Comfrey

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Comfrey (also comphrey) is an important herb in organic gardening, having many fertilizer and purported medicinal uses.

Contents

Description

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) is a perennial herb of the family Boraginaceae with a black, turnip-like root and large, hairy broad leaves that bears small bell-shaped white, cream, light purple or pink flowers. It is native to Europe, growing in damp, grassy places, and is widespread throughout Ireland and Britain on river banks and ditches. Comfrey has long been recognised by both organic gardeners and herbalists for its great usefulness and versatility; of particular interest is the “Bocking 14” cultivar of Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum). This strain was developed during the 1950s by Lawrence D Hills, the founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association (the organic gardening organisation itself named after the Quaker pioneer who first introduced Russian Comfrey into Britain in the 1910s) following trials at Bocking, near Braintree, the original home of the organization.

Other species include:

  • Symphytum asperum, Prickly Comfrey, Rough Comfrey (synonym: S. asperrimum)
  • Symphytum bulbosum, Bulbous Comfrey
  • Symphytum caucasicum, Caucasian Comfrey
  • Symphytum ibericum, Creeping Comfrey
  • Symphytum orientale, White Comfrey
  • Symphytum tauricum, Crimean Comfrey
  • Symphytum tuberosum, Tuberous Comfrey
  • Symphytum x uplandicum, Russian Comfrey, Healing Herb, Blackwort, Bruisewort, Wallwort, Gum Plant. (S. asperum x officinale, synonym: S. peregrinum)

Propagation

Bocking 14 is sterile, and therefore will not set seed (one of its advantages over other cultivars as it will not spread out of control), thus is propagated from root cuttings. The gardener can produce their own ‘offsets’ from mature, strongly growing plants by driving a spade horizontally through the leaf clumps about 3 inches below the soil surface. This removes the crown, which can then be split into pieces. The original plant will quickly recover, and each piece can be replanted with the growing points just below the soil surface, and will quickly grow into new plants. When choosing plants to divide, ensure that they are strong healthy specimens with no signs of rust or mildew. When dividing comfrey plants, take care not to spread root fragments around, or dispose of on the compost heap, as each can re-root, and comfrey can be a very difficult plant to get rid of. Offsets can also be purchased by mail order from specialist nurseries in order to initially build up a stock of plants.

Cultivation

The comfrey bed should be well prepared by weeding thoroughly, and dressing with manure if available. Offsets should be planted 2–3 feet apart with the growing points just below the surface, whilst root segments should be buried about 2 inches deep. Keep the bed well watered until the young plants are established. Comfrey should not be harvested in its first season as it needs to become established. Any flowering stems should be removed as these will weaken the plant in its first year.

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