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Friday, March 20, 2015

Two Kinds of Comfrey - Which one is right for you?

2011
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." 

The roots I bought last year and this year came from Horizon Herbs. I am very pleased with the quality of their comfrey, as well as their price. I have no affiliation with them, I'm just a satisfied customer. After reading the paragraph on their site about the two different types of comfrey, I'm glad I have both, one for animal feed, the other for medicine, but I can use them interchangeably


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. 

Until next time - Fern
 

23 comments:

  1. Fern - true comfrey will self-seed itself all over the place! you can take cuttings from it 4 times from spring through fall (or at least that's how it goes in our climate). i will cut the whole plant back 3-4 times a season but wonderfully enough - i am now up to my eyeballs in comfrey salve, comfrey lipbalm, comfrey lotion, comfrey soap and comfrey tea. it grows all over our land because the original owner planted true comfrey from seed and let it go so now it grows all the way down to the river!!! you may have overdone it with ordering 20 plants (bahahahahah!) but everyone says that goats, sheep, chickens, etc love it and you can feed your animals fresh leaves throughout the season and dry a bunch for their winter feed. also, ground comfrey root can be used as a poultice and as a cast for a broken bone. comfrey is a wonderful herb and one that i let grow wherever it wants. it grows up the 2 sides of our driveway which is hard-packed clay and rocks. it grows around the edges of pretty much all of our raised beds. and it grows all the way down to the river and down at the river is incredibly swampy. it seems to grow everywhere!!! comfrey is also an excellent mulch - just place the leaves between the rows of your garden beds. and comfrey is one of the fastest breaking down additions to your compost and to your garden beds. it makes a lovely refreshing tea both fresh and dried.

    but now get ready for it as i always save the best for last....dah-dah-dah! bees, hummingbirds and butterflies looooooove comfrey flowers so be sure to assign a few plants simply for the bees, birds and butterflies. if you place some plants strategically around your property and let them go to flower (you can still cut leaves from them) they will attract nature's most wonderful pollinators! and apparently honey made from bees who feed on comfrey flowers is to die for!

    as you can tell - i loooooooooooove comfrey!!!!

    (ok a side note to this rambling comment - when we first moved here and first started our garden, i knew exactly what herbs i wanted to grow! and comfrey was a must! so i ordered an expensive pack of seeds and planted them, gingerly took care of them, and even though i took such care they were just the saddest looking little things. then one day we are out by the driveway and jam says - is that comfrey? i am all - no way...comfrey is a very fussy herb. and guess what? yep - you guessed it, smarty pants - it was comfrey!!! bahahahahah! the comfrey that i planted DID NOT reseed itself and the leaves were maybe 8 inches long at their maturest. live and learn, eh Fern!)

    your friend,
    kymber

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    1. Thanks for the comfrey novelette, Kymber! (-:

      I have one question. I have read that ingesting comfrey, like in your tea, is no longer recommended. So, tell me about your tea. I know comfrey is very nutritious and makes great compost. I plan to make some salve before long as well. Don't worry about writing another novelette. (-: I think it would be very informative.

      Thank you for sharing!

      Fern

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    2. Fern - next installment of novelette - bahahahah!

      of course as with all herbs, knowing who can take an herb and the various conditions of the patient (example: a pregnant woman, or someone with low blood sugar, etc.) is the first thing to look into when considering taking any herb. i have also read the latest news about comfrey tea from fresh or dried leaves and roots ISN'T good for. i don't trust that information for a variety of reasons. the first one being that it is incredibly NEW information and seems to be angled from a medical perspective of the entire field of medicine not wanting us to be able to take care of our own health without visits to doctors and recquiring expensive medications.

      i look at the 1900+ years that comfrey has been documented as being very good to take for stomach ulcers, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea and anxiety not to mention it's use in a poultice for all kinds of open wounds and it's use in making casts and mending bones (all recorded by Galen, Heroditus, Nicander, Pliny the Elder along with many others, but my favourite being Paracelsus). many great herbalists and medical people of the past considered comfrey tea to be a sort of heal-all and recommended the tea for all kinds of different ailments.

      i have found it to be a very soothing tea from personal use...along with other herbal teas that i grow myself and have fresh during season and dried during the winter. some days i feel for lemon balm tea, other days i want chamomile, other days mint, or heal-all, or dandelion flower. so i don't recommend a person drink comfrey tea 7 times a day and only have that tea. i believe there is a time and a place for each herb and that they are best used by the body when not overdoing them. if i am feeling very healthy and strong i find that a refreshing tea in the morning (lemon balm or mint) and a nice, light sleepy tea at night (lavender or chamomile) is a great mix and i can get the health benefits from both without overdoing it. however, if i am feeling under the weather, then i will have a mix of tea (comfrey, lavender, chamomile, ecchinaccea, dandelion, licorice) 2-3 times a day to help me get over whatever i have in just a day or two.

      if i am feeling particularly out of sorts with a cold or flu or an injury - that's when i bring out the big dogs - garlic, ginger, local unpasteurized honey, comfrey and lemon.

      but herbs like all medicines affect different people in different ways. i have wild evening of primrose growing all over our land. when i first saw it, i thought i was in heaven because everyone says that eve. of primrose is the best thing in the world for menstrual cramps. and it does diddely-squat on me!!! but i would definitely recommend it to anyone who had cramps to try it because it has been documented for so many years as being helpful for cramps.

      anyway - to sum up - comfrey tea has been used medicinally, and has been enjoyed for overall health benefits for too many years for me to consider this NEW information about it no longer being recommended.

      do make the salve as it is incredible for chapped lips, chapped hands, feet, knees and elbows, it makes bruises go away quicker and it is excellent on smalls cuts, bugbites and the like!

      your friend,
      kymber

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    3. Fern - fyi - i linked to your post here in my latest post.

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  2. Well, I used to grow comfrey when I lived in California and it was just beautiful as an ornamental plant. In those days we did not have any animals except the cats. Now that we live in cold country, I just assumed that it would not grow here. Now I read that Kymber grows it up in Canada......who knew? I am going to get some seeds and try growing it again because now we have animals that would eat it. Good to know about the different kinds, Fern.

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    1. Tewshooz - i grew comfrey back in ottawa, ontario as well as here in cape breton island. i am pretty sure that if i potted one of the plants i could overwinter it in the greenhouse. and as Fern and many others on the interwebs have said - various animals just love the stuff and it is very good to add to their regular food! good luck growing your comfrey!

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    2. It's great to be able to share with folks from all over, Tewshooz. I'm glad Kymber's response was useful to you. Now your animals will love it as much as ours. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

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  3. I wrote an article that ran in Farming Magazine a few years back about comfrey. I basically said that if I had to choose only one herb that it would be comfrey. I don't believe in magic, but watching the healing powers of comfrey makes one tempted to say it is just that. I've never seem wounds heal faster than when soaked in comfrey, it's truly amazing.

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    1. The more I read comments like this, the more anxious I am to make our own salve and give it a try, on us and the animals. Thank you, Mrs G. I appreciate your comment.

      Fern

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  4. I knew there were two kinds, and I knew one was better for animal feed and composting and the other for medicinal purposes, but I hadn't gotten around to researching which was which and I didn't know they could be interchangeable. Thank you for the answers to all of my questions. I have seeds for the true comfrey and will now order the Russian comfrey roots too. I have some dried comfrey as well and have made salve from that. It works such wonders on animal wounds.

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    1. I knew comfrey made a great salve for people, Kathi, but I hadn't thought about using it on animals. Thank you! Now, to just get some made.

      Fern

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  5. Does any of your comfreys have light blue - beauuuuuutiful - flowers? I had some up north in the Lofoten Islands in Norway where I lived before. I simply loved them! But yours look much smaller, and the color of the flowers are different.

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    1. The only flowers I have seen, Esmeralda, are the ones in the picture above. They are more of a light lavender and white. The Russian comfrey bloomed a little last summer, but they were even smaller and on a much shorter stalk than the true comfrey. It's interesting how the same plant can have slightly different characteristics in different parts of the world. Thank you very much for sharing.

      Fern

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  6. I'm glad I found this post as I've been wondering which variety of Comfrey I have. I was given starts by a woman who didn't know there was more than one variety. It's leaves get very large, so according to your information, then, I guess this would be True Comfrey. I haven't noticed any seedling plants around it and it has bloomed well where it grows for two summers, so if it made good seed I'd think there would be?? I have my Comfrey planted under fruit trees to help control weeds and Bermuda grass, but they don't seem to spread very fast. It gets very hot and dry here in Oklahoma. I think Comfrey does better when it gets plenty of water. BTW, and you probably already know this, anything that has "officinalis" as part of it's botanical name is a medicinal plant.

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    1. The comfrey I have that has very large leaves is the Russian comfrey, Ilene. It spreads through the roots. Each plant I had last summer now has four or five plants around it. I will be able to divide them and have a much larger harvest. My plants are in a place where they get partial shade, which may help. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

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    2. thanks, Fern, if it's Russian comfrey, that would explain why there are never any seedlings around it LOL and solves my mystery. I'm building my herb garden too, several things each year. This is my second year trying to get Lady's Mantle started. And Good King Henry, which is more a green than an herb. Another herb I want to grow is Arnica, but so far haven't managed to get anything started from seed. May have to break down and order a plant from somewhere....

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  7. Hi Fern, - thanks for your comment. I wondered if there were a way for me to post a picture, but then I found this link, where you can see 'my variety' of comfrey. Just wanted to show you, in case you might be interested. Do you know this one? http://www.enhageihagebyen.no/hagen_var/valurt.shtml (it seems you would have to copy and paste the link, though). Best, Esmeralda :-)

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    1. The picture shows a very different flower than our comfrey, Esmeralda. I have never seen it before. It still fascinates me that the 'same plant' can be so different in another part of the world. Thank you very much for sharing.

      Fern

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  8. hi comfery was the 'wonder' herb of the 70's and 80's and we put it in everything and ate the leaves and flowers AND some people got liver toxicity and photo-sensitivity this also happened with st john's wort (another "wonder'herb) this really happened. Please be very careful it's a wonderful plant and makes the best skin care and wound healing salves but should not be ingested by humans regularly - borage flowers are better.

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    1. Thank you for adding this information to the conversation. Everything I have read warns against ingestion, although I think it is still fairly common. We are always very careful when adding new things to our diet. Thank you again for sharing.

      Fern

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  9. Hi Fern, don't buy any more... roto till! The roots... every little part will turn into a plant! I got mine from the Arabian horse farmer who said with the 26% protein it gave all his animals a good healthy shiny coat... that was over 25 years ago, it might be a good cash crop too in the future,

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  10. Hi I was given a cutting a few years ago by a relative and was told it was good for every kind of aliment but I didn't know it's name was comfrey and how powerful it was. I have quite a few health challenges and I have injestedited it and I have noticed amazing changes. I don't drink it all the time. Sometimes I just take two table spoons at night before bed. It's incredible.

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