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Comfrey is one of the most beneficial plants you can grow as an addition to your no-dig garden, while also having the worst reputation. Gardeners are afraid to plant comfrey because “it spreads everywhere” and can easily take over your garden, and that is true for some cultivars.
Under no circumstances should you bring wild comfrey into your garden, unless you want to have comfrey growing everywhere in no time. It’s best to stick with a variety called Boking 14 – it rarely spreads unless disturbed, and its flowers are sterile, which means you won’t have comfrey seeds sprouting all over the garden. In fact, the only way you can multiply Boking 14 comfrey is through root fragments.
Once it’s established in the garden, comfrey will quickly grow into a thick bush, often 1 meter high and wide. So if you’re wondering what to do with all that plant material, we’ve got you covered. So get comfy, and enjoy these 15 ways of using comfrey in your garden, home, and homestead.
1. Fill up shaded, unused areas in your garden.
Comfrey is extremely easy to grow, as it’s not particular about location or soil. The only thing it does need to thrive is moisture. This perennial can grow just as well in sunny and shaded locations, and since we’re saving our sunny spots for hungry plants like tomatoes, eggplants, corn, and other heat-loving crops, it makes perfect sense to grow comfrey in an area of the garden that’s shaded and, well, pretty much useless.
We all have that deeply shaded area next to a garden fence or a wall, underneath a big tree, or in between the greenhouse and another enclosure. Nothing really grows there but weeds and nettles, and that’s exactly where comfrey will thrive. Not to mention that it will look more attractive than just bare soil.
Another favorite place to grow comfrey is right by the composting bin. Gardeners often build their composting systems outside of their main gardens anyway, and since comfrey is such a perfect addition to homemade compost, growing it in a handy location has already become a tradition.
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2. Help with biodiversity: attract bees and wildlife.
Another reason to grow comfrey in your garden is biodiversity, attracting beneficial insects, and helping with pollination. Comfrey’s delicate purple flowers are absolutely adored by wasps, bumblebees, and bees alike. And with the bee population suffering worldwide, it’s always a good thing to attract more bees into your garden.
Home gardens are vital to wildlife, especially in an urban or suburban area, and a patch of comfrey will provide a wild spot where spiders and insect species of all kinds can move about within its green corridors. Grow it alongside nettles and buttercup to see who visits your little wild corner.
3. Bulk up compost: add volume to your pile.
Comfrey is highly productive, provided that the soil is nutritious enough. You can mercilessly cut its leaves to ground level only to see it grow to full size 3 to 4 times within a single season. This will give you plenty of biomass to work with.
If you have a small garden that doesn’t produce enough green material for your compost bins, it’s worth growing comfrey for this reason alone: filling up your compost pile and creating nutrient-rich compost to use the following year. For this purpose, you can grow multiple compost bushes along your fences and other unused, hidden spaces in your yard.
Keep in mind that you need to combine green material with brown material to get balanced compost, so be sure to add plenty of cardboard, woodchips, sawdust, straw, or hay for every layer of comfrey you add to the bin.
4. Activate decomposition and speed up compost heating.
If you’re no stranger to this blog, you might already know that I’m a fan of slow composting. This means that my compost pile will most likely not get hot enough to be ready in just a couple of months. I only turn my compost once or twice a year, but if I notice anaerobic decomposition and want to speed things along, I might want to add compost activators like coffee grounds, manure, and of course, comfrey.
Comfrey is very high in nitrogen (a 10:1 ratio in wilted leaves) and breaks down quickly. The nitrogen content balances out the carbon in brown material and helps things like stubborn plant stems break down faster.
5. Fertilize mature plants in your garden.
Not only is comfrey a great addition to the compost bin, which translates into extra nutrients and minerals in your finished compost, it’s also a wonderful free fertilizer you can use on your plants right away.
Comfrey develops a long taproot that can grow up to 10 feet deep into the soil, accessing microelements that would otherwise be unavailable. For this reason, comfrey is now known as a “biodynamic accumulator”, drawing up Potassium, Phosphorous, Manganese, and Calcium to its leaves, among other beneficial substances.
While this “biodynamic accumulator” notion isn’t exactly based on science (few official studies are available), a few gardeners have set out to test their soil and found significant improvements wherever comfrey was grown.
You can use comfrey to create a liquid fertilizer which you can then feed to your hungry plants – tomatoes, aubergines, and potatoes especially will benefit from this. Here’s how you can create your own homemade liquid comfrey manure:
- Comfrey (and Nettle) Liquid Fertilizer Recipe:
– Mix 50% nettles with 50% comfrey, or use 100% comfrey if you like
– Tear the plant material into smaller pieces to increase the surface area (make sure to wear gloves, as the comfrey’s tiny hairs can irritate your skin)
– Place everything in a bucket and press the plant material down
– Fill the bucket with water to the top and leave it in a cool and airy place for 3-4 weeks
– Beware that comfrey macerate is a very stinky mixture because of the protein content
– Strain the liquid and dilute it 1 part fertilizer to 8-10 parts water
– Increase the water dilution the longer you keep your fertilizer in storage
6. Fertilize seedlings.
Comfrey liquid feed is a very potent fertilizer, so use with caution on seedlings or young plants. Seedlings up to 3 weeks don’t need much fertilizing (especially if you’ve enriched the starting mix with vermicompost), and most of them go in the garden in 3 weeks anyway.
But for plants that have a longer “shelf life” in our plant nurseries, like tomato, pepper, or eggplant seedlings, you can try a comfrey liquid fertilizer that’s diluted to a ratio of at least 1 part fertilizer to 15 parts water. Try it out on a small batch of seedlings at first, and dilute it even further if you see the need.
7. Use against powdery mildew.
Comfrey tea can also be a good remedy for plants suffering from powdery mildew. When sprayed on the affected plant, comfrey components have been shown to fight off the harmful fungus and activate the host plant’s natural defenses.
Make sure to get rid of as many leaves affected by powdery mildew as possible (and yes, you can compost them) to prevent further spread and apply the comfrey foliar spray (either freshly blended comfrey mixed with 8-10 parts of water, or comfrey liquid fertilizer concentrate mixed with 8-10 parts of water) early in the morning, before the sun is too strong.
8. Use as slug control.
In temperate, humid climates like mine, the battle with slugs and snails can seem neverending. While I’ve tried ash, prickly zeolite, and other barriers to protect my seedlings, one can never have enough weapons to fight these hungry pests.
Comfrey acts as a sacrificial plant because slugs like to munch on it so much. But since comfrey is often planted in corners of the garden, out of sight, some gardeners like to harvest comfrey leaves and lay them around young seedlings. This way, slugs can easily access their favorite food and leave our precious young plants alone.
9. Use as a highly nutritious mulch.
Comfrey is also a fantastic temporary mulch that brings in lots of nutrition and activates soil microorganisms. Comfrey has been called instant compost because it decomposes into the soil quite quickly, especially in contact with water.
You can use comfrey as the perfect mulch for potato plants – it keeps weeds at bay and stops sunlight from getting to your tubers.
Another mulching method is chop&drop – cut comfrey into small pieces and spread it on top of your garden beds. Supplement with compost on top for the perfect soil treatment.
10. Grow as ground cover to improve compacted soil & stabilize slopes.
There’s no such thing as bare soil in nature. And since we’re mimicking nature in our organic gardens, we want to either mulch our soil or use a ground cover to protect it.
Since comfrey is a perennial, it makes sense to use it as a ground cover in areas where you want your soil to benefit from it long-term. Grow a patch of comfrey wherever you’ve got compacted soil. The taproots will grow deep into the ground and naturally till the soil, aerate it and improve it with organic matter.
Using the same principle, you can grow comfrey on slopes to prevent soil erosion (a method often used in permaculture) – its long robust roots will prevent the loss of topsoil.
11. Grow it ornamentally in pots.
If you’re looking to give comfrey a go, but you’re still not convinced and fear it’s too invasive for your garden, simply grow it in pots. Its bell-shaped purple flowers are a delight to look at, and you can always have it on hand as a first-aid remedy (more on that in a minute), medicinally, or even as a quick fertilizer for indoor plants.
It’s best to grow comfrey in 5-gallon containers, as its roots can get pretty expansive. Make sure to still choose a sterile variety like Boking 14 – growing comfrey in a pot won’t stop seeds from spreading everywhere on your property.
12. First aid kit for cuts, bruises and even fractures.
I won’t delve into comfrey’s many medicinal and internal uses, since this plant is quite controversial. Oral products of any kind, including comfrey tea, have been banned by the FDA because of possible liver damage and carcinogenic components.
However, comfrey can still be used externally, especially in the case of bruising, swelling, achy muscles and tendons, and even bone fractures. Comfrey has been called boneknit or boneset for this very reason and used for centuries to treat all kinds of ailments.
A simple way to use it externally is to crush some comfrey leaves and apply them to the affected area, wrapped in either a bandage or another comfrey leaf.
13. Feed it to your animals in moderation.
While it’s uncertain whether humans can ingest comfrey safely, it doesn’t mean you can’t feed it to your animals. Comfrey is rich in protein content (15-30%) and it’s ideal for animal consumption in moderation. You can safely add it to your pigs’, chickens’, and cows’ diet and notice great improvements.
Animal raisers have noticed chickens’ eggs to have brighter yolks. Cows don’t bloat when eating comfrey and it can even help them with cases of mastitis. Not to mention that it’s tasty and animals seem to get excited whenever comfrey’s part of their meal.
There you have it, folks, 13 uses of comfrey in your garden and homestead – if you’re not already growing it, you’re missing out on free nutrients and fantastic benefits. Hope I’ve convinced you to give comfrey a go – bury a tiny root cutting and nature will do the rest, all you have to do is keep harvesting comfrey and not let it go to waste.
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
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- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.
Browse our list of tools, fertilizers & pesticides, indoor growing products and seed shop recommendations – we hope you find our selection useful and it saves you some time!