Comfrey is a perennial, herbaceous, flowering plant of genus Symphytum, in the borage family, Boraginaceae.
It’s native to Europe and Asia, naturally growing in damp, grassy locations. Common comfrey can be found growing wild in the UK, often on river banks and other similar habitats. Don’t be tempted to plant wild comfrey in your garden, it is invasive and very difficult to remove.
Comfrey is a versatile plant with many uses; as fodder for livestock, as a fertiliser, as a pollinator attractor, and in herbalism.
There are many cultivars in the genus Symphytum, including common comfrey (Symphytum officinale), which is most often found growing wild, and Russian comfrey (Symphytum × uplandicum), which was introduced to Britain from Russia in the 1800s.
Because of its distinct characteristics, there is most interest in growing Russian comfrey, and specifically the cultivar Bocking 14.
Characteristics of comfrey
All comfrey cultivars share these characteristics:
Easy to grow
Comfrey is easy to grow. Many strains will self-seed, and spread rapidly through hospitable habitats. Even largely sterile strains like Bocking 14 which do not self-seed, are very straightforward to grow and propagate from root or crown cuttings.
Comfrey in a garden or allotment setting requires little in the way of routine care or maintenance, and will grow in most soil types.Cultivating comfrey
In general rust is the is only serious disease to which comfrey is susceptible. It is a fungal disease, caused by the fungus Melampsorella symphyti. It is characterised by the yellowing of the upper surfaces of leaves, and a more prevalent covering of yellow-orange rust on the underside of leaves. Fortunately the comfrey cultivar Bocking 14 is highly resistant to rust.
Comfrey is also generally untroubled by insects or other pestsCaring for comfrey
High yielding and versatile
Comfrey is a remarkable generator of plant protein, with dry-matter consisting of 15-30% protein, comparable to most legumes. It’s high in carbohydrate, and contains many trace elements including vitamin B12. This adds up to a plant that is an excellent source of animal feed, mulch, fertiliser, and medicinal herb.Uses of comfrey
Comfrey is extremely attractive to pollinators, especially bumblebees. Due to the length of the bell-shaped flowers, only long-tongued bumbles like the Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) can pollinate comfrey directly, but as with other plants like fuschia, other shorter-tongued bumbles like the Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) may bite holes in the sides of flowers to reach the nectar.
We try to cut as much of our comfrey as possible only after it has fully-flowered, to maximise the benefits for pollinators.Comfrey for pollinators