Plant of the Week – Comfrey

Our plant of the week – Comfrey

plant of the week - comfrey around compost bin

Also, know as Knitbone, bruisewort, and blackroot.

Symphytum officinale

Comfrey is a member of the borage family.  It is a perennial, very hardy, and strong growing.  The leaves can be as long as 18 inches when mature and may have short hairs.  The plant will eventually put on a pretty blue flower resembling a bluebell that then fades to pink.  As pretty as they may seem, it isn’t the flowers that interest us.

The foliage is the best part of this plant.  The leaves have a very high moisture content and, if you are using it as an herb, this makes drying them a bit of a challenge.  Just set aside extra time and make sure the leaves are crumbly and dry all the way through before you store them. 

History and Usage

Plant of the week - comfrey with blooms

Comfrey has a long traditional history as a curative.  It has a reputation among folk healers as a mender of broken bones when applied as a poultice.  There are many more uses for this plant to be found among herbalists and natural healers.  We do offer one caution; Comfrey contains high levels of phytochemicals, most notably, allantoin, mucilage, saponins, tannins, and pyrrolizidine alkaloids.  It is the last that are the chief culprits in the toxicity associated with consuming Comfrey with reports of damage to the livers of animals.  The use of Comfrey as a healing agent should be restricted to topical use.

Nutrient-Rich Compost

In the garden is where Comfrey shines.  We have six comfrey plants established around our compost pile.   Comfrey sets deep roots that bring nutrients that are normally deep below the root zone of most garden plants.  Comfrey leaves are a rich source of these nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to your garden plants.  The easiest way to utilize these nutrients is to periodically harvest leaves from the plants and add them to your compost pile where the nutrients eventually become available in your compost.  That is why we keep them close to the compost pile.

Propagation and Planting

Most of the Comfrey that you can find is a hybrid variety that is sterile.  You can easily propagate Comfrey by root cuttings.  Divide the root clumps a few inches below the soil surface and remove a crown and split into pieces.  The original plant will recover quickly, and each piece of the crown can be replanted just below the soil surface. 

plant of the week - comfrey roots

Comfrey is deep-rooted and prefers healthy well-drained soil.  It needs ample water and does well with morning sun and afternoon shade, so it can be considered a partial sun plant for your shade garden.

As a topical natural medicine, Comfrey is used as a treatment for small cuts, abrasions, and even spider bites.  Quick treatment of crushed comfrey leaves or an infusion of comfrey leaves used to soak a small wound or lesion can often do the trick.   Comfrey contains allantoin, a substance that is known to aid granulation and cell formation, the processes important to healing.  Larger wounds, abrasions, swellings or sores can be treated with a poultice of comfrey leaves.  DO NOT TAKE COMFREY INTERNALLY.

Comfrey is one of those plants that should be in every garden.  It is visually appealing and has many uses. 

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Organic Growing Myths

Toss Your Tiller

Mulch

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