Spring is gone, but no need to worry I have a plant that you can plant now and will be more beneficial to you, your garden and any livestock than anything you have planted yet.
Comfrey is a hardy perennial plant (meaning it comes back in the spring by itself without have to reseed), that can be planted anytime even in winter (if you dont get a deep freeze) that has numerous beneficial properties that make this plant something that you will look back and wonder why you didn’t get it sooner.
There are three types of Comfrey and depending on what you will want to use it for primarily and how much of it you want, will dictate which type you plant.
COMMON (True, Quaker, Cultivated) COMFREY
(Symphytum officinale: Borginacae family)
This type is native to Europe and grows to a length of 2 – 3.5 feet tall including the flower stalk.
Flowers are a creamy white/creamy yellow, white, pink or purple depending on the exact strain.
This is primarily used for medicinal uses, however it contains less of the chemical allantonin (the medicinal chemical in the plant) than the Russian Hybrid Comfrey varieties, however it has lower PA’s (pyrrolizidine Alkaloids) which is the toxic chemical in the plant.
It is ingested internally, using older large leaves, as the younger leaves contain more PA’s than younger ones (roots contain more PA’s than younger leaves). You can also make an herbal poultice (chopping leaves into a soft moist mass) and applied to burns and wounds, and is also said to help heal bones that have been injured. While some of you may look at this as mumbo jumbo i have seen and head from people I trust that are not kool aid drinkers that this does actually work exceedingly well.
True Comfrey produces less biomass (about 1/3 of Russian Comfrey), however unlike Russian Hybrid Comfrey the seeds can be used to propagate new plants. This also means that comfrey can be somewhat invasive and spread across your property but not as fast as say dandelions or other very invasive weeds.
This is a comfrey native to Asia with blue, pink and purplish (sometimes) flowers. This is a coarse and clumped plant and this variety that CAN (but only sometimes) propagate through seeds so it can become invasive if you are not careful, more often like the Russian variety it is propagate through its root cuttings.
It is common used as a silage (fermented high moisture stored fodder that can be fed to cattle, sheep, etc.)
Russian (Hybrid) Comfrey
Symphytum uplandicum, Symphytum peregrinum, Symphytum asperum x officinale
This is the most common species you will find around, it is a natural cultivated hybrid. It is a cross between common comfrey and rough (prickly) comfrey.
It grows to 4 feet tall and comes in various varieties known as “Bockings”, they have purple, white, magenta, red or blue (fade to pink) flowers.
The plant is sterile, meaning that its seeds will not grow and the only way to propagate the plant is by root cuttings. This variety will create 3x the amount of biomass than the common comfrey.
The most common bockings you will find are #4 and #14
Bocking #4 is used for farming and fodder plant for animals, and is the most commonly used in permaculture farms. This variety is high in protein and allantoin (the medicinal chemical) and has a much deeper root so it is much more drought resistant.
Bocking #14 This variety is used more as a garden supplement using the leaves to make a liquid fertilizer in a compost tea. You can also had the leaves to compost piles to speed up the decomposition process of the pile since Comfrey leaves are high in nitrogen they add some heat to the pile. You can also add leaves straight to planting holes and rows, the leaves quickly decompose so they will give an added shot to your gardens.
Truth be told you can use these two types for both purposes, only that one is better for its intended purposes slightly than the other.
You will want to pick the location of your comfrey carefully since it has a very deep root structure once established and since it is very robust even a small amount of root will mean it will probably grow again.
Comfrey will grow in Zones 3-9, but if you live outside these zones you should try it, it will probably grow.
Comfrey likes full sun, but will do decent in light shade and will grow between 3-5 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide.
When I planted mine I mixed in a little bit of older horse manure i had cooked for a bit in a bucket. Comfrey is a nitrogen hog and while this is not necessary it also helps it along in its early life. Some say that it should be fertilized with manure throughout the year or with urine in 1:1 with water. Now you can do that however if you are using this as fodder for animals their feces should do the job.
Now Comfrey doesn’t need much if any care, as long as its healthy you shouldn’t have any issues with pests or disease bothering it and if they are healthy should last several decades.
Fodder for Animals
Comfrey leaves are around 20%+ protein so they are ideal for food supplements for animals, notice i said supplements and not main food source.
CHICKENS: chickens love it and will peck it to death, it is better to keep this away from them and just feed them the leaves or if you are creating a permaculture food forest sow it amongst other fodder crops so that the birds dont eat it as voraciously.
GOATS/CATTLE: Add it to their hay or plant some in areas where the cattle graze.
If you have done any composting you know that it takes experience to create the perfect balance to make that pile “heat up”, the high nitrogen (as i mentioned earlier) will help immensely with that. Comfrey mines minerals deep, deep down so it is high in NPK and minerals and will add some very good stuff to your compost.
Fill a Barrel of Bucket with comfrey leaves (half of the container) and fill with water. Let it rote for a month or so and you will have a beautiful liquid fertilizer. Dilute 50:50 with water.
Add leaves to the bottom of planting holes for tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, fruit trees, etc.
If you add a layer of leaves (2 inches) to the sides of growing plants the leaves will slowly break down and add nutrients to the plants.
This is my first year growing Comfrey and since we will be moving I am growing it in a pot (not ideal and definitely not advisable for long term). I am growing it in a pot so that i can get some good root growth (if you grow it in a pot you will find that roots will start to grow out the bottom), and then propagate them on my property. Considering that root cuttings go for around $4-5 each, this is also possibly a small money maker for you if you choose to go in that direction.
I will continue to show you my progress throughout the years!
A study showed that Comfrey caused increased cancer in rats so the FDA has banned it for internal use (which is why you cant find it on the shelves in the vitamin aisle.) Do your own research and talk to your doctor.
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