Comfrey as a medicinal herb is quite controversial. (If you're interested in that discussion, see links at the bottom of this post.) As an aid to composting however, there is no dispute. Here are my quick comfrey facts:
- High in nitrogen, making it a great compost activator.
- Deep rooted (8 ft) dynamic accumulator, tapping deep soil for nutrients like potassium
- Contains 2 -3 times more potassium than barnyard manure
- Low in fiber, so that it has an extremely fast decomposition rate
- Carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is lower than well rotted compost, meaning it be tilled directly in the garden with no wait-time before planting, nor the need for added nitrogen.
- For the same reason it can be used as a side dressing
- Can be used to make liquid fertilizer. More info on that here.
- High in protein, making it an excellent supplementary feed for livestock
- Source of allantoin which is curative and preventative for scours
- Can be dried to like hay
- Also a general nectary plant for bees and beneficial insects
- Grows quickly (2 ft / month) and can be cut frequently. This makes it a high yield plant for feed and especially that compost!
It is perennial, and likes a fairly rich, sweet soil. I decided that a good home for it would be last year's garden, where the strawberries and almond tree are planted. Last summer's mulch has decomposed quite a bit, enriching the soil, plus I have been dumping wood ashes there all winter, so the pH should be better for it. It prefers sun, but can grow in partial shade. Whether or not the almond tree shades it too much in the future remains to be seen.
I planted the crowns on a grid, 3 feet apart. Hopefully I should see first growth in about a week. This first year will be for establishing the plants, with a few leaves for the chickens. Next year I will be able to harvest leaves for the garden. I am looking forward to that.
Before I forget, here are the links I promised:
The Organic Gardener - Growing & Using Garden Comfrey - How to use comfrey in compost
Comfrey Central - A Clearinghouse for Symphytum Information - a balanced and objective look at current comfrey research.
Henriette's Herbal Homepage - things to consider when reading claims about comfrey
University of Maryland Medical Center - uses and cautions of medicinal comfrey
Mother Earth News - Comfrey For the Homestead
Alternative Field Crops Manuel - Comfrey - University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension
Comfrey For The Compost photo & text copyright