Foraging for Comfrey – Use it as a fertiliser and more!

Comfrey – Symphytum officinale
(In Irish – meacan compair / lus na gcnámh briste)

A little knowledge goes a long way!

Comfrey

Symphytum known by the common name comfrey comes from the Latin word confervere meaning to ‘heal’ / ‘boil together’ / ‘grow together’ and refers to its uses in ancient traditional medicine. The tradition that comfrey had in different cultures suggests a belief in its usefulness for mending bones.

How to identify comfrey

There are many different types of comfrey but in general, it is a hairy green plant with broad spear-shaped leaves and clusters of purple, white or pink bell-shaped flowers. It’s usually in flower during April and May. It belongs to the Borage family.

Where to find Comfrey

Comfrey can be found in ditches, hedgerows and damp places.

Lookalikes

Whatever you do, do NOT confuse this plant with the deadly Foxglove or that will be the end of you! The flowers of the foxglove are tubular and stand on a tall spike. They vary in colour with species, from purple to pink, white, and yellow. However, the best-known species is the common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea.

Foxglove - Digitalis

Foxglove – Digitalis

Digitalis intoxication results from an overdose of digitalis and can cause cardiac, neurological and gastrointestinal effects. The entire plant is toxic.

How to cook/eat Comfrey

The root itself is edible raw or cooked and Darina Allen in her Forgotten Skills of Cooking book has a lovely recipe using the leaves, if you’re willing to try comfrey fritters. However, a word of warning, no one should eat too much comfrey as it can cause liver toxicity.

Common_Comfrey_(Symphytum_officinalis),_Bishopstone_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1360418
(Image via WikimediaCommons/Trish Steel)

Health Benefits

This great plant also has medicinal purposes and was historically used to treat ailments such as sprains, arthritis, gastric and varicose ulcers and acne.

A word of caution: Comfrey is well-known for its health benefits but it also poses some risks as it contains compounds that can harm your liver. Like all edible things, it’s best that you don’t overdo it on the comfrey. Moderation is key. And always consult your doctor if you’re unsure. Comfrey is mostly used by modern herbalists as a topical solution these days.

Other uses

If you’re a keen gardener, comfrey can be your best friend, as it’s an excellent fertiliser when it’s mulched down and perfect for organic growth.

To make this fertiliser, you need to seep the leaves into a deep barrel or container. A five-gallon drum filled with water along with the comfrey leaves is perfect and you can even add nettles to boost the power of their amazing homemade fertiliser. It will take about 2 weeks for this sloshy mixture to be ready to rock and roll. Oh, by the way, it’s best covered because it STINKS!!

When it’s read you want to strain the leaves and discard them. From this point, you can bottle up your fertiliser and when you want to use it, dilute 10 parts water to one part of the mix. Your plants are going to love you.

If you are satisfied you have correctly identified comfrey, you can submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre here.

(Lead image via WikimediaCommons/BernardDUPONT. This post contains an affiliate link to a book I recommend at no extra cost to you!)

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