Comfrey, Symphytum Officinale (common comfrey) is sterile, spread by root not seed.
Organic gardeners are mad on comfrey because she gathers and shares such mineral riches – silicon, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, iodine and and and ….! These come via a set of wondrous tap roots that slide through surface feeder roots (no competition here), making comfrey the ultimate fruit tree companion. The dense clump of foliage that eventually builds up, keeps weeds away (no more mulching required); returning to the soil, come autumn, all that nutrition. Wondrous indeed.
Being high in protein and low in fibre makes comfrey a high food value for animals, and is excellent chook fodder. Grow along the edges of paddocks or runs for grazing that doesn’t annihilate the entire plant. Or grow in rotational runs to allow for rest and rejeuvenation. Or harvest and feed fresh.
Those same wondrous tap roots are, however, impossible to get rid of – so think carefully before you plant it! Trust me – you don’t want it invading your vegie patch or compost area. Keep the ever clumping comfrey in check with boundaries like roads and driveways, animal runs or paddocks, mowing strips and regular harvesting.
Start your cuttings in pots if your soil is sandy or heavy. Plant out when sprouted and growing well. Plant direct into good/ free draining soils.
To plant root cuttings direct. Plant root cuttings in a group of three at 20cm spacings, rather than as lonely singles (everyone does better in a community!) Make a shallow trench about 4cm deep and big enough to accommodate all three cuttings. Work a layer of compost into the original dirt and press the cutting in, laying it flat on it’s side. Cover thinly with compost, lay wet newspaper on top and mulch.
Pay special attention to the new plants for their first summer by keeping them weed free and moist. Splash some liquid feed on them when you feed your garden.
Steadily increase your comfrey by taking new root cuttings in spring, from 3 year old plus plants.
You can harvest the foliage of mature plants (3 years plus), about 5 times from late spring through autumn.
Cut about 5cm above the crown of the plant. Higher is better as the white bits at the bottom of the leaves can (and will) resprout! I use a knife.
Feed your comfrey after harvesting with liquid feed or rotten manure.
Use the leaves
- direct in the soil of your vegie patch, turning in as you would a greencrop
- to make a nutritious liquid feed
- to activate your compost heap
- beneath seed potatoes, kumara shoots, and tomatoes.
Care for it every spring. Weed young plants. Feed with a generous layer of rotten manure or seaweed, then mulch with wet newspaper; brown, dry stuff on top.
In order for comfrey to keep on giving, you need to give some love after each harvest. Add a dob of manure or dose of liquid feed.