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Relearning to Love Comfrey

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 September Issue Newsletter

By Julie Rawson NOFA/Mass Education Director and Farmer at Many Hands Organic Farm

When we moved to our land in 1980, I immediately bought a few comfrey plants, as I had read in my “pre-returning to the
land” period – that wonderful time when I has plenty of time to read before actually being out there slogging every day – that comfrey was a miracle plant. And
then, for the better part of 30 years I just let it grow and multiply. Every once in awhile I would cut some and feed
it to the chickens, but there was, sometime in that span of years, a comfrey scare, that it was somehow bad for you.
The culprit, it seems, is the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that when ingested in extremely large doses over an extended
period of time can cause liver damage. While researching for this article I came upon one reference from Dr. James
Duke that suggested that the amount of these harmful
alkaloids in 1 bottle of beer is equal to about 100 cups of
comfrey tea. Perhaps that can put this all in perspective.
It was Harvery Ussery ( at
the NOFA/Mass Advanced Growers Seminar 2 or 3 years
ago who reminded me that this plant’s amazing versatility
and value has served intelligent people of the land for
centuries. Comfrey is also known as bruisewort, knitback,
knitbone, boneset, slippery root, bruisewort, ass ear, and
blackwort. Comfrey contains ample quantities of Tannins,
Rosmarinic acid (Allantoin (which encourages the rapid
growth of cells), Steroidal saponins Mucilage, Inulin, Gum,
Carotene, Glycosides, Sugars, Beta-sitoserol, Triterpinoids,
Vitamins B 12, A, & C, silicon, calcium, potassium
phosphorous, iron, iodine, zinc and other traces.
Comfrey is claimed to contain 22-31% protein and to have
produced 140 tons of biomass per acre in the world record.
It is the greatest producer of vegetable protein and fastest
protein-builder on earth. Acre for acre it produces 20 times
more protein than soybeans. Since the 80s it has been
suppressed in the US, but it is grown throughout the rest of
the world for animal feed, from ruminants to single stomach
large animals, poultry, and earthworms.
It is the queen of multi-functional plants, and it spreads
by root division; it will spread very rapidly and is hard to
get rid of. Sheet mulch it out if necessary, or build a hot
compost pile on top of it. It is a beneficial insect attractor,
wound healer; enormous root system and dynamic mineral
accumulator; and delivers these minerals to its leaves,
which are then available for our use. It is a biomass
accumulator, and you can grow it for a mulch plant.
Chickens love comfrey. It feeds the soil more than anything
else, and it creates a lot of sloughing material into the soil
all the time. There will be lots of earthworms around it. It is
used to rebuild tissue, muscle, tendons and bones. Comfrey
proliferates cell division and cell growth. One resource
person uses comfrey in his salads in the early spring.
So enough background... As our comfrey started to escape
into our rhubarb, I started to get into the habit of yanking
a plant (as much as I could get) of comfrey each day to
feed to the baby meat birds and turkeys this summer. I
quickly was able to make a few interesting observations.
The baby birds flocked to it and ate it ravenously – chose
it over their bagged, organic feed, their daily dirt ration,
and the sprouted grains. So I brought more. And then their
infant health skyrocketed. To date (6 weeks later) we have
lost 2 of our 250 meat birds and 1 of our 100 turkeys – our
best record ever. They are fat and sassy and very active –
pictures of poultry health. They are now out on pasture,
and we are harvesting armfuls of comfrey every day and
delivering it to them – and also to the laying hens, who are
laying like gangbusters. And the comfrey is cranking along
– still trying to take over the rhubarb, and proliferating in
all the grassy edges of the farm. We also moved it under our
fruit trees after the Harvey event, and have a nice stand of it
all over in the orchard.
After doing today’s research I have determined to use
comfrey yet more on the farm, as mulch for starters, and
perhaps to start branching out and feeding it to the cows and
pigs. We are now drinking comfrey tea every day, and for
two years we have been making a nice comfrey salve that
we use liberally around here and also sell. As is often the
case, it seems that the best things in life are free!
Many Hands Comfrey Salve recipe
1 quart olive oil
2 cups dried comfrey leaf
4 oz beeswax- by weight
25 drops lavender oil
4 Vitamin E capsules
• Combine olive oil and comfrey leaf and heat
at a very low temperature (we put it on the far
right of the woodstove overnight)
• Strain the comfrey out of the oil. Combine the
infused olive oil and beeswax and heat slowly
until beeswax melts.
• Remove from heat; add lavender oil and
Vitamin E.
Some internet resources that helped me put together
this article:
• Rose Mountain Herbs
• Coe’s Comfrey

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