Friday, May 11, 2012

Comfrey: an Essential Plant for Preppers

Hubby Dear and our kidlets just returned from a road trip, the highlight of which was the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company's Spring Planting Festival. We weren't the only ones who trekked out to rural Missouri for the festival. As we were leaving, I took this photo of the line of cars waiting to get in.

Traffic Jam! 

I kid you not, the cars extended a mile down the gravel road.

The Planting Festival was definitely worth the dusty drive. I had several items that I wanted to find for sale among the vendors and I managed to get most of them. I was most excited about my new comfrey plants.

My three new comfrey plants waiting to be planted

I hadn't really heard of comfrey until I started learning more about permaculture and organic gardening. Comfrey is rather nondescript looking, but don't be fooled by its plain appearance. It is wonderful stuff and if you have any sort of garden space at all, you need to plant some. Here are a few of the reasons. 

Comfrey in the garden and orchard: 

-First of all, comfrey is a dynamic accumulator. It naturally pulls potassium, calcium, magnesium deep out of the ground and accumulates those elements in its tissues. If you compost comfrey leaves, you'll have an easy, sustainable way to add these nutrients to your garden.

-Comfrey makes an awesome mulch. It grows so vigorously that you can cut it back several times a year. You can then take the leaves and use them wherever you need mulch. It also acts as a living mulch and will suppress grass in the area around it.

-Comfrey's thick, powerful roots break up hard clay. That alone is enough to recommend it to me! It can dramatically improve soil just by its mere presence. Michael Phillips describes how the soil around comfrey plants will turn dark brown or even black with organic matter.

-Bees love comfrey blossoms. The blooms will attract all sorts of beneficial insects to your garden.

-Comfrey leaves make a powerful tonic for plants when brewed into a tea. The man I bought the comfrey from at the Planting Festival told me that he ferments the leaves and sprays the resulting tea on his plants whenever they need a pick-me-up. The results are dramatic.

-Fruit tree roots love comfrey for all of the reasons I've already listed, plus it assists the all-important mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are an essential partner for fruit tree health.

- Comfrey is easy to propagate from root divisions. I only bought three comfrey plants, but they will multiply to many in just a few years. Whatever you do, make sure you choose the spot you plant your comfrey wisely. Chances are you will have a very difficult time getting rid of it once it is established!

In its new home around our "Jonafree" apple tree

Comfrey and Poultry: 

- Comfrey makes a wonderful poultry feed. It is very high in both protein and mineral content. Chickens will eat it, but apparently ducks and geese enjoy it even more.

- In addition to allowing his flock access to comfrey during the growing season, Harvey Ussery dries it and adds it to his flock's feed in the winter as a mineral supplement.

Have I sold you on comfrey yet? There's more. 

Medicinal uses for Comfrey: 

-The traditional name for comfrey, "knitbone", is a clue to its use in herbal medicine. Comfrey can be used to help heal cuts, pulled muscles, sprains, and even broken bones! There is a substance inside comfrey called allantoin that speeds up cell regeneration. The allantoin is what makes comfrey such a great plant tonic and it works on people, too.

-Comfrey has been used for centuries, but more recent scientific research has shown that comfrey can cause liver damage when taken internally. You can read more about that controversy here. To be safe, stick to external uses such as poultices or salves. Here's a recipe for a comfrey poultice.


Now you know why I was so excited that I finally got my hands on some comfrey plants! There's a rumor that I was so excited about my new plants that I sang a song about "Comfrey the Magical Plant" to the tune of "Beans, Beans, the Musicial Fruit", but I can't confirm that.  ;)


1. Gaia's Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
2. The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way by Michael Phillips
3. The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers by Harvey Ussery

1 comment:

  1. You have definitely sold me on this! the number one reason being is my horrible red clay dirt! I have been reading a lot of posts about this plant lately!