We’ve been trying different plants around the herb spiral border and Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is ticking all of the boxes. It’s a fast-growing herbaceous perennial that also has a wide range of other uses.
Growing – Comfrey is low maintenance and fast growing; it has large hairy leaves and bell like clusters of flowers which require the Winter chill. This plant is dormant over Winter and comes back to life in Spring, growing to a height of 1 m.
Grow Comfrey in full sun to partial shade. This herbaceous plant prefers moist, fertile soil but will exist in well-drained soil. Add compost when planting to help it establish well.
Comfrey is nutrient accumulator and beneficial to the soil as it has deep tap roots which mine nutrients well beneath the surface of the soil and cycles them back to the surface where its leaves can be used as mulch.
Be mindful of where you plant Comfrey as it is a permanent plant that can be difficult to remove once established. If you must remove it, sheet mulch it, by covering the clump with wet cardboard and top with soil and mulch. It is a very good grass and weed barrier and has been used successfully around the border of the herb spiral at Booyong.
Care – Water during long, hot dry periods. Comfrey is frost tolerant and in hot and dry periods the leaves will wilt.
If it dies back in Winter, you can be sure it will return each Spring. It doesn’t hurt to add some rich organic compost for additional nutrients at this time.
Pruning – Cut back regularly (4-5 times a year) to provide green mulch for the food forest trees. Don’t prune in the height of Summer, as the herbaceous leaves assist in protecting the soil from the intense heat.
Leaves can also be added to compost or used as mulch as they are rich in silica, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron.
Companion Planting – Comfrey flowers in Spring and its Flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects to the garden.
It can be planted under some fruit trees (Apple, Apricot, Pear, Peach, Plum, Nectarine, Capsicum, Cucumber, Persimmon, Potato and Tomatoe) as it leeches potassium into the soil, as we have mentioned leaves can also be chopped to add to mulch.
Don’t plant it under citrus as they don’t like plants growing underneath them.
Pests and Diseases – Comfrey can be susceptible to rust and slugs and snails may eat leaves, other than that they are pest free.
Harvest – Harvest often once the plant is twelve months old and has developed a healthy root system. Be sure to wear gloves as the leaves are quite prickly. Roots can also be harvested and used for medicinal uses, however it is not recommended to be ingested.
Leaves are nutritious and can be fed to Chickens in small quantities. Large quantities are toxic to animals.
Comfrey leaves can be soaked in water to make a liquid fertiliser, they can also be chopped up and used as a compost booster.
Propagation – Comfrey can be propagated by root or crown division and plant 50cm apart. It can also be planted from seed but requires Winter chill to germinate. If you don’t want seeds to spread, remove spent flowers.
Comfrey salve imilar to our Calendula Salve recipe
- ¼ Cup Dried Calendula flowers or a mix with Dried comfrey leaves
- ½ Cup Olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons grated Beeswax
- 2 Tablespoons raw honey
Place dried comfrey leaves in a jar and cover with a neutral oil like Olive and allow the herbs to infuse in the oil for 4-6 weeks. Calendula flowers can also be added. Strain through mesh when infused.
Place the infused oil into a glass jar and place in a saucepan with 2.5 cm of water, then add beeswax and heat over a medium-low flame until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Allow the salve to sit undisturbed to thicken for 5-10 minutes, then stir thoroughly for a few minutes for the honey to be combined. You can omit the honey if you choose.
Carefully pour the hot salve into tins or jars.
Let it cool completely before use and store it in a cool place out of direct sunlight for 6-9 months.
Liquid Fertiliser – Fill ¾ of a clean container with Comfrey leaves and then fill with water and cover for 3-6 weeks. You can dilute the fertiliser prior to use or use it directly on fruit trees when flowering or fruiting.
The Herbal academy also have a recipe for Comfrey Poultice, and Comfrey Cream I would love to try.
Comfrey leaves should be harvested right before the flower blooms and be used dried or fresh. Steep fresh chopped leaves in water that has been brought to a boil for 20-30 minutes. Strain with a kitchen strainer.
Wrap the steeped leaves in cheesecloth, muslin or felt to make a poultice and apply externally. Do NOT apply to broken skin or open wounds. Reapply every 10-15 minutes over the next hour, as needed.
The tea can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months for cool, soothing use. Do not take internally
Soothing Comfrey Cream
2 cups dried, crushed comfrey leaves (order here)
2 cups organic olive oil
1/2 cup beeswax pastilles
1 ounce organic emulsifying wax (or another ounce of beeswax)
2 ounces shea butter or lanolin (your choice)
2-1000 mg vitamin E capsules
5-6 drops essential oil of choice
Directions: Loosely pack a 1 quart mason jar with comfrey leaves. Fill with the olive oil, or enough to cover the comfrey leaves, and allow to infuse for at least 30 days.
Strain comfrey leaves, yielding approximately 1 1/2 cups of infused oil.
Place the 1 1/2 cup of infused oil in the top of a double boiler which has been brought to a boil. Turn down heat to a low simmer.
Slowly add beeswax pastilles and emulsifying wax. I use an organic beeswax/emulsifying wax combination of about 2/3 cup.
Blend in shea butter or lanolin until melted. Lanolin will produce a slightly greasier formula which can be easier to apply.
Puncture vitamin E capsules and add oil to the mixture. Vitamin E is soothing to skin and is a natural antioxidant that prevents oxidation and rancidity.
Add 5-6 drops of essential oil depending on the use. Your choice, but my favourites are lavender to soothe tension and/or lemongrass to aid in healing ligament and muscle tears. Wintergreen is useful for sore muscles and chamomille aids in the reduction of swelling and bruising. You can add a combination that works for you or 2-3 drops to each individual container.
Pour the melted mixture into containers with lids. Allow to solidify and cool before capping with lids. Label and date.