Deer Gardener says: Try comfrey

  • Mar. 21, 2011 12:00 p.m.

While we wait to get down and dirty outdoors, it’s study time. My research has brought me to the interesting and easily grown comfrey. You can find a start in many established yards.Common comfrey is a perennial herb. It survives rough treatment and especially thrives in moist areas. In spring, the cold hardy rootstock pushes out large oval, hairy, textured leaves of deep green. By summer, flowering stems rise to three feet or more, topped with small clusters of dainty, down facing purple buds. Better described as bold than beautiful, it is best suited for a distant backdrop.Because of its traditional uses in herbal medicine, comfrey has been cultivated in kitchen gardens forever. The nickname ‘knitbone’ alludes to an ability for the leaves and roots to assist in healing broken bones. Comfrey leaves contain cell-stimulating allantoin, a chemical with healing attributes. External comfrey leaf applications are said to be useful for treating bruises and sores. There are toxic alkaloids in comfrey, so leave the leaves on the outside of your body and use the teas to soak wrapping cloths in. Herbs react differently on each of us. I am not able to use evening primrose oil or valerian for example. Be very conservative when first trying any herbal remedies.In the garden however, go for it. Growers can use comfrey leaves to make a fantastic, potassium rich, compost additive or liquid “tea” fertilizer. The tough far-ranging roots make Symphytum hardy, and hard to remove. But those same roots extract potassium (the K in fertilizer’s N-P-K) from deep soil layers. making it available to the soil. It is distributed throughout the comfrey plant. Plants need potassium for many metabolic functions. Keeping crops supplied with potassium is essential for their overall health, flower and fruit production. To make and use comfrey leaf tea, the general idea is this: harvest a lot of comfrey leaves, fill a bucket with them plus a bit of water and let them rot. Then drain off the resulting dark liquid. Dilute and use as a fertilizer, foliar feed or compost boosting liquid. Frequent applications of a weak tea are better for the plant’s health than one concentrated treatment. The-Organic-Gardener.com says that raw comfrey leaf tea has an N-P-K ratio of about 8:3:20. The site recommends diluting the tea with 20 parts of water before pouring or spraying it on garden beds or crops. Since it’s a pretty random liquid you pour off, (there is no control on the strength), err on the ‘too weak’ side. The compost booster aspect is the safest method of all to use this cheap fertilizer. Save this soil booster or foliar spray for mature plants.Established comfrey plants can be cut close to the ground a few times each summer and will rebound without harm. Use the fresh leaves as a mulch, or chop them and mix them into the soil near growing plants. I cannot recommend placing the roots in your compost, they will grow and be an incredible nuisance.Do have a great time poking around your yard and choosing your pet projects for this spring! Remember to divide too big yards into realistic plots for success. Dig that dirt!