Focus on: Comfrey

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Of all the useful plants in use by gardeners, this one probably is the most versatile.

 

A quick list of its most common uses, to name only a few:

  • An amazing source of nitrogen and trace elements, it is used by many for compost tea. Leaves are harvested and soaked in water for a few weeks. The smell is foetid, but the results impressive. Water your garden with is as you would with worm castings.
  • A variation of this is using the leafs as a compost activator. A few buckets of the leaves will “light up” a compost heap. A good substitute to blood and bone! A good idea is to plant it around your compose heap and cut the leafs regularly to add to your heap to speed up the process and enrich the final product.
  • Chickens love it. LOVE it. Some say feeding it to your chooks will reduce their need of grains. We tend to plant rows of it outside chook yards, far enough so the girls can dig it up, but close enough so they can nibble on the tender leafs.
  • Planted near garden beds or fruit trees, comfrey is an amazing source of mulch. It grows so fast that you can easily keep a meter of garden mulched from a few plants. Cut it right to the ground when you need it, and before you know it will be back to its former glory!
  • As a root & weed barrier It grows in such a tight and dense clump that nothing can grow through an established patch of it. Not even the most vigorous runner grasses.
  • Bees just love the flowers, and so do many other insects and invertebrates.
  • Comfrey is a renown companion plant and we often use it under fruit trees. There all its benefits are compounded; it can be used to mulch under the tree, it keeps the root zone free of shallow rooted weeds, the roots are protected from zealous chickens digging too close to the tree, useful insects and pollinators are attracted and some pests distracted.
  • The powerful and deep roots of comfrey make it a fabulous clay breaker. The leafs can be used as a green manure and turned in the soil to enhance its organic matter content.
  • Comfrey is known for its medicinal uses. As a folk medicine, it has been used for centuries to heal broken bones, as a tea or as a poultice. Note that this is not a medical advice and obviously one should do its own research before using it.
  • Some also use it in salads or stir fry, as an edible plant. Young leafs and flowers are usually the parts enjoyed, as the older leafs are quite hairy and can be unpleasant. Note that comfrey contains small quantities of a toxic alkaloid and as such, is often considered toxic in Australia. We do not recommend doing research before eating it, and in no way should it be consumed by pregnant women.

 

A row of comfrey around a raised garden bed provides multiple benefits...

An impenetrable barrier that doubles as a fantastic mulch and soil enhancer.

For more information on this fantastic ally, look it up on “Plants for a future” , probably the single most interesting website/database on plants available:

http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Symphytum+officinale