Plant for the taprooted compost, for the living mulch, for bone-knitting, spider-sheltering, and soil-welding!
Hardy from Zones 4-9. Up to 2 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.
The name sounds like a fancy English butler delivering brandy, but this luscious plant delivers fertility! We’ve popped Comfrey throughout our forest gardens to summon fertility, along walkways and steep beds as borders, and on compost piles to heat them up and below them to suck up leaching. Comfrey is incredibly easy to propagate, with just a small pinch of root turning into a large-leafed clump with a deep taproot anchoring to its place. That deep taproot is easy to break, which is why Comfrey is easy to propagate. If you’re digging around Comfrey you can quickly make a whole lot more than you intended. You’ll also notice how slick and slimy the roots can be, a mucilaginous quality that was once made into a gum to treat wool before spinning. Plant where you’re pretty sure you won’t mind a patch, with good soil moisture and woodland shade, though they’ll sunbathe adequately out in the open.
There’s little evidence that the deep taproots draw up more nutrients than the surface roots, but the leaves are loaded with 2-3 times more potassium than farmyard manure, and a good dose of phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, and magnesium. The large leaves are one of our favorite sources of mulch. We chop and drop armloads to cover the soil and add fertility; we even add them to a compost tea mix that we spray on our trees. They regrow almost as quickly as you can cut them, so we chop-and-drop several times a year, and each cut yields several pounds of leaves per plant. Lacewings and spiders hang out on the dense scruffy leaves. Small purple flowers growing on slender talks invite beneficial pollinators and predatory wasps that keep the gardens buzzing throughout the summer.
Comfrey comes from lots of places, but the cultivar we grow, Bocking 14, originally came from Russia. A Quaker plant breeder introduced Comfrey to Britain in the 1800s and ran trials in the town of Bocking. Chinese medicine has used Comfrey for over 2,000 years, especially for cuts and bruises and broken bones. The plant houses allantoin, a chemical that proliferates cell regrowth and speeds up healing. This plant medicine has earned it the nickname Knitbone, an appropriate interpretation of the Latin name, which means “plants that grow bones together.” The name Comfrey itself comes from a French word meaning “welding together,” which is exactly what it does for our bodies and the earth. Older leaves are dried for poultices for bruises and breaks. Folks have eaten young shoot and made teas with leaves or peeled and roasted roots, but regular eating can cause liver issues. Consult with an herbalist who knows Knitbone pretty well.
We propagate our Comfrey from root cuttings and crown divisions. Let us know if you’re looking for larger amounts than we’re listing!