6 Reasons Why Comfrey Is an Amazing Permaculture Plant

Comfrey is a fairly humble looking plant. It has large hairy green leaves and small bell-shaped flowers, typically colored either purple or white. However, what it may lack in striking appearances, it certainly makes up for in the myriad benefits it can give to a permaculture plot.

Mulch
Comfrey is arguably the best ‘cut and leave’ mulch – also called ‘green manure’ available to the permaculture gardener. It grows quickly, so you can often get three separate growths over a single season suitable for cutting and leaving on the soil. It has a wide array of important chemical and minerals that it adds to the soil as it decomposes, including silica, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. Best of all it is loaded with nitrogen, the most important chemical element in all plant growth. Not only does this nitrogen enter the soil from where other plants’ roots can access it for growth and crop development purposes, it also means that when the cut comfrey is decomposing it doesn’t pull whatever nitrogen is already in the soil out to aid the decomposition, which mulches that are high in carbon, such as straw, can do. The range of elements that comfrey supplies as a mulch means that it is suitable for placement around almost every plants, particularly benefiting vegetable and fruit species – which are likely to form the majority of plant life on a permaculture plot.

Compost
The nutrients in comfrey and its rapid rate of composition make it an ideal addition to the compost pile, particularly if you are hot composting, The high levels of nitrogen serve to activate the compost and helps to break the material down more quickly – which is particularly useful if you have a lot of brown material in your compost, such a branch prunings, which take much longer to break down than green material such as grass clippings and vegetable scraps. Add comfrey to you compost throughout the pile, rather than in a single layer, to get the maximum, and quickest, benefit. Indeed, you might consider siting your comfrey next to the pile so you can add a few leaves every time you add material to the compost.

Fertilizer
When planting out seedlings of seeds of other plants, it can be very beneficial to add freshly cut comfrey leaves to the planting hole. The leaves break down quickly, giving the juvenile plants a big dose of nutrients to help them establish themselves. Shredded leaves are also a good addition to potting mix for container planting. But comfrey is arguably even more effective as a fertilizer in liquid form. A liquid fertilizer – or ‘tea’ – made from comfrey is an excellent addition to all plants, but is particularly useful for stressed or damaged plants, giving them a rehabilitative nutrient boost. In a liquid form, the nutrients in the comfrey are immediately available to the plant roots; they do not have to wait for leaves to decompose before being able to access them. Simply place comfrey tops and leaves in an old container, such as a bucket with a hole in the bottom and a small container underneath. Weight the leaves down with a brick or similar item, and over several weeks the comfrey will decompose to a thick black goo that drips into the container. Dilute this goo at a ration of approximately one part comfrey liquid to fifteen parts water and apply liberally to the garden where required.

Soil Conditioner
It is not only when it has been cut back that comfrey benefits the permaculture garden, it is very useful when it is growing as well. Comfrey has a large, black root that penetrates deep into the soil profile. This allows the plant to access nutrients in the soil that are beyond the reach of shallower rooting plants. It brings these nutrients up to the topsoil, making the growing medium richer. These extra nutrients are also returned to the soil if the comfrey is subsequently cut as mulch, added to compost or used as fertilizer. The deep roots of the comfrey plants also improve the soil’s structure. They provide channels through which moisture can percolate, and air can circulate. The loosening of the soil that comfrey roots cause also makes for a better environment for soil organisms that in turn decompose the comfrey leaves that fall or are cut back into the soil.

Weed Barrier
If you have problems with running grasses, comfrey can be a very effective weed barrier. You need to have a stop several plants wide and ensure that you are using non-seeding varieties so that the comfrey itself does not run riot, but this can be an effective way of keeping grasses out of particular areas, particularly orchards.

Animal Forage
Bees are readily attracted to comfrey flowers, so the plant can be useful in attracting these beneficial insects to your plot. The leaves of the permaculture plantplant can also be fed to livestock, including chickens. However, it is advisable to feed in small quantities, as comfrey does contain certain alkaloids that if accumulated too much can cause toxicity problems in grazing animals.

With so many benefits, it is easy to see why almost any permaculture plot would benefit from the addition of comfrey. If you want to cultivate some for use on your site, plant it in a permanent position, as it can last a long time, and keep providing you with leaves for mulch or compost over many years. It prefers full sun but can survive in partial shade, and like a well-drained, loose soil. Composting helps establish the plant, and needs regular watering (although you should avoid waterlogging, as this inhibits growth). A great thing about growing comfrey is that the more you pick the leaves, the more they keep coming, so regularly trim your mature plant (it I ready to go from when it is approximately two feet tall). Regular cutting also prevents the comfrey from flowering, meaning all its energy goes into producing leaves, which is where all the beneficial nutrients are. Don’t worry about not having flowers for propagation, as comfrey is typically propagated by splitting its abundant roots.

135 comments

Does anyone in GR have any comfrey plants or seed to share in the spring? I have rhubarb seeds for you.

I think those flowers ARE striking.

Very invasive. I grow in a container.

Comfrey is my fave plant.

A great plant with many benefits, but do be careful where you put it! As Jerry notes, it likes to spread, and that taproot makes it tough to remove where it is not wanted.

We got lots!

Comfrey poultice on two broken ribs healed them in a very short time.

just DO NOT TILL or you will have a field of comfrey…!!!!!

so glad you’re into this!

i don’t have any problem with it being “invasive”……but tenacious yes. Do not plant it where you don’t want it FOREVER!!! lol

Thom

What is “non-seeding” comfrey and where is the seed available? Thanks.

Sherri

I’d like to know about the non-seeding comfrey, too.

I think it makes a wonderful statement as an architectural plant. Mine are huge! And I use them for wound healing as well. It is the best for brown recluse bites IMHO.

Wonderful for eczema and psoriasis as a wash, too!

drying the leaves in my mudroom as we speak.

Yes, a wonderful herb to have in your garden- comfrey leaves have been used for bandages during Civil War

where and how does it get it’s nitrogen from, I use it as tea on my plants weekly

do you smoke it, drink it, eat it? what do you use it for?

I grow it under each of my fruit trees … It really helps them ..

It makes a perfect compost tea…. I fill large containers with leaves add water and let it steep in the sun and apply directly to the plants in garden

chickens LOVE it!

Mustard too.

alison

Did you know that comfrey is very toxic if ingested or rubbed onto open wounds? So using for psoriasis or eczema is definitely a bad idea! Do some research. The plant is poisonous.

Thanks for sharing, Joan. I’ve planted comfrey in the past (when I grew an herb garden).

Plant it in a pot so it won’t take over everything…

Im making a comfrey fpe right now.

Michael

As well, you can just lay leaves around your garden on top of the soil to dry. When it rains, the rain pelting the leaves will release the nutrients and the leaves will disintegrate over a week or so. Tomatoes and peppers love comfrey when first transplanted to the garden for an abundance of leaves. Just reduce or stop using comfrey when the first flowers appear. Try it in the hole when planting potatoes and leeks, you will be amazed with the results.

One of those invasive plants like oregano. Good to know.

Comfrey is of great medicinal value, and is used for a wonderful homeopathic remedy! 🙂

also called bone kniter

James Mclarty

It has so many healing properties.

We had some very hardy plants a long time ago. Sadly it is gone, we must get some going again.

Anil Shenoy I am in bangalore for a couple more days. Any idea where I can get some comfrey seeds? Also sweet potato cuttings..

Also known as bone mender. We always have some Comfrey tea at the house just in case.

I have comfrey in my yard that never has a chance as my chickens love it….to bits….

I was in search of Comfrey plants in the store never found . Where can I buy some of this?

I ALWAYS have this on hand!

Got to get some

I wish I could find some… 🙁

Be careful mulching with comfrey!!!
It can take root from the spines of the leaves and is a ferocious force of growth once it takes hold!
(Yes from experience)

Love comfrey..green juice, compost, tea…salve..so many uses

My brother in law and I have been passing comfrey plants back and forth for years!

It’s also invasive.

I got some. Didn’t know it was invasive. Can’t get rid of it

Thank you all for the information.

Great for tissue trauma in a poultice.

Plus when the Permaculturalist smashes her finger building a rock gabion, a comfrey poultice can make it heal quickly!

Plant the guild!

Cannot be dug out, as it will come back from roots over 2′ deep. Don’t let it go to seed or you’ll get more! Cover with weed barrier and deep mulch for two years and it will be gone, but really a very useful plant.

Definitely have to grow it. As well as most herbs!

Great in a healing postpartum herb bath!

Cool post nienna but disappointed in the article…comfrey has a ton of medicinal purposes I wish it woulda those also! But permaculture is awesome, will be doing that someday

I have many

Mine hasn’t been invasive. It has stayed exactly where I put it. And hasn’t enlarged any. If you rototill around it and break the roots then it will spread

My Mom used this for her leg ulcers, that was 40yrs ago! Still a permanent farm resident!,lol

Melanie B. Rosenberger totes comfrey.

It’s an herb traditionally used to kick start the immune system.

I can’t wait to get some. Been searching for a while. There are also two different types

Comfrey, stinging nettle and golden seal are great for permaculture!

No such thing as “free permaculture” – like everything else, you get what you pay for.

Joanne Wise-Martin

Comfrey also has healing power, in cremes etc.

I grow comfrey to put in my healing salves , it’s great stuff !

I do have a patch of it growing and use it in my compost pile

You can get non invasive varieties. Comfrey is wonderfully rich in minerals because of its deep taproot. Great to make a tea and water a crop with, and has incredible topical uses but many recommend to NOT use on open wound FYI 🙂

It’s also an incredibly healing herb.

Logan Gomez

I just love it! Make a tea for your garden plants (fair warning…stinks) or help with healing. Just be careful about getting it on a wound that hasn’t been cleaned well, it can cause an abscess, because the surface will heal so quickly.

I have 2 plants that don’t spread. We feed it to our pigs, put it beside plants for enrichment and make a comfrey salve for bruises. Great plant!

Thank goodness someone said something about feeding pigs with comfrey

Great benefits! My mommy and Rick Boeck grew them for me, I know it was for me, then we munch the flowers and put them on our salad.

Yep. It’s all through my potatoes and in the orchard for the chooks

Yes but it struggles bcoz temps range from freezing to 40 degC and dry….

And spreads out of control in environments like or even similar to the western half of washington and oregon.Not good for livestock to eat very much of either…read up on black liver

Yes! For bees and soil and because I love the flowers

I just took root cuttings from my one plant and hope to have over 30 new plants soon!

What zones can it live in? I am in the Twin Cities, MN.

Comfrey is one of the most powerful medicinal herbs and is a cure-all for most ailments. Must be the reason why the FDA took it off the market and outlawed it from being dispensed

Brian Turnwald I would love to have some of your cuttings

I know that people in the middle of the Upper Peninsula of MI grow it!

mine comes back every spring! <3

nick

I first was introduced to Comfrey by Helen Nearing, coauthor of, LIVING THE GOOD LIFE, back in the late 80’s after coming to Maine. She gave me one plant and every summer it grows abundantly in front of my glass green house. It has many medicinal properties which I have utilized from time to time!

Oh how I miss my mom, she had some back in the 80s and uncle Joe. I miss their garden conversations.

I keep a couple of pots of comfrey for insect bites…and it’s a beautiful plant.

Love comfrey and so do my hens. I’m presently planting it along a fence between the free range area of my garden and the veggie garden so the hens can eat the leaves without digging up the plants.

bees and hummers love it

Got some readin to do! Rhanks.

I have quite a few patches of it growing around My yard, thank You for the info. I have no clue how to care for it, I just know how to use it as a medicine

I live in michigan…can I grow it here??? I would love to find some!

yes and lots of it. 🙂 Great for compost too

Yes. Has medicinal usage and our bees love it. Comfrey takes care of itself, but does spread and not easy to remove if you want to do so.

I’m looking for the bocking 14 variety…hear that is does not self-seed. I’m is the SF Bay area. Would appreciate it if someone could give me a cutting or let me know where I can get this variety.

Because once you start growing it, it will permanently be in your garden.

I grew Russian Comfrey years ago for medicinal purposes, it is a great herb and worth studying–I am going to plant some next spring.

great thread. a little scared to plant it in the new orchard.

PBS had a show on about Prince Charle’s garden and they discussed how they make comfrey compost tea. It was pretty cool-,aybe on youtube?

it’s awesome, but don’t ever try to move it, you’ll just spread it

planted it in the fall.

I’ve been growing comfrey since 1996. It’s very aggressive, so I planted it on the dry side of the house where the sidewalk wraps around it. Almost no maintenance required at all, and the leaves are very good for helping heal injury and reduce swelling.

You can’t kill it.

Funny, I just read this!

Will this plant survive in zone 8-5

LOVE COMFRY!

I certainly be wary of using comfrey for compresses or feeding to animals. Tea from this plant is known to be toxic to the liver. http://www.livestrong.com/article/337896-health-hazards-of-comfrey-tea/

We don’t tend to use it internally any more because of the p. alkaloids. But it’s a great topical healer

it is great for healing. broken bones used on my dog when he broke his pelvis. he healed in 1/2 the time.

While it is true that large quantities can be toxic, Native people have been using comfrey internally, externally and medicinally for thousands of years.

I do nothing to this plant and it never quits. I live in NV and it is dry here (drought) and just keeps coming back. One of the first plants to bloom in the spring.

Great stuff. I planted it last year and hopefully it will winter well.

Growing lovely patch here on Kauai, Hawaii —for 6 years so far – it will not flower here.

yes..and made salves…wondrous plant

Certainly is permanent and invasive here in Vermont.

No, but wish I had some. Where does one get it? ty

We have some nice ones in Montana.

A difficult one to grow in the southwest… but it can be done in partial shade with regular watering… 🙂

I’m sorry I planted it – when I was clearing out the garden for winter I discovered it put out about 300 babies – I’ll be raking them out for years.

Comfrey is a useful plant (though I don’t believe half of what this anonymous author asserts), and it is well-behaved in gardens where there’s a winter freeze, but where there isn’t, it can become a terrible weed. Beware.

I have 4 plants. They have never spread or multiplied. They are healthy and the flowers are lovely. I have a greyhound who grazes on them all summer and fall. I dry the leaves to sprinkle on his food for the winter. He knows what he likes/needs. 🙂

Drink the tea, folks, and watch your Liver go bye bye. good for dirt. Bad for health.

Yes I do have a very beautiful one….used to sell it to a lady at the farmers market for tea.

Comfrey takes over everything.

only if you drink 4 to 5 cups a day for a LONG period of time.

Beautiful flowers, but plant it in a container. Comfrey has a way of taking over your garden while you sleep. Very difficult to get rid of once established.

haecklers

Some were asking where to get the non-seeding kind. I got mine from Coe’s Comfrey http://www.coescomfrey.com/order.html It’s Bocking #4 Russian comfrey. I ordered 10 root cuttings, he sent 15, every single one of them took, tho some didn’t show for a year they came up the following year.

I’ve heard it’s good to put in a pig pasture, their rooting will help spread it but they eat a lot of the roots as a fall/winter forage.

I’ve read it’s really good at capturing nitrogen from manure and keeping it from evaporating.

Anonymous

Bocking 14 is the variety you want if you don’t want it to spread 🙂 One of my favourite plants for the garden and as a herbal medicine.

We have this growing where we planted fruit trees . .. We use a machete to cut it down 2-3 times a summer and we leave it pretty much where it falls . .. It is invasive, so don’t plant it next to your vegetable garden or, if you do, be diligent about digging it up. .. The chickens love it and so do the bees . .. And it’s really helped our trees.

Its pretty awesome alright.

If it likes the soil it can be invasive.

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