Welcome to our series, “Plant of the Week”. Here you will find info about different plants, (herbs, shrubs, etc.) that are useful in a permaculture application.
Comfrey (Symphytum sp.)
Series on permaculture plants, eh? Gotta start with comfrey. If you’re gonna do the permaculture, you need the comfrey.
Comfrey comes in several species, all in the genus Symphytum, in the borage family. Each has similar properties and applications, and is known to gardeners and herbalists as a Very Useful Plant. Sometimes called knitbone or boneset, comfrey salve and other remedies are quite safe and effective for topical use. Modern warnings say to not use it internally, though historically was used with good results. This is a topic hotly debated, so do your research. I have zero issues with using a good quality comfrey ointment on scrapes and shallow wounds, though this usage isn’t recommended by the People in Charge. Last Summer, when the Badger still had her needle sharp puppy teeth, comfrey ointment saved my forearms. Well, that and Kevlar sleeves.
We keep a jar of Dr. Christopher’s Original Formulas Complete Tissue and Bone Ointment, (one of the main ingredients is comfrey) in the fridge. Stuff works wonders. In fact, it works to stimulate healing of the skin so well that it shouldn’t be used on deep open wounds, as they may close too soon. It also works well for deep tissue injuries and aches. When in doubt, rub some comfrey ointment on it. (Insert disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Don’t do stupid things.)
Herbal properties aside, comfrey is an excellent gardener’s friend plant to have around. Considered a green manure crop, comfrey pulls up potassium that isn’t normally accessed by plants, and can be added as a mulch, to your compost pile, potting soil mixture, and is an excellent companion plant for trees and perennials. It’s a good groundcover, and compost tea plant. We use it here as a companion plant with every tree or shrub we plant, and will be experimenting with it in the coming season. Just letting comfrey grow helps increase nutrients in the soil. It also lives in my herb garden as a basic healing herb.
Currently, we have the Bocking 14 comfrey. The blossoms aren’t quite as showy, but it’s considered one of the more hardy varieties. To propagate, one must use root division. Comfrey replicates itself readily in this manner. Soon, we hope to have an entire comfrey plot. You really can’t have too much of the stuff, and it’s a handsome if plain looking, plant. The flowers are nice as well. Bees like ‘em. Get yourself some comfrey.