Comfrey is one of the most valuable plants on our homestead. If you aren’t familiar with this incredible plant it is time that I introduce you.
What is comfrey? Comfrey is a thick herbaceous perennial with deep roots. It can grow over 3 feet tall. It produces flowers beginning in late spring and continuing into fall. Comfrey produces large amounts of organic matter, builds soil, and can help conserve water.
Why should I grow comfrey in my backyard or on my homestead? Comfrey is easy to grow, attracts beneficial insects, builds the soil, makes good animal and chicken fodder, and is a medical miracle plant. Comfrey is one plant that I don’t want to be without on my little homestead.
Beneficial Uses for Comfrey
Comfrey is an incredibly valuable plant on our little homestead. I grew comfrey in my backyard and brought a piece of a root with me when we moved. Now our little homestead is blessed with comfrey plants from a single plant gifted to me over 15 years ago.
Comfrey Attracts Beneficial Insects
Pink and purple blossoms attract bees and beneficial insects with comfrey’s irresistible nectar and pollen. The beneficial insects are great for pollinating and will keep the insect population balanced so that crops are not damaged by infestations.
Comfrey is a Dynamic Nutrient Accumulator
Comfrey can have roots that grow up to 10 feet deep. Comfrey mines minerals with its deep roots and delivers significant amounts of nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and silicon to offer to the garden. Composting leaves or mulching with them puts the nutrients into the system.
Comfrey Biomass Production (Mulch Maker)
The soft leaves and stems of comfrey can be chopped and dropped 2 to 5 times a growing season. Chopping the leaves stimulates growth and triggers regrowth, increasing the amount of nutrients brought to the top of the soil.
As the nutrient-rich leaves rot they add minerals to the soil. The fresh layer of organic matter contributes to the maintenance of healthy soil that is rich in fungi, bacteria, worms, and life. Strategically planting comfrey in places where it is needed, such as around fruit trees, makes it easy to quickly chop and drop comfrey leaves to keep your trees healthy.
Create Comfrey Compost
The high nutrient content of comfrey makes it the ideal ingredient for compost. Comfrey is easy to compost in place by chopping and dropping. The leaves can also be added to compost bin or used as mulch in garden beds. You can create a miracle fertilizer spray with comfrey tea for your plants. My plants green up within a day or two after being sprayed with comfrey.
Comfrey can also be used as a thick living mulch. Plant a ring around fruit trees, then chop leaving leaves in place to add vital nutrients to soil and help soil retain moisture. Comfrey can help break up compacted or clay soils with their deep tap roots.
Medical Uses for Comfrey
Comfrey was cultivated as a food crop and a health supplement until a few scientific reports questioned the safety of consuming comfrey. It is no longer sold as an herbal supplement in the United States due to concerns about potential liver damage and cancerous tumors that developed in rats.
Comfrey contains allantoin which promotes healing. Allantoin is an effective skin moisturizer and helps reduce skin irritation. Allantoin promotes cell proliferation. It is concentrated in the roots of the comfrey plant.
Comfrey is an anodyne and a hemostatic herb (according to Tom Hemenway in his book Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.) An anodyne is a painkiller. A hemostatic herb can help stop bleeding, reduce infection, and reduce swelling
I have noticed that comfrey seems to make wounds, burns, and sores heal faster. Comfrey is always the base ingredient in my homemade healing salves. It seems to work miracles when it comes to healing bruises, sprains, skin rashes, scrapes, and small cuts.
Drying Comfrey for Storage
Comfrey can be easily dried and stored for future use. Simply spread comfrey leaves out to dry for a few weeks. Once the leaves are dry and crumbly they are ready for storage. I like to crush the dried comfrey leaves and store them in a glass jar. Later I can use that dried comfrey to make a tincture, oil infusion, or even put some in a hot bath with Epsom salts to heal aching muscles.
Comfrey roots, which have higher concentrations of allantoin, can be harvested for medicinal use. Dig the roots, wash, and chop into small pieces to help them dry more quickly. Once the chopped roots are completely dry, store them in a glass jar.
Comfrey Can Be Used for Chicken Fodder
My chickens love comfrey. I planted comfrey plants in my orchard in hopes of creating chicken fodder that they could eat at liberty. It is almost impossible to kill established comfrey plants but somehow these chickens were able to do just that.
Comfrey is now planted outside of the fenced orchard and chopped and thrown over the fence to supplement the birds’ diets. One of the benefits of comfrey is that it is still producing large amounts of fresh forage in the early spring when other sources are not as abundant.
Comfrey Can Be Used for Animal Fodder
Comfrey has been grown as animal feed for centuries due to its high protein content and robust plant matter production. The prickly leaves may cause cows or rabbits to avoid fresh comfrey leaves. Once the leaves are wilted they don’t seem to have a problem. Horses, pigs, sheep and goats will eat comfrey fodder.
Comfrey Used for Weed Suppression
Comfrey can help prevent invasive plants from taking over. A wall of comfrey can be used for weed suppression as it will create a physical barrier both above and below the ground. The dense mass of roots can prevent the spread of overenthusiastic plants such as grasses and bindweed. The thick canopy of comfrey shades out weeds below.
How to Grow Comfrey
Comfrey is incredibly easy to grow. There are just a few things you may want to consider discussed below.
Comfrey Grows in Most Climates
Comfrey thrives in most climates. It is hardy from zone 3 through zone 9. It will not winter kill up to -40 degrees F and will thrive in heat up to 120 degrees F. Comfrey is frost resistant and drought tolerant.
I have found comfrey to be uniquely dependable in my garden. It starts to poke its little heads out of the ground in early spring and keeps producing until winter sets in. Comfrey can be successfully grown in the high desert mountains, in wetlands, in forested areas, and just about anywhere you can grow other crops.
Comfrey Soil and Water Requirements
Comfrey is not finicky and will grow just about anywhere. Comfrey grows well in clay, sandy, or loam soil. Its deep tap roots make it drought tolerant once it is established. Comfrey prefers a soil pH of 6.0-7.0.
When to Plant Comfrey
Comfrey can be planted by root division whenever the soil can be worked. I would not plant comfrey from seeds unless you want it to take over. Once comfrey is established it is very hard to get kill. I prefer to plant a sterile variety of comfrey such as Blocking 14 Russian Comfrey. This variety does not reproduce by seed and can only be propagated through root division.
I have had success with transplanting comfrey and sharing starts with neighbors in spring, summer, and fall. I have even successfully mailed a piece of comfrey root to a friend across the country. Our snow covered, frozen ground makes it pretty much impossible to transplant in the winter months.
Propagating Comfrey Plants
Comfrey can be propagated from crown divisions, root cuttings, and transplants. Transplants will produce better in the first year than root cuttings but after that first year it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A piece of root the size of a finger is enough to start a new plant. Avoid tilling or digging near a comfrey plant if you don’t want to spread it. Gophers have also been known to spread comfrey plants around the yard.
Pick the Right Comfrey Variety
Most comfrey plants are propagated by root cuttings and do not spread by seed. However, there are a few varieties that are spread by seed. I love comfrey but it could be a nightmare if it spread by seed. Blocking 14 Russian Comfrey is a variety of comfrey that is sterile and can only be spread through root division.
Prickly comfrey from the Soviet Union will reproduce from seed. I personally would avoid planting any form of comfrey that can reproduce by seed. It could easily become problematic.
How to Kill Established Comfrey Plants
Comfrey plants are incredible if they are serving the intended purpose. They are quite hardy and challenging to get rid of if you change your mind. Anyone of the methods shared below can help you get rid of an unwanted comfrey plant.
Comfrey can be killed off with a non-selective herbicide. A glyphosate solution is an effective choice. It will take about two weeks to work. This may require repeated applications in order to be successful. I prefer to avoid using chemicals and go for either of the methods below.
I think the safest way to get rid of comfrey permanently is by sheet mulching during the growing season. Cut the plant completely down to the base. Cover the area with cardboard and then cover the cardboard with a layer of wood chips or soil.
Digging or Uprooting
It is possible to remove a comfrey plant by completely digging up and removing the root ball. The roots of comfrey can be pretty impressive so this may require a shovel along with a digging bar. Remove all of the roots, even the small pieces of the root. It only takes a small piece of root the width of a finger to regrow comfrey.
For best results, sheet mulch or place a generous layer of wood chips over the top of the area. That will ensure that any pieces that were missed do not regrow the plant.
Plant Comfrey in Your Yard Today
Comfrey is one of the most valuable plants that I grow in my yard. It takes practically no work to keep it happy and productive. Comfrey benefits my garden through nutrient rich mulch as well as by attracting beneficial insects. Comfrey is a medicinal miracle plant.
Fifteen years ago, I had never even heard of comfrey. Now if I ever have to leave my little homestead, I’m taking some with me. It is an invaluable tool in helping my family to be self-reliant and ready for the challenges ahead.
Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones