Comfrey: The Dynamic Accumulator Part 2


We’ve talked about how we can use comfrey to mine for most everything we need to fertilize your garden plants and improve our soil in Comfrey: The Dynamic Accumulator Part 1. Let’s talk about the different varieties of Comfrey to make sure we select the right variety for our homestead.

Comfrey: The Different Types

In Part 1, we wanted to keep it simple. I like simple. We talked about a hierarchy of classes, biologically speaking, that is divided into eight major taxonomic ranks. Let me demonstrate in a picture:

russian comfrey russian comfrey Comfrey: The Dynamic Accumulator Part 2 230px Biological classification L Pengo vflip
Vascular Plant
Thank you Wikipedia for the use of this image.

There are thirty four other species of Symphytum known as comfrey. But we are looking for simple, right? Let’s FORGET about the 34 and focus on TWO. I can handle two; you can handle two. Two is easy. The two we will talk about are:

  1. Common Comfrey
  2. Russian Comfrey

Common Comfrey is also known as Knitbone, Knitback, Consound, Blackwort, Bruisewort, Slippery Root, Boneset, Yalluc (Saxon), Gum Plant, Consolida and Ass Ear. Ass Ear? Sounds like an insult.

Comfrey is a native of Europe and temperate Asia. You’ll find it growing naturally throughout England near rivers and along ditch banks. Common comfrey is fertile and will spread by seed. You know, the old fashion way. Comfrey, being a perennial, raises its green leaves from the still-cool-from-the-long-winter ground and grows rapidly reaching toward the sky while pumping nutrients from the deeper parts of your soil. Nice, little bell-shaped yellow, cream, white or dark purple flowers form on the winged-steamed ends of the common comfrey. They are pollinated and seeds eventually form. They fall to the ground and new comfrey grows. More comfrey is a good thing, right? Maybe, but having to control comfrey that is out of hand is not. But…let’s talk about the “but” part of all this…if you find that you have common comfrey growing on your spot, fear not. The problem is the solution! Mulch around the comfrey and allow the seedlings to be incorporated back into the soil as you use a garden rake to work the little guys over into the mulch. If you want to grow more plants, you can pick the tiny seedlings and pot them. Sell them! Plant more! Give them away! Lucky you!

Russian Comfrey is a hybrid variety (learn more about Heirlooms, Hybrids and GMOs HERE). Later, the Bocking 14 cultivar variety was developed by Lawrence Hills in the 1950s. Bocking 14 is the highest yielding comfrey (possibly producing up to 120 tons of plant matter per acre per year). The potash content is higher in Russian Comfrey and Blocking 14 Comfrey than in Common comfrey. Like Russian comfrey, Bocking 14 comfrey is sterile. They will both make seeds but the seeds are good for a little more than bird feed (and most likely not even good for that). You spread Russian Comfrey and Blocking 14 Comfrey by division…dig it up…chop the root mass in half…dig another hole…but the other half in the hole…and voila! A new comfrey plant. The older the Russian Comfrey / Bocking 14 Comfrey gets, the bigger it gets. Ever few years you can dig it up and move it about. Keep in mind that you’ll never get all the roots from the original location. Comfrey will grow there again for sure. So, the most important thing to remember is: Where you put comfrey in the first place is likely where comfrey will always grow.

All the comfrey we grow on Back to the Homestead is Russian / Blocking 14 comfrey. From tiny roots that we purchased, we were able to grow very large plants after a couple of years. We moved this past fall (of 2016) and did not have time to plant our comfrey in the ground. We did get it planted in pots and can only hope that it all survived the winter (we got COLD this winter). The warmth of the pending April days will tell.

Trivia: If comfrey is native to Britain, how did Russian comfrey get its name? Well, that’s a tricky question. My research resulted in conflicting stories. One source said that Russian comfrey was introduced to Britain in about 1910 by Henry Doubleday. And another said that Joseph Busch introduced it into England after 1790.  Joseph Busch was the head gardener at the palace of Catherine the Great at St. Petersburg, Russia. The hybrid was developed in Russia and…well…the variety he brought to England was from Russia so it was known as “Russian Comfrey.” Then again, who knows?

russian comfrey russian comfrey Comfrey: The Dynamic Accumulator Part 2 Comfrey Bottom

In the future, we will post information and videos on the following topics:

  1. How to Fertilize with Comfrey
  2. Making and Fertilizing with Comfrey Tea
  3. Making Comfrey Salve
  4. Medicinal Properties of Comfrey
  5. Preparing for and Planting Comfrey
  6. Propagating Comfrey
  7. Drying Comfrey
  8. Comfrey to draw in pollinators
  9. And as much about comfrey as I can write about

For now, feel free to sign up for the Back to the Homestead Newsletter and, when a new comfrey article…or any article / video is posted, you’ll be the first to know. See you soon on Back to the Homestead.

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