Comfrey is a low-maintenance and ornamental perennial that is all too rarely found in our gardens. People who occasionally deal with muscle and joint pain, tension and back pain are more likely to have a comfrey ointment in their medicine cabinet. According to appropriate information, the Symphytum officinale, as the plant is botanically named, could also be used from the garden here. The following is about planting and caring for comfrey and other comfrey species and borage plants.
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Comfrey is a native borage plant, so it is used to our climate and not difficult to grow.
Symphytum officinale is the “real comfrey”, the most prominent type of comfrey, of which there are around 40 species. In nature, it likes to grow where moisture collects, in a ditch, along a lush roadside or in a damp meadow. It tends to thrive in flat landscapes, it no longer grows at altitudes of more than one kilometer.
Accordingly, the plant also prefers a partially shaded to sunny location in the garden. The soil likes to be moist and nutrient-rich, loamy soils are preferred. However, comfrey is so keen on growing that you can also try to settle it in a drier location. If the soil is rather poor in nutrients, you should mix in a little mature compost before planting.
The plant grows quite quickly. The deciduous, perennial perennial quickly forms a bush with many large, green leaves that is between 50 cm and 1 meter high. At the base of the plant, a rootstock develops from several main roots, which are brownish on the outside and grow up to 50 cm long. The shrub hardly lignifies.
This root lasts up to 20 years. Comfrey soaks in in winter and sprout again in spring. It develops the first leaves early and often shows the first flowers towards the end of April, which then bloom into late summer, depending on the location.
To plant comfrey in the garden, you can get a young plant at the market or in a perennial nursery. But you can also go on a search in the great outdoors and cut off a piece of comfrey root from a comfrey by the wayside. Then put it in the ground in the garden. Next spring a bush will grow on this site.
You can also buy comfrey seeds to grow on the windowsill in March or sow directly outdoors in April. The seeds are placed at around 18 degrees and germinate in about 14 days. Young plants grown indoors can go outdoors in May.
Comfrey doesn’t really need any maintenance if it has been planted in moist and nutrient-rich soil. If the soil is rather dry, you would have to make sure that the Symphytum officinale always has enough moisture available. In the case of prolonged drought, additional watering is sometimes required. However, only after some time. Comfrey develops a long taproot, which it can use to draw moisture from deep within the soil.
If the soil is good enough, the comfrey does not need any fertilizer, nitrogen supplements are recommended on a nutrient-poor soil. If you apply this nitrogen as organic fertilizer (horn shavings, composted horse manure, e.g.), you don’t have to worry about how much or how little nitrogen the soil already contains, because organic fertilizer is slowly being utilized by the plant, an eventual one Excess is tolerated quite well by comfrey.
So well tolerated that comfrey is also considered a nitrogen indicator plant. Where it spreads magnificently and unasked, you can assume that the soil is oversupplied with nitrogen.
With regard to hibernation, there is nothing to note about comfrey in the garden. Comfrey is certainly hardy here, even in unfriendly regions.
Common comfrey forms only short spurs, through which the population spreads over time. Other species can spread faster and are also very competitive. They may only be planted next to robust and vigorous perennials if they are not to crowd out the neighbours.
Comfrey in the bucket
Comfrey can also be kept in a bucket, which, however, should be quite large and, above all, high because of the long taproot. Actually, a tall, narrow bucket would suffice. However, the problem could arise with this that it freezes completely in winter. That is no longer good for a comfrey. So it would be better to have a bucket that is also quite wide, or to overwinter in a cold but frost-free room.
In addition, care must be taken to ensure adequate watering in the bucket. Even in the large tub there is only a small amount of soil, which dries out much faster than garden soil.
Once the comfrey has grown in the garden, you can easily make many from one comfrey: cut off a root, chop it into pieces about two inches long and place these pieces of root in the ground where you want to see a new comfrey.
Then all you have to do is wait. A new, small comfrey will sprout from every piece of root next spring. Of course you can still transplant it, but only when it already has a few leaves.
First of all, comfrey is quite decorative. Not an extremely conspicuous plant, but an asset to any garden that is planted in a natural way. The light yellow to red-violet colored flowers usually appear close together as decorative bells and bloom for a long time.
Comfrey can help in the garden as comfrey manure, which is effective against fungi and spider mites and is generally said to strengthen the resistance of plants because it contains a lot of potassium.
Comfrey is also an asset for the bees and bumblebees in your garden. The plant, also known as beeweed or honey flower, feeds them well, it is considered a bee pasture.
Symphytum officinale has a few other common names. It is not without reason that comfrey is called comfrey or comfrey, harmful root and soldier’s wurz, wound healing or medicinal comfrey. It has been used in folk medicine for centuries.
The most important active substance is allantoin, of which comfrey contains a particularly large amount. Allantoin stimulates cell formation and promotes wound healing. It also aids in the formation of callus mass and tissue, and combines with numerous other compounds in comfrey to form a very effective anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory compound. It is now known that the active ingredient in plants cannot be replaced by chemical production. Synthetic allantoin does not stimulate wound healing and does not help purulent wounds to heal.
However, comfrey also contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, toxic compounds that, in high doses, can lead to fatal liver dysfunction. That is why Comfrey is used internally today only under the strictest restrictions and in micrograms. External use of comfrey from the garden, as a decoction or poultice made from the leaves, should only be done after consultation with the doctor and not over a long period of time. However, this consultation can be worthwhile, especially in problematic cases.
species and varieties
There are three subspecies of comfrey Symphytum officinale:
- Comfrey (Symphytum officinale L. subsp. officinale): with bristly, stiff stems and leaves.
- White Comfrey (Symphytum officinale L. subsp. bohemicum): A variant with white flowers and hairs.
- Marsh comfrey Symphytum officinale subsp. uliginosum): A subspecies with almost glabrous leaves and stems.
But there are other types. You can buy some of these species commercially or take them from nature in the respective distribution area. They can all be used in a similar way to the common comfrey and can also be planted and cared for in a similar way:
- Creeping Comfrey (Symphytum ibericum): Originally from Georgia and Turkey, is (rarely) used as an ornamental plant for groups of trees.
- Rough comfrey (Symphytum asperum or S. asperrimum): Originally only found in the Caucasus and western Asia, today it is widespread throughout Europe.
- Bulbous comfrey (Symphytum bulbosum, also S. zeyheri): Native to the Mediterranean region, naturalized in some places in south-west Germany, bulbous comfrey sends out strong runners.
- Heartleaf Comfrey (Symphytum cordatum): This species is found in Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania.
- Knotted Comfrey (Symphytum tuberosum): Found throughout most of Europe and down to Turkey, starchy rhizome that has been mixed into bread dough in times of need and when roasted is said to make a very interesting substitute coffee, can be used as a groundcover in the garden.
- Caucasian comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum): Also known as “large-flowered comfrey”, this plant is a common garden comfrey that can be planted under trees and shrubs and as a flat ground cover in between, it is also popular planted on tree grates in street areas.
- Fodder Comfrey (Symphytum ×uplandicum): Hybrid of rough and common comfrey, also sold as S. ×uplandicum ‘Variegatum’ with cream accentuated leaves.
In specialized trade you will find out exactly which comfrey you are about to acquire, in the wild you could come across one of the varieties just described or a hybrid of these varieties. Each will be slightly different, the cultivation is basically the same, however, some species will sucker more than others.
Other borage plants
There is more to borage plants than comfrey, and numerous other borage plants certainly deserve a closer look:
- The Alkanna (Alkanna tinctoria) has beautiful small, deep blue flowers and is also known as the face avocado. You can get dye from it.
- Borage (Borago officinalis) or borage is a herb and medicinal plant that, like comfrey, should only be consumed by gardeners or used as a remedy who have informed themselves about the ingredients, as it also contains small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. However, borage is an interesting plant in several respects.
- Cordia (Cordia alliodora), also known as rainforest laurel, is a tropical houseplant that is still far too unknown and enchants with its fragrant abundance of flowers.
- The gentian viper’s bugloss (Echium gentianoides) is the plant for people who say “blue” is their favorite color, because it has a lot to offer, whole umbels of small blue flowers, close together.
- The common ox train (Anchusa officinalis) is hardly known anymore, but it can be used as an ornamental plant and, with restrictions, as a vegetable.
- The Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare) is a very good bee pasture with exceptionally high sugar content and a beautiful ornamental plant for wild plant gardens.
- The vanilla flower (Heliotropium arborescens) is a popular and very decorative bedding and balcony plant, of which more and more varieties are available.
Comfrey is an ecologically beneficial plant with amazing healing powers that can be quite useful if you look into it a little more closely. Combine comfrey with other perennial spice perennials like tarragon, lovage, sorrel, chives and lemon balm and you’ll have a gorgeous herb bed of tall green plants that can be put to good use and are really easy to care for.