Grow Comfrey for a Perennial Source of Organic Fertilizer


Amy HillUsing commercial fertilizers, particularly sustainable or non-synthetic ones, can get really expensive. Compost and manures add important organic matter to the soil, which helps to build the subterranean ecosystems that support plant health, but they don't add much in the way of major nutrients.

Fortunately, nature has provided a means to make our own sustainable fertilizers. Comfrey (Symphytum officianale), a plant that grows well in most gardens, provides nutrient boosts when added to compost or used in liquid fertilizers. And once you've bought the plants, it's free.

Comfrey is a borage relative. Hardy to Zone 3, it has large, broad leaves like those of Pulmonarias, to which they are related, and small clusters of blue or white pendulous flowers. Comfrey's fuzzy, sometimes prickly leaves discourage insect pests. It grows in a range of soils in sun to part shade, and uses its impressive root system, which may grow anywhere from 6 to 10 feet deep, to mine minerals from the subsoil, aerate its surrounding soil, and break up the heaviest clays. It will regrow from tiny slivers of root, though, so be sure to plant it where you want it. If you are as indecisive as I am, grow it in a container. You won't get quite the same level of benefits as compared to comfrey grown in the ground, but at least you won't have it permanently installed.

comfrey and bee

Comfrey has been used in the past in herbal medicine, but research proves comfrey contains poisonous chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). The roots contain up to 10 times the amount of PAs as the leaves. Its toxic chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, though, so it is advisable to wear gloves when handling comfrey. Do not take any part of the plant internally, as it is extremely toxic to the liver and may also be carcinogenic.

For plants, though, it's a wonder food.

10/1/2014 6:47:42 PM

I'm glad you've found a good use for comfrey. It is taking over my very limited garden. I generally don't care for anything that invasive.

8/27/2014 9:29:08 AM

Amy, comfrey sounds good but it's a little to invasive for me. My third year vacant lot garden has more than enough invasive weeds for me to eradicate. However, it does sound like something I might be able to use some where down the road a bit. The root depth of six to ten feet is intriguing but the can't touch factor kind of scares me. I think I'll just stick to fall yard waste grass/leaf mixture for now. ***** Have a great comfrey for Perennial day.

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