Plant of the Week ~ Symphytum officinale (Comfrey)

Botanical art depicting the separate parts of Symphytum officinale
Botanical art depicting the separate parts of Symphytum officinale

It’s time for another plant of the week and this time we are taking a look at the wonderful Symphytum officinale (Comfrey). This herbaceous perennial can grow up to 1.2 metres in height and flowers from late spring to early summer. Great for wildlife and human use, comfrey is definitely a plant you should consider growing. Let’s find out why.

Cultivation & Care

Both the leaves and flower buds of comfrey are hairy which gives it that 'fuzzy' look
Both the leaves and flower buds of comfrey are hairy which gives it that ‘fuzzy’ look

While tolerant of light shade, comfrey prefers full sunshine in order to grow at it’s best.  It will tolerate most soil types and will do well in heavy clay.  It is quite deep rooting and can spread quite prolifically by seed so when planting, be sure to pick a spot where you are happy for it to spread.

Urine as Fertiliser

There are no particular care requirements for comfrey, however it will benefit greatly from fertilisation with human urine. Human urine is actually a great fertiliser for many plants as it contains valuable nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen, along with other trace elements of use to plants.  If watering with urine, be sure to water it down with 5 to 10 parts water and apply it directly to the soil, avoiding contact with the plants themselves. It should come as no surprise that if you have an infection, using your urine during that time is ill-advised. Failing that, urine is usually sterile and the risk of disease transmission is very small.

Edible Uses

The large, hairy leaves of comfrey make it a fairly easy plant to identify when harvesting
The large, hairy leaves of comfrey make it a fairly easy plant to identify when harvesting

Wildlife & Eco Gardens can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants.  Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally and when in doubt about eating a plant you have not eaten before.

  • Young leaves ~ Can be eaten cooked or raw, though they are quite hairy. Thinly slicing the leaves and putting them in the salad makes them easier to enjoy without the hairy texture.
  • Young shoots ~ The can be used as an alternative to asparagus.
  • Mature leaves ~ Dried and used in herbal teas.
  • Roots ~ Can be sliced and added to soups or made into a tea along with the leaves when dried. Roasted roots can be combined with chicory and dandelion root to make a coffee substitute.

Other Uses

  • Liquid plant feed ~ Cutting the leaves and steeping them in water for several weeks makes a fertiliser for plants which you can dilute with water and feed to your plants.
  • Mulch ~ Comfrey is a great plant for chop-and-drop mulching. You can cut the plant down to about 5 cm from the ground and leave the foliage where it falls and this will break down and enrich the soil around the plants.
  • Herbal medicine ~ Comfrey can have many actions on the body including: anodyne, anti-diarrhoeal, anti-rheumatic, astringent, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, haemostatic, homeopathy, refrigerant and vulnerary.

Wildlife Gardening

Bumblebees make great use of the pollen and nectar that comfrey provides
Bumblebees make great use of the pollen and nectar that comfrey provides
  • Nectar & pollen food plant for many insects, including bees.
  • Spiders make good use of comfrey as habitat during the winter.
  • Spiders & parasitic wasps will often hunt for prey around comfrey plants.
  • Lacewings favour the plant for the purpose of egg-laying.

Wildlife & Eco Gardens can help you create a vibrant wildlife garden for you and your family to enjoy all year round. Contact us for more information.

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