harvest” as the plant is often seen as invasive, we grow comfrey for prolific and restorative biomass. We utilize the mass amounts of organics in many ways, including chicken fodder. As we focus on providing top quality eating eggs with excellent production under natural “no-artificial light”, it is a fine balance of how to provide sufficient protein, without too much fiber as the hens are not able to utilize cellulose. Comfrey provides a low fiber and high protein supplement for our chickens, with high levels of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin A which results in amazing rich coloured yolks!
We also chop and drop the rapidly decomposing leaves to make a nutritious mulch, or stew them into a “compost tea” for watering. They have a high nitrogen content, and do not draw nitrogen while decomposing. Now the shallow rooted plants get access to the natural minerals and nutrients that were once deep in the ground. Comfrey also prevents powdery mildew and encourages beneficial insects such as lacewings, and parasitoid wasps and spiders which will feed off of the harmful pests in your garden. This in turn keeps fruit, vegetables and plants healthy, deer stay away as they hate the fuzzy leaves and there is much less watering as they help retain moisture in the soil. The leaves also act as an amazing weed suppressant when cut and laid around plants needing protection.
Comfrey has a colourful and controversial history of its medicinal properties, and since 400 BC was used both internally and externally to treat a wide variety of ailments. It was commonly known to promote healthy skin with its high content of mucilage, which soothes, moisturizes, and increases cell production.
Prepared as a poultice, by chopping leaves and steaming in hot water, then applying with a wrap over a wound can not only heal bruises and open wounds, but also mend broken bones! If you have ever had a broken toe that the doctor can do nothing about, Comfrey also known as “knitbone” will mend it within days of regular poultice applications.
Throughout history, Comfrey tea was prepared with the leaves and roots to heal respiratory ailments, angina, stomach ulcers, diarrhea and even to treat various cancers. When applied to the skin, Comfrey was used to treat ulcers, bruises, gout, varicose veins and rheumatoid arthritis.
In scientific studies over the last 20 years, it was discovered that Comfrey has naturally occurring chemical compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be very toxic to humans and animals. These chemicals are carcinogenic and can cause liver damage so it is now recommended for external use only.
Although it is no longer accepted for ingestion in large amounts or for extended periods of time, Comfrey has many benefits when used externally for herbal remedies, compost tea, mulch and fertilizer. Every part of the Comfrey plant is utilized by various critters and plants, and the remnants provide amazing nutrients and improve soil fertility through decomposition.
By Angela Hicke – Van Isle Wild
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