Comfrey, Queen of the Homestead Garden!
Comfrey is a utilitarian crop on the Traditional Catholic Homestead. We use it in companion planting as a support species, as a fodder crop to feed the chickens, hogs, and sheep, and as a powerful herbal remedy. Comfrey is a hardy perennial that is easily propagated. This multi-function plant is a champion on our homestead! Permaculturist celebrate comfrey for its utility on the farm, being a farm function stacking rockstar.
Growing comfrey is a pretty strait forward affair. Comfrey likes rich soil that is well tilled with plenty of nitrogen. Many folks
describe it as a nitrogen pig, but truth be told comfrey will tolerate a wide range of soils. Like I said it is a hardy fast growing plant. You can put a root cutting half the size of your pinky finger in the ground and reasonably expect to have a thriving plant growing in that spot within a couple weeks. Comfrey sets a pretty deep tap root so it will not fair well in a pot. That being said I plant cuttings and crowns in large pots specifically to propagate more root cuttings. They only spend a couple months in the pots before I cut them back and take cuttings from the roots. If it isn’t clear yet root cuttings is the easiest and most effective means of propagation.
Simply planting comfrey next to your trees or shrubs has been proven to increase the nutrient levels of the soil. To get the quickest bang for your buck though you can make a rich comfrey tea as a natural fertilizer. You could simply cut the leaves off the plant about two inches above ground level and layer them on the ground as a mulch if you don’t want to go through the trouble of brewing the tea. The leaves break down quickly and enrich the surrounding soil. You can add the leaves to your compost pile to increase bacterial activity and give your compost a jump start in decomposition as well. Comfrey is a powerful ally in the quest to increase garden fertility.
In the herbal remedy pantry comfrey is said to be useful in treating ailments from bronchial problems, broken bones, sprains, arthritis, gastric and varicose ulcers, severe burns, acne and other skin ailments. Comfrey is most often used topically now days as a poultice for relief of external discomfort. Some studies have shown comfrey to be harmful if consumed at extreme levels. Comfrey can be brewed into a tea for human consumption, and is said to have healthful benefits. An herbal infusion of comfrey leaves and olive oil is a powerful healing addition to homemade skin salves and creams.
Many livestock absolutely love to eat comfrey leaves. Comfrey contains in the neighborhood of 20% protein and a variety of trace minerals. Harvesting the leaves and feeding as a supplement to your normal rations is an effective way to reduce feed bills. Comfrey can be harvested and dried, then crumbled up and added to winter feed as well. Pigs, chickens, cattle, sheep, and goats all benefit from the added boost comfrey provides to their diet. Like all things comfrey should be fed in
moderation. A diet consisting of up to 20% comfrey has been shown to increase healthy weight gain in most livestock. Over 40% can prove to be toxic in some species, so don’t go overboard with it.
With so many uses on the homestead it is easy to see why comfrey is such an important addition to the plant line up. I’ve planted over fifty root cuttings on our farm this year alone. I can’t wait to start reaping the benefits of this homestead hero! Comfrey is truly a plant of promise and no homestead is complete without it!
Next time on Homestead Heros, Plant of Promise we’ll bring you Rhubarb, the ugly duckling with so much promise!