has made me more ill than I have been for a few years. It is still hanging
around, but I am able to function today. Thanks to everyone who sent emails and left comments, they made me smile! Now lets get back to work!
You know I love comfrey for it's amazing medicinal properties. I have comfrey salve, comfrey infused oil, dried comfrey and comfrey tea in my house at all times. I use it on myself, my children and my animals. I think comfrey has erroneously been labeled as dangerous by well intentioned people who are basing their decisions on fairly sketchy data.involving high quantities of comfrey and comfrey root taken internally. When I speak of comfrey being safe I am speaking of using it externally. There are times when comfrey works very well internally but this should be done only under the direct supervision of a naturalpath or skilled herbalist. Unfortunately, comfrey has been labeled as dangerous in all forms and this frustrates me as there is little to no data that has proven the topical use of comfrey causes liver problems or cancer.
Comfrey can be dangerous, it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, they
will damage / destroy your liver. You would have to eat several pounds of
comfrey leaf or drink litres of comfrey tea everyday to reach the levels used in
the studies that are quoted when the powers that be decided to ban comfrey. Used topically and responsibly, comfrey is a valuable medicinal herb. If you want more information on this you may wish to read this article by herbalist
Today I what to share the other uses of comfrey with you. Anyone
who has studied permaculture has heard this all before and hopefully is
utilizing comfrey to its absolute maximum on the homestead. Today I want to look at comfrey's role as a fertilizer, a soil aerator, nutrient buffer and livestock feed supplement. Lets get started!
First of all the basics, comfrey is a herbaceous perennial herb which originated in Europe. It is a large plant, over four feet if left untrimmed is not unusual in my garden. It has large rough, hairy leaves. The stems are also hairy and become tough and fibrous if they grow through the season without trimming. The plant is hardy from zone 4 to 9 and will go dormant during the cold weather. Comfrey has a large taproot which supports a large network of smaller roots. The plant will grow in full shade to almost full sun. In my personal experience it does best in dappled shade, but I have grown it in all conditions. Comfrey prefers a moist soil, but it will make do with most conditions.
Comfrey is fast growing and I can usually have the first harvest of leaves in mid spring before my tulips have finished blooming. The last harvest will be well into October. These large leaves make excellent fertilizer. You can chop and drop the entire plant, cutting approximately 2 inches above the soil, or harvest the leaves and move them to the area you wish to fertilize. With it's large tap root, comfrey is a dynamic accumulator, pulling nutrients and minerals from deep in the soil and making them available through the top parts of the plant. To access this nutrient store you can use the leaves and stems as simple mulch or they can be chopped in pieces and incorporated into the soil. Plant parts can also be soaked in water to make a liquid concentrate fertilizer. I like to take that first harvest of plant top in mid spring to make this concentrate. That way it is ready just when I want to start fertilizing the garden in early June.
To make this concentrate, harvest a quantity of plant top, leaves and or stems, roughly chop and place it in a water proof container. This can be a 5 gallon bucket or a 45 gallon barrel, depends upon how much you have and how much
you need. Place a weight on top of the plant material to keep it submerged, and cover with water. Place a lid or cover on top of your container and set it in
the sun for three or four or more weeks. Check on it after three to four weeks;
be prepared: IT STINKS! I mean putrid something crawled in there and died
stinks. (don't say you weren't warned) You will know it is done when it is a
dark, thick liquid. This is your liquid concentrate fertilizer. Mix this with
water at a ratio of 1:12 Twelve parts water to one part concentrate. Use
gloves, that smell likes to linger. This can be applied to plants as you would
any other liquid fertilizer.
Using comfrey as a soil aerator is very effective due to that substantive taproot but can be a tricky process. Tricky because comfrey propagates from root cuttings. Any piece of root left in the ground can grow into a new plant. If you choose to use comfrey in this manner, I recommend planting smaller plants and leaving them in place for only one season max. This is best used if there is an area you want to turn into garden but it is extremely compacted, the best example I can think of is a consult we did for a couple who needed to remediate a piece of land that had been used as a driveway by the former owner of the property. In that particular case we recommended comfrey be left in place for two years. It did a remarkable job on that particular piece of land. They did have several plants appear over the first two seasons after the plants had been dug up but they were easily removed as they started coming up.
When designing farms, especially small farms and homesteads, nutrient
runoff is always an issue. It has taken up a great deal of planning time here on
our own homestead as all of our gardens pastures and barns are uphill of the
house and well. Comfrey is in our plan to help with any possibility of runoff here This involves planting a double row of comfrey plants, on a slightly raised bed, on contour, below the barns. We have placed manure storage area on the other side of the property from the well, and any runoff from here will drain to the swale we put in this spring. By planting the double row of comfrey on the slightly raised bed we should be able to negate any nutrient contamination of our drinking water, and be able to return that nutrient back to the fertility cycle of the homestead by using the comfrey for fertilizer.
The final use of comfrey I want to talk about today is as an animal feed. Only feed the above ground parts of the plant. The PA's are in highest concentration in the roots. Dried comfrey regularly tests out between 24 - 31% protein. This is higher than soybean and alfalfa. The leaves are also high in Vitamins A,C, and B12. Comfrey makes a high mineral, high protein low fibre feed: as
such it should be considered a feed supplement as opposed to a feed in itself.
Our rule of thumb here is no more than 10% of a total ration is to be
comfrey. The palatablity of comfrey varies from animal to animal. The pigs usually take to it the best, eating both fresh, wilted and dried plant. Chickens tend to only find it attractive when it is dry or near dry. Our goats are all over the map, some like it in any form, some won't touch it unless it is dried and offered in the middle of winter. I am a firm believer in the theory that animals have an intrinsic knowledge of what their bodies need and will actively seek it out;so the goats that only touch the dried comfrey in the winter makes absolute sense to me. There have been multiple studies related to feeding animals comfery. Most were conducted in the UK, particularly during WWII and the decades after. A particularly good book which looks at various uses of comfrey and feeding comfrey to animals is: Comfrey, Past Present and Future by Lawrence D. Hills. I recommend it to anyone who really wants to utilise comfrey on their homestead.
So you can see there are numerous ways to make comfrey work for you on your homestead. I hope you will look at ways to utelise it in your system. Do some research, find your application. That is what homesteading is all about!
Have a great day everyone!