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COMFREY- THE HOMESTEADERS GOLD MINE

Bee's love comfrey

Bee’s love comfrey

I get excited about a few things (most are homestead related), but rabbits and comfrey are at the top of my list! There are so many uses for comfrey on the homestead everyone should grow it.

This amazing plant can be used as a livestock food and tonic, herbal medicine, organic fertilizer and mulch for you gardens, and a great booster for your compost piles!

I will list as much as I know about comfrey on this page. The first time I got Comfrey was back in the early 80s and even when moving from place to place, I would dig up roots to bring my comfrey with me. Back then I was only growing it as a food and tonic for my rabbits. As I started learning how to use it more and more in the gardens, greenhouses, and compost piles and then seeing the results of what Comfrey can do. I was amazed!  I started many more comfrey beds and planted it around my gardens, fruit trees, and compost piles for easy harvest and use.

Comfrey is a high-yielding leafy green perennial herb, and a member of the borage family. I use, grow and sell, Russian Bocking 14 Comfrey, Symphytum  uplandicum.

In 1954 Lawrence Hills began researching the use of Comfrey. He found that it mines nutrients in the ground by using its deep root system. When plants do this it is called a dynamic accumulator. The plant will draw minerals out of the soil and into the roots, stems and leaves. This makes comfrey very rich in the basic N-P-K elements which are the basis of all plant fertilizers and are important for plant health and growth. Comfrey contains useful amounts of these trace elements but nobody seems to have researched this until Hills went on to develop the most useful variety of Comfrey, Bocking 14, which was named after the location of the trial grounds in Essex, England.

The most important property of Bocking 14 is that it is sterile. That means it does not self-seed so it does not spread like wild Comfrey. But once you have Comfrey in the garden you will never get rid of it as even the smallest piece of root will regrow vigorously. But then why would you want to get rid of it, with its so many uses!

Comfrey grows up quick and early in the spring and can easily reach heights of  5 feet. The lower leaves are very large, compared to the small hanging clusters of flowers at the top of the plant, to which I have never seen so many bees as in my comfrey beds, they love the purple flowers as do a great many other beneficial insects.  The shape and size of this plant makes it look like a shrub but comfrey is a herb. Comfrey is a hardy perennial and it will die back to the ground in the winter and regrow in the spring.

Comfrey will adapt to most areas you want to plant it, but will thrive in a rich organic soil. As with all quick-growing plants, Comfrey needs nitrogen. Comfrey gets all its nitrogen from the soil, so some type of regularly added organic matter is needed. Of course I cannot think of anything better to use than Bunny Berries! I top dress my Comfrey plants every spring and fall!

When starting Comfrey plants I use root cuttings most often. These cuttings are usually available in small and larger sizes. The larger roots will sprout and grow faster than the small cuttings. These are 2-6″ lengths of root which are planted horizontally 2-8″ deep. Plant shallower in clay soil and deeper in sandy soils.

You can also grow comfrey from crown cuttings, but these will be more expensive. A crown cutting will include sprouts and will grow faster than root cuttings. Crown cuttings are planted 3-6″ deep.

If you are growing several plants of comfrey for a bed, and regular harvesting, space them in a grid, 3′ apart.

Once Comfrey is established it will take care of itself. Each year the plant will get a little larger and the root system will get more dense. A Comfrey plant can live several decades before it begins to decline. By dividing the plant every few years this will keep the plant growing vigorously longer.

Because of its deep tap-root, comfrey is very drought tolerant. However regular watering will keep it green, growing strong and blooming for a great quick harvest.

Comfrey leaves can be harvested and dried at any time in its growing stage. If you are growing it to harvest the leaves, you can make your first cutting when the plants are 2′ tall. Cut back to within a few inches of the crown. If you begin harvesting early, you may not get flowers that year.

I have many comfrey plants all over the homestead and for many different reasons. The plants around my garden I let flower. These purple bell-like flowers draw in so many beneficial insects to help pollinate my crops. By planting Comfrey as an outside border the plants roots mat together stopping even couch grass from creeping in. I do plant them closer about 24 inches apart as a garden border and the plants are right were I need them when I want to use as a mulch.

There are so many great ways to use comfrey around the garden! One of the easiest uses of comfrey is as a thick mulch for other crops. Comfrey leaves and stems can be cut and wilted for a few days and then used as a mulch. This will slowly release all the nutrients that their long tap roots pulled up from the soil. This will also help to suppress weeds, feed the plants being mulched, and conserve moisture. This is especially good around plants that like a little extra potassium like fruits, squashes, potatoes, and tomatoes.

Researchers in British Columbia analyzed the NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of comfrey and discovered that the leaves have a remarkable NPK ratio of 1.80-0.50-5.30. When we compare these nutrient ratios to that of animal manure we can see how far superior comfrey is but the bunny berries are still better than most manures!
Dairy Cow: .25-.15-.25
Steer: .70-.30-.40
Horse: .70-.30-.60
Sheep: .70-.30-.90
Chicken: 1.1-.80-.50
Rabbit: 2.4-1.4-.60

As comfrey leaves wilt an decompose they become irresistible to slugs and snails. If you spread them around young plants such as lettuce and other slug loving plants this will keep the slugs busy and easy to dispose of.

The wilted leaves and stems (by wilting the pieces of comfrey they will not root) can be dug into ground that is being prepared for a new crop and they will break down to give an awesome organic feed to the crop that is being planted. I always do this with all seedlings I transplant outside. This works great on plants being grown in containers as the comfrey decomposes it makes a slow release fertilizer for the plant. Great to add in when you trench in your potato starts in the spring.

Comfrey as a liquid fertilizer is the best! This is one of my favorite uses. Throw that Miracle Grow and any other chemical fertilizer out! Comfrey leaves and stems (I chop the stems) can be crammed and packed tight into a large container (I like using 5 gallon buckets) with a brick or rock pressing down on the mass of comfrey. After a few weeks the mixture will be like a green, brownish soup and ready for harvest. Strain it through a fairly fine screen and bottle, then put the screened sludge remains onto the compost pile. By putting a spigot on the bottom of the bucket you could just keep adding comfrey to the top as it breaks down and turn the tap on as you need it. Once this liquid fertilizer is made it should be diluted from 10:1 to 15:1.

Some people I know just add cut and chopped comfrey plants to their rainwater barrels, then let sit for a few weeks and use this to water their plants as is. They have all had great results.

Because Comfrey is a high-nitrogen source, Comfrey is a  wicked awesome compost activator and a great booster for the compost piles, it will even awaken those cold dead piles!

Remember when composting to always have the right balance of green and brown shredded material in any of your piles to keep them healthy and composting. Comfrey when added to the pile works best as an activator if it is well mixed with the whole pile rather than just adding it as layers, this will kick-start your hot composting process. You can add as layers if your pile is working and you just need to add some green stuff.

Here is a recipe for the Rise And Shine Comfrey Composter Super Booster Fill your blender 3/4 full with fresh comfrey leaves, then add water to about 2 inches below the rim. Blend  until the comfrey is dissolved. Pour the undiluted blended comfrey into your composter or on your compost pile. It will get your compost heating up fast! It’s an excellent compost activator because it contains more nitrogen than most manures.

A few years ago I planted some Comfrey plants next to my compost bins and their growth has been awesome, it is in a shady area on the homestead, most plants would never even grow there. The Comfrey grows vigorously while enjoying the leaching nutrient’s from the pile. The comfrey is also close to the compost pile to add as green matter, If I add some dry matter to the compost pile.

I get three good crops of leaves each year from each plant here in Maine, it can be cut right down to 2” above the ground and then it will re-grow fast. Remember to keep an eye on it, splitting off some of the root every few years to prevent it getting out of control, but you can propagate these cuttings into as many new plants as you want, to start new beds, and plants, to barter, sell or give as gifts.

Comfrey is also used as a livestock food. Farmers in both Japan and in the Pacific Northwest plant fields of comfrey to feed both their dairy and beef cattle. These farmers are getting remarkable results in the health of both their beef cattle and increased milk production in their dairy herds.

I did a post on the benefits of comfrey for rabbits here is the link https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/2011/10/22/comfrey-for-rabbits/

The Henry Doubleday Association in the United Kingdom long advocated the use of comfrey as a nutritional supplement for farm animals.

Comfrey contains many vitamins and nutrients such as Vitamin B12, potassium, sulphur, calcium, iron, phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B-complex, selenium, iron, germanium and is also an excellent source of protein.

I feed comfrey to all the livestock on my homestead. The chickens love it, when the free ranging chickens get to run in the comfrey beds they will eat it to the ground. The pigs go crazy when they see you carrying in to them grunting and doing their happy dance. I have fed it to my rabbits for 30+ years and they love it! So far, I have had no adverse effects on feed comfrey to any of the livestock I raise here on the homestead!

I have been told lots of negative things on feeding comfrey to livestock. Studies have reported the development of cancerous liver tumors and liver damage in animals after ingesting or being injected with various amounts of comfrey. If comfrey is so dangerous, then why is it not causing liver issues to the cattle raised in Japan? The cattle are being fed large amounts of comfrey yet there has been no problems with liver tumors or liver damage in their herds. I feed comfrey to my rabbits as much as 25% of their daily green feed.  I butcher my rabbits and all the livers are healthy and tasty! I have never personally had any problems with comfrey being fed to the animals on my homestead.

I researched a few of the negative comfrey studies, the ones I could find were done on young rats. The Comfrey was not given to the rats as a food source, Instead the toxic alkaloids were isolated and injected into these rats.

As with many herbs, the whole plant contains elements and nutrients that can neutralize the toxic elements in the plant being eaten. So by isolating and injecting a toxic chemical from the comfrey plant and eating the leaf of the plant, you would get different results in any study. So do some research yourself and make your own choice. I will be using comfrey as a food source for my animals!

As a medicinal herb, Comfrey has been used for more than 200 years. A famous herbalist, Dorothy Hall, who wrote in 1975 ‘Russian comfrey and garlic could together almost halve the present ills of western civilization.’

In herbal medicine it is sometimes referred to as “knit bone” for its ability to speed wound healing. Knit bone, refers to the way that the Comfrey was ‘knitted’  (wrapped) around the bruised leg or arm.

The allantoin content of comfrey, especially in the root, has resulted in its use in folk medicine for healing wounds, sores, burns, swollen tissue, and broken bones. When applied externally to bruising, sprains, arthritis or any inflamed tissue, it acts as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.

In studies allantoin  appeared to affect the rate of cell multiplication. Wounds and burns seemed to heal faster when allantoin was applied due to a possible increase in number of white blood cells. Comfrey works so well that it is important to ensure that when using it as a healing poultice, the affected area or wound is completely clean and free from dirt or foreign matter. This is because Comfrey causes the skin to grow back so fast that any dirt left behind will actually end up being stuck under the new skin growth.

You can apply cold grated comfrey root or a cloth soaked in cool comfrey tea to sunburns or other minor skin burns.

Comfrey can be used as a treatment for rashes, scrapes and especially insect bites and stings.

Making a poultice with the juice can remove warts and other growths. Can be used as a rinse for skin problems on livestock and pets.

Comfrey Infused oil is used to treat arthritis, skin wounds and diseases such as psoriasis. Juice from the leaves and stems in a terrific cure for poison ivy.

You can make an infusion by boiling the leaves. For using the plant externally, the whole plant can be beaten and heated up, then applied to the skin.

To make comfrey oil, clean some fresh comfrey roots with a scrub brush under running water. Place the roots in a blender or food processor with olive oil to cover, and grind as fine as possible. Put into a large glass jar and allow to soak for several weeks before straining. Filter through a wire mesh strainer with cheesecloth or in a coffee filter. This can be used as a compress or poultice.

Comfrey should never be taken internally. Most health agencies in the U.S. have banned the internal use of comfrey due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in this plant. Comfrey is no longer sold in the U.S. as an herbal cure, except in creams or ointments.

In the past before the bad press on comfrey they did use it internally. Drinking a few drops of Comfrey in water can help with bronchial problems, particularly whooping-cough. Boiling the crushed root yields a mild remedy for diarrhea and other gastro-intestinal problems.

Use any of the cures here use at your own risk. I am not a doctor. These are old remedies’ that have been used for generations.

Comfrey is nature’s answer to a sustainable fertilizer, fodder, and healing herb for the Homesteader. Best of all it is free! and you can grow it yourself!  Comfrey is The Gold Mine on the Homestead!

We have Comfrey available for sale. https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/comfrey-for-sale/ . I am working on a YouTube video showing all these uses. Join The Rabbit Revolution!

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COMFREY FOR RABBITS

COMFREY

COMFREY

I have been using Comfrey as a food source and tonic for a long time in my rabbitry.

When I was young I always talked to all the old-timer rabbit breeders around my neighborhood and on my paper route. They all agreed and swore by comfrey as the best rabbit tonic and said every rabbit breeder should grow it.

They would give a little each day added to their daily green feed, and told me this is why their rabbits never got sick. They told me it would prevent everything from snuffles to premature kindling and helping milking does produce more milk. I have no scientific proof, other than never seeing any of their rabbits sick.

So that’s when I got my first few comfrey plants (cost me a weeks worth of newspapers) and I have been feeding comfrey to my rabbits ever since. I have moved many times from my childhood home but have always brought comfrey cuttings with me to plant more.

I know that my rabbits love the stuff just by their reaction when harvesting the comfrey, the rabbits hear me cutting the leaves in the comfrey beds, I can hear them running and binkying around their cages knowing their healthy tonic is on the way.

When entering the rabbitry with a basketful of comfrey, the whole herd comes alive waiting for their treat. I highly recommend comfrey for rabbits! It is a great digestive aid and will help with wool block, do not overfeed as it may cause diarrhea, this is the plant working use caution! Great as a tonic and added food source but not as the only feed source.

You can cut it down and dry it like hay to store for winter use ( It can be cut down up to three times here in Maine). They also love the freshly harvested leaves. The plant has a calming effect on rabbits, also good when a rabbit is off feed, It will get them back on it!

Comfrey is a great source of vitamin A and good for pregnant and nursing does as it also supports the immune system. Comfrey is good for the stomach, and can be fed as a general gut tonic. Always use caution when feeding greens to rabbits! Being extremey potent comfrey can have negative effects if overfed, and can cause diarrhea. When I do feed, it makes up about 25% of the basket of greens/weeds I pick every other day or so in the Spring/Summer/Fall. There are so many other uses for comfrey on the homestead. I will list just a few.

Comfrey has long been used as a cure by Gypsies and peasant people for ever, it has an ancient reputation as a mender of broken bones! It has also been recommended for uterine and other internal hemorrhages and for the healing of wounds. Comfrey’s power to heal wounds is credited to a substance in the plant called allantoin (listed in Merck’s Index of Chemicals and Drugs for its use in skin ulcer therapy). The most common medicinal use of comfrey is in poultices to help heal swellings, inflammations and sores.

To make such a dressing, let the leaves mush up in hot water, squeeze out the excess liquid and wrap several handfuls of the hot, softened foliage in a clean cloth. Apply the pad to the affected part—comfortably hot, but not scalding—and cover the area with a thick folded towel to keep the heat in. The moist warmth enhances the healing effect of the allantoin. Roots and Leaves have historically been used to apply to swellings, sprains, bruises, cuts and used as a poultice for stings, abrasions, blisters, abscesses and boils. Comfrey is also widely known for healing and clearing up skin problems. You can use the roots to make decoctions, and the leaves to make infusions that have antiseptic properties

British Gypsies would also feed the roots to their animals as a spring tonic. On my homestead all the livestock love it! The pigs go nuts when I throw it into their pens, The chickens come charging to meet me at the gate with some, And we already discussed the rabbits!

You can also condition your soil with comfrey! It’s one of the best plants for this. The leaves themselves may be buried as “instant compost” to give row crops season-long nourishment. A tea can be made with the leaves and used as a liquid fertilizer (No more Miracle Grow!). You should google the uses of comfrey in the garden you will be amazed! There is to much for me to list here maybe I will do a future post just on comfrey and the homestead!

https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/2013/08/11/comfrey-the-homesteaders-gold-mine/

Harvest when the foliage is 12 to 18 inches tall, we cut the leaves with a sickle by gathering a bunch together and shearing them off two inches above ground. After such a harvest, the plants will grow enough to be cut again in 10 to 30 days. About two weeks is the average in our experience. Dry the harvest or feed it fresh! The thicker stalks are had to dry and mold before drying, so for drying stick to the leaves.

Comfrey is 86.6%water,2.6%protein,1.8% fiber.

Comfrey is a controversial plant yet it has been used medicinally for at least 2000 years.

It has also had extensive use as an animal feed just as long. Due to recent evaluations of this plant, it is important to learn about it before deciding whether or not to add it to your rabbits’ diet. I have used it before any of the studies and still use it to this day wit no ill effects! It irritates me how negative weighted research can affect the truth of an herb.

There are three main varieties of Comfrey grown, Russian Comfrey(bocking strains), Prickly Comfrey, and Common Comfrey. Common Comfrey is the one usually grown here in the US. These Comfrey plants greatly differ in the amount of alkaloids present in the plants.

I grow and sell the Russian Bocking 14 type.

The research was done on young rats that were injected not fed naturally the whole food product. It is known that injecting a substance will often give a toxic reaction when just eating it does not. This test did cause tumors in the liver, but it was basically an overdose of the toxic part of the comfrey injected into young rats than are sensitive to the alkaloid to begin with. That is a negative weighted research project to say the least!

Despite the controversy over Comfrey and liver toxicity, farmers in both Japan and in the Pacific Northwest plant fields of comfrey to feed both their dairy and beef cattle. These farmers are getting remarkable results in the health of both their beef cattle and increased milk production in their dairy herds.

If comfrey is so dangerous, then why then is it not causing liver toxicity in these cattle? They are being fed enough to cause liver problems. There has been no problem with liver toxicity in their herds.

So if you question the use of comfrey in your rabbitry do your research. I have butchered many rabbits and have never found any internal issues with the feeding of comfrey over long periods of time.

We have Comfrey plants, roots, and crowns available in season(May till end of October ere in Maine.)

https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/comfrey-for-sale/

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