In case you couldn’t tell, I love herbs. I’ve been cultivating a perennial herb garden for four or five years now. I use herbs for everything–home remedies, soothing cosmetics and, of course, cooking. I have some favorites–basil, of course. And parsley is a long-time friend. But I have to say, for versatility, comfrey comes in at the top. most amazing plant.
This herb has everything going for it
Even if it weren’t such a useful plant, comfrey is just pretty. It has wide, spear-like leaves topped with stalks of purple flowers. It’s vigorous and grows beautifully in Zones 4-9. If you live in Zone 3, I would still try to grow it. Just try to find a nice micro-zone, like something close to the house where it will be a bit protected and mulch it well in the fall to protect it.
(I’ve never let USDA Zones deter me if there’s a plant I really want. I have three herbs that are rated Zone 5 or warmer: Arnica montana, St. John’s Wort and Lavendar. I have been able to protect these plants through the winters. The have come through three frigid Zone 4-winters just fine.)
Comfrey is also known in herb lore as boneknit. So that tells you a little bit about what it can be used for: to help heal bones and other injuries. Used as a poultice or an infusion, it helps speed the healing of broken bones, bruises, scrapes and abrasions by stimulating cell growth. It does contain some alkaloids, so use with care when taking it internally. Though a skilled herbalist might use it internally, I would not give it internally to a child or pregnant woman.
How to use it
I use oil infused with comfrey, meadowsweet (which has salicylic acid, the main ingredient in aspirin),
As with all medicinal herbs, use reliable sources to know what precautions to take, how to prepare and dose. I usually go to WebMD first to see what the medical world says, then I’ll consult 4-5 herbalist sites or books.
arnica montana (an herb famous for healing injuries) and cayenne pepper (to stimulate blood flow) to make a salve for muscle aches. I also make an oil infused with comfrey, calendula (an herb that heals the skin) and chamomile (an anti-inflamatory.) I combine this with with an infusion (tea) of these three to make soothing, healing lotions for face and hands.
When my son had acne that was truly out of control, I made a tea of comfrey, chamomile and yarrow. (Yarrow has antibiotic and astringent properties.) I used this to rinse his very inflamed back and chest. It didn’t cure his acne, but did keep it from worsening and reduced the red swelling. In milder cases of acne, it might be more effective.
Comfrey is also traditionally used for colds and flu, especially to treat chest symptoms, like coughing, bronchitis or pleurisy.
Let me say it again and not for the last time: Please consult reliable sources, herbalists and other experts, before using herbs medicinally, especially if using herbs internally.
But it doesn’t stop there!
Oh no! We’ve only just begun. Comfrey is wonderful for your garden. It is a dynamic accumulator, which means it adds a lot of nutrition to your soil. Comfrey, in particular, has one of the broadest nutrient values of the dynamic accumulators.
So…what do you do with a dynamic accumulator? Add it to your compost pile. It’s high nitrogen will “heat up” your pile, causing it to decompose quicker. Nitrogen helps with root development, so add a few leaves to the soil when you plant potatoes for a greater potato yield. But be sure to add just leaves. Stems can take root and you’ll have a comfrey plant growing in your potato patch!
But wait! There’s more!
Comfrey compost is an essential part of my gardening. I make up at least 5 gallons of comfrey compost every spring. As soon as the leaves start coming out, I pick as much as I can (up to 1/3 of the plant) and chop up the leaves into a 5 gallon bucket. I want the bucket filled so that if I tamp it down it still fills at least half, maybe even 2/3, of the bucket. Then fill the bucket with water and put a lid on it. Then next day, there will have been some settling and wilting of the leaves, so fill it again so it has water to the top. Put the lid on it.
Did I mention you want a tight-fitting lid?
Remember the lid part. If you don’t want your neighbors to hate you and your dog to leave you, put a tight fitting lid on this. Because as it decomposes comfrey smells nasty. And by nasty, I mean it reeks. But not to worry, after about 4-5 weeks, the smells subsides and you can begin using it. After about 6-8 weeks there is no more smell.
To use the liquid compost, dilute it about 5-10 parts water to one part compost. Use this to water newly established plants. I wouldn’t use this on plants past the first week or two after planting because the nitrogen focuses the plant’s energies on root development. That’s important at first, when the plant is just getting established. But eventually you want the plant to focus on developing leaves and fruit.
Of course, on root plants—potatoes, carrots, beets, and such—you can freely use it all summer long.
For a foliar fertilizer, about 15 parts water to one part compost. Or use my Foliar Fertilizer recipe pictured just above. Spray on the leaves of your plants every 10-20 days.
Not even comfrey. One of the things we like so much about comfrey is that it is a very vigorous plant. Which is good, because if you’re going to always be cutting parts of the plant off, you want it to survive. But it’s also not so good, because that means it’s very hard to get rid of comfrey. Even the smallest part of the root—and sometimes even the stems—can regenerate into more plant.
If you ever want to transplant comfrey to another part of the garden, it’s a pretty sure thing that you will be digging up residue plants at the original site for years to come. So, when you plant this, be sure that it’s where you want it and that when it spreads it won’t be overtaking other plants.
But there’s a happy solution
The root is another potent source of comfrey’s goodness. So every three or four years, dig the plant up, and cut away about one-half to two-thirds of it. Replant the smaller part and use the rest—including the root—for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. That way it will always be a manageable size and you will continue to get the most out of this most amazing plant.