Back around 2009, when I began my serious research into what kinds of herbs I wanted to establish in a permanent herb bed, I began reading about comfrey. Well, we originally read about comfrey sometime back in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s in our first herbal book, Weiner’s Herbal (this link goes to the new edition, ours is much older). So I knew when I started my new research, that this was something I wanted to consider. Well, I ordered a plant or root sometime in 2009 or 2010 and got started with one plant. I didn’t do much but let it grow. I knew it was something I would eventually use, but my focus was on increasing my gardening, canning, goat raising and cheese making skills at that time.
|Original plant, True Comfrey, 2011|
Since then the goats, cheese and garden have fallen into place as more routine ventures, and my focus has again returned to the herb bed. For three reasons. As spices and seasonings, as medicinal herbs and as animal feed. A couple of years ago I began occasionally picking some leaves from my comfrey plant and feeding them to the chickens and goats since I knew they were very nutritious and high in protein.
|New Russian Comfrey roots, May 2014|
Last spring I ordered six new comfrey roots to increase the production of animal feed. Some day I plan to make comfrey salve as well. It’s kind of an herbal antibiotic salve. But more about that when I get around to making it. These six new plants were planted at the end of the herb bed in an unused space. Lucky for the
|The same 6 roots, September 2014|
comfrey, a few years prior we had dumped a good amount of barnyard in this spot with plans to disperse it elsewhere, but it all remained right there. I knew this would be a rich, loamy soil and had high hopes for these new roots. Little did I know they would grow and grow. Initially, I didn’t intend on harvesting anything from these plants the first year because I wanted them to become well established. But after the leaves became profuse and two feet long, I started picking six to eight to ten leaves a day and feeding them to the chickens. The chickens loved them and got to where they would stand at my feet waiting for a leaf to eat.
With the great success of these roots last year, I ordered 20 more this year to extend my comfrey bed and production. I plan to incorporate the leaves fresh into the chicken, goat and pig (when they arrive) feed all summer, and hope to dry some for additional nutrition in the winter. The new roots have arrived, but for now they are sprouting out nicely in tubs waiting for the ground to dry up enough to work. They will also have to wait for us to kill and remove the brushy weed trees, briars and vines that currently reside in their new home. I will also add a deep layer of barnyard before planting to try to replicate the success of last year’s new bed.
|Original True Comfrey|
|New Russian Comfrey|
I noticed last year that the new plants and the original comfrey were similar, but different. The original plant’s leaves are much smaller and it is more prone to blooming. They are beautiful blooms, I might add. Because the new plants grew much bigger leaves, which provided more animal feed, I preferred this type of plant. I didn’t take the time to look up any information about the two kinds, though, until I received a question in an email recently. I just love questions. They prompt me to do more indepth research and learn. It turns out that the original plant I got is a true comfrey. It propagates from seeds, has smaller leaves and tends to be taller, about two feet. The new plants are Russian comfrey. The leaves tend to be much larger, it flowers but they are sterile, and it propagates through root division.
Here is a better explanation from Horizon Herbs. “What’s the difference between this plant [Russian Comfrey] and true comfrey (Symphytum officinalis)? The Bocking 14 cultivar of Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) is a sterile hybrid that will not self-seed and is extremely robust and vigorous. The true comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) is a bit less vigorous of a grower, has more elongated leaves and (I think) prettier flowers, and does indeed make seed. Although both types of comfrey (Russian and True) are useful for making medicine and making compost, in an ideal world one would use the bocking cultivar for producing large amounts of biomass for permaculture gardens, composting, and animal feed, and one would use the true comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) for medicinal purposes. Again, both types (and other species as well) are used interchangeably in agriculture and in medicine.”
So the next time I went out to the garden, I took a closer look at the comfrey I planted last year. It is already coming up very nicely, and I have picked a few leaves for the chickens twice already. Guess what? Each of the six roots I planted last year have multiplied! Most of them by at least four or five times, meaning my plants haven’t just doubled in one year, they have….what would you call it? Quadrupled or quintupled. If I had realized that, I may not have ordered so many new roots. I still would have ordered some, but probably not 20. With this multiplication rate, I will be able to have many more beds of comfrey and a whole lot more feed for my animals. What a great bonus!
I wanted to share what I have learned about comfrey, just in case you may be thinking of getting some, or like me, you may already have some, but didn’t realize the difference. I guess this is one case where ignorance has been bliss. I had no idea I would be blessed with such an abundance by choosing a different variety of a specific plant. There are so many times that life can throw you a loop, and sometimes it pays to grab hold and see what that loop may hold. You may find a very pleasant surprise.