Comfrey; a super food for plants.
A perennial herb that I like to have in my garden is comfrey, which has long been recognized, by both organic gardeners and herbalists, for its great usefulness and versatility.
Herbalists have been cultivating comfrey for centuries, with records dating back to Roman times, when physicians used the herb to ease sprains or broken bones. Its longstanding reputation as a therapeutic herb gave rise to its Latin name Symphytum (from the Greek symphis, meaning growing together of bones, and phyton, a plant). Early herbalists referred to it as knit bone or boneset.
But before it makes it into the house, its usefulness starts in the garden, where it is revered as an effective fertilizer.
The plant is known as a dynamic accumulator, with its 6 foot long roots capable of mining and unlocking nutrients from deep within the subsoil. The leaves become the storehouse for a fantastic natural source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as calcium and other trace minerals.
Brewing up a garden tea party
There are many ways to use comfrey, but one of my favourite ways is as a Compost Tea.
Simply cut down a bundle of stems and leaves, stuff them into a pillow case, secure the top with string, immerse in water and leave for about ten days. How easy is that?
After a week or so the water will be a murky colour and probably smell awful! Congratulations, you have made yourself a wonderful liquid fertilizer!
Use it liberally on flowers and vegetables and watch your plants grow. I find it very effective in helping new transplants deal with the stress of moving from the familiar surroundings that they grew up in, out into the big, bad world.
Liquid fertilizer teas will not give a long steady source of nutrients but are quick acting, so if you notice your plants are in dire straits then use the tea for an instant boost, either to the roots or as a foliar feed. Water directly on the leaves to perk them up if they are starting to droop a bit or look yellow.
This tea is so effective that I have dedicated a large area in my garden to comfrey, along with nettles – but that’s another story. In fact, if you don’t already have comfrey growing in your garden, I recommend you add a few seeds to your list for next spring. I bought mine online from the Richters Herb & Vegetable Catalogue.
The comfrey leaves can also be used as a soil amendment. Comfrey grows so fast that it is possible to get several crops a year. In the spring, before planting potatoes, I layer the leaves in the trenches and then place the seed potato directly on the comfrey before covering with soil. As the summer progresses, I use the leaves to side dress vegetables such as brassicas, peas, and pole beans, where the comfrey will not only feed the plants but act as a mulch to protect the roots from the hot sun.
And at the end of the gardening season, I cut the last of the plants down to the ground and layer them with fall leaves and manure on my raised beds. Tucking the beds in for the winter in this way protects the soil from the harsh winter weather and ensures that the soil is ready for planting in the spring as soon as it warms up.
Of course some years there just seems to be too much to do and not enough time to do it, in which case simply slash the plants to the ground a couple of times a year and add them directly to the compost heap. Your garden will thank you for it the following year.
If you would like to grow comfrey in your own garden you can purchase seeds from Richters.