comfrey becoming a weed

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by nicole, Oct 16, 2006.

  1. nicole

    nicole Junior Member

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    I have finally decided to stop lurking and join this discussion board :)

    I'm pretty new at thinking about permaculture, but am becoming more and more inspired, and the garden is taking off. But one question that I keep wondering about is if I plant something like comfrey will it become a weed? I've been told that comfrey is almost impossible to get rid of once established.

    I want to plant comfrey because it seems to be a brilliant useful plant, but it makes me think more broadly like will things that are planted as part of permaculture systems turn into weeds, not just within the garden, but potentially in bushland?
     
  2. gardenlen

    gardenlen Group for banned users

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    g'day nicole,

    i don't realy aspire to gardeners using permaculture principals as creating invironmental weeds. the plants we use are already there in the system for the most part, so they where created by some other sector.

    yes comfry in the righ conditions is going to get rampant, if you want to grow it put it in a dedicated spot . it can be very difficult to get rid of but not that impossible, we found that in drier sandier conditions it struggled to grow and in those same conditions we lost a fair bit to frosts.

    but in the lusher heavier soils yes it grows madly on but i did get rid of it by carefully digging as much of it out as i could then each day as a new leaf popped up i pulled it out took a couple of season but got rid of it.

    len
     
  3. Jez

    Jez Junior Member

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    G'day Nicole,

    Welcome to the forum and good on you for joining in the discussion.

    Yep, as Len said depending on soil type and the amount of water it gets, comfrey can get a little out of control, but unlike many plants it's not really a problem of seeding, more a problem of popping up from the roots to extend its domain.

    So from that perspective it's highly unlikely to escape your yard and get into the bush.

    One technique with comfrey is to plant it where it's ok for it to spread - like as the bottom storey of an orchard - or to plan its spread around parts of the garden where you're best off only growing a certain crop once before it definitely needs something new planted.

    For example, it's recommended with strawberries that you don't keep them in the one place for longer than one crop for production reasons - just moving the first runner only of each plant to a new bed space.

    They're also heavy feeders in terms of nutrients, so I've planted a few comfrey plants around each strawberry patch. That way you can partly feed the bed in a 'chop and drop' fashion just laying shredded comfrey from right next to the bed down as a mulch top up. When the strawberries are done, just let the comfrey take over the little patch.

    I wouldn't really recommend the above for a five bed rotation type system, but if you're like me and just crib a bit of room wherever you can in the yard for things like strawberries, the above system can work quite well. Most people already have too much to plant in the 'fruit' side of a rotation system...I know I do...so fruit like strawberries goes where it can fit.

    A good place for comfrey (and tansy's which are another beneficial nutrient spreader) is to plant them near the compost area - then they are right on hand for use in the compost and have a natural barrier (the compost area) on at least one side.

    Further down the track you can dig comfrey out and get rid of it, personally, I'd do a minimal amount of digging (maybe a foot or so - there probably will still be roots deeper than that -especially the taproot) then plant a short tem rampant root crop like arrowroot or yacon to try and wipe it out.
     
  4. hedwig

    hedwig Junior Member

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    If comfrey is a heavy feeder iknow why mine are not weedy - they are in a poor spot. I would like to have much more there are so much uses, especially for the compost heap! They are said to be a good animal fodder but my cooks don't like it.
     
  5. gardenlen

    gardenlen Group for banned users

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    g'day hedwig,

    they usually do the heavy stuff deep down in the heavy soils so they do very well in clay's where they bring up all sort of elements, that can then be used to turn into nutrients for the plants.

    so in suburbia before it grew crazy in the heavy clay, but in rural sandy loam we actually lost lots of it and it didn't do as well but well enough. yeh might be a bit on the tough side for chooks.

    some people eat small amounts of it!?

    len
     
  6. Jez

    Jez Junior Member

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    Sorry for the confusion Hedwig, my intention was to say that stawberries are heavy feeders and by planting the comfrey right next to strawberries you can use it as an onsite mulch for the strawberries easily.
     
  7. nicole

    nicole Junior Member

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    thanks!

    thanks Jez and Len and Hedwig

    I'm going to plant some at the bottom of the garden in "the jungle."

    Am glad to have strategies to get rid of it before I even plant it though, like the one you suggested Jez to plant a rampant root crop to help get rid of it.
    And good to know that it's not really going to escape into the bush.

    That sounds like a good idea with strawberries!

    And thanks Len, I'm glad to hear that you have been able to get rid of some that you wanted to get rid of, its good to know it is possible.

    But for now, I'm hoping the comfrey will go well. I hope it lives up to my expectations of it! (to be weedlike in vigour) :)
     
  8. Cornonthecob

    Cornonthecob Junior Member

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    I've found comfrey to be a bit on the water heavy side....though having said that I know my soil still has a long way to go from being the sandy loam that it is to a good humus rich soil.

    I've also had better success starting my root cuttings off in pots then transplanting into the garden.....I really don't know why, but that's how it works for me.

    With comfrey seeds I've had approx a 45% germination rate (Eden seeds).

    I've used comfrey as a living mulch around one of the maccadamia trees....so they're forfilling a number of uses there.

    I think it was Jez who put a link into one of the threads about an online library...they had a good book on comfrey where they mentioned eating it....apparently its very good for you.

    :)
     
  9. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    Comfrey

    Most Russian Comfrey only propagates from Root cuttings. (not seeds).

    I thought that it was impossible to kill until caterpillars did it for me this year.

    It is a bog plant and likes a lot of water

    For more info get in touch with HDRA in GB or Australia.

    Comfrey has some alkaloids in the leaves, that taken in HIGH doses, can be liver toxic.
    Most NZ horses are bread on it!
     
  10. Cornonthecob

    Cornonthecob Junior Member

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    Yes, the leaves are meant to be toxic...but from what I've read you'd have to eat a trailer load everyday, and then it would take a few years before it was to have any effect!

    https://www.soilandhealth.org/new.titles.htm

    The above link has an interesting book on comfrey.

    :)
     
  11. Mike_E_from_NZ

    Mike_E_from_NZ Junior Member

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  12. Cornonthecob

    Cornonthecob Junior Member

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    That be the one!

    I just went and picked some comfrey to give to the chooks/ducks and turkeys.....the ducks went wild over it, turkeys didn't do to bad...I think the chooks ate theirs just so no one else would get it!

    Will keep an eye on them and all going well will give them a feed of comfrey every few days or so....depends on how quickly my plants can grow back!

    :)
     
  13. cathy

    cathy Junior Member

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    Hi,

    Well Nicole inspired me to stop lurking as well. I so often search the internet for information on growing vegetables and herbs and find something useful at this forum. This time I was looking for info on growing comfrey and Nicole's post was spot on. I too am keen to try comfrey for its composting value, but am also concerned about it becoming a problem plant. Since we have good soil, plenty of rain and no frosts I am concerned it will invade the whole garden.

    Nonetheless, I have just planted a punnet of seed (knowing that this is quite hard but thought I'd give it a try since I haven't seen it for sale and don't know anyone who has it). I'm still trying to decide where to put it. I had initially thought of using it as a summer green manure in a new bed we are making, but not sure if that is a good idea. Anyway, I have a little while before I decide (assuming any grows) so any further comments or experiences would be most welcome.
     
  14. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    omfrey

    Russian Comfrey is the one most usually used and it is sterile and does not produce seed.

    I have seen a plant of C. officinalis in Tasmania, this may produce seed (pretty white flowers)
    also
    at a garden/nursery in Bowrel a small almost ground cover variety with pretty flowers -very attractive.
    Animals sometimes need to be encouraged to get past the prickly leaves. You can rub the leaves between two tea-towels to remove prickles or let it wilt a bit. Most animals love it once they have a taste for it.
    A friend of mine at Dural (organic gardener/farmer) fed her chooks on comfey all all the time. (she had run her plough/rottery-hoe though a plant years before and now had it everywhere)
    She had a visit from the dept of Ag Inspectors telling her not to use so much yellow dye to make her egg yokes so yellow. Of course, she didn't use dye, just lots of comfrey but the Ag Inspectors didn't believe her!!

    Comfrey rarely becomes invasive unless you chop up the roots and spread them around. It usually just grows into a bigger clump each year.

    I thought comfrey was indestructible but this year a bad infestation of caterpillars, of my plant in a pot killed it.

    I would be grateful for a root of Russian comfrey (any type). Can swap
     
  15. cathy

    cathy Junior Member

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    Hi Michaelangelica,

    Hmmm... I just checked the seed I have (from Diggers) it is C. Symphytum x uplandicum. A search on the internet turned up this page: https://www.herbherbert.com/pdf/comfrey.pdf., which says the following:

    "Another species of comfrey frequently found in gardens is Russian comfrey, Symphytum x uplandicum, which is a cross between common comfrey and the prickly comfrey (S. asperum) found in Russia. It grows to 1.75 metres and has rose-purple coloured corollas which are 2 cm long."

    So if that site is correct, it sounds like I have seeds of Russian Comfrey. The instructions say to sow then place in fridge for two weeks (which I did yesterday) so I'll see what happens.

    Edit: having read the above document further, it also says:

    "Comfrey rarely sets seed and is usually propagated by root division.
    It will also grow from a leaf cutting though is not usually done. Each
    piece of root taken from comfrey will produce a new plant
    irrespective of whether or not the piece has a growth bud attached.
    This causes problems when cultivating this herb in that any piece left
    in the ground after harvesting will sprout and become a potential
    weed. It quickly overtakes surrounding plants if allowed to spread.
    Comfrey must, therefore, be planted in a permanent position where
    it is unlikely to compete for soil resources with other plants.
    Provided its root is not disturbed, however, it will remain under
    control."

    and

    "In spite of its reputation as a troublesome weed comfrey can be eradicated from the garden during the growing season if all leaves are removed as they appear and the ground above the root heavily mulched."

    So I think that confirms what others said here. Looks like I'll be finding a quiet, unused area and planting my comfrey there permanently.
     
  16. FREE Permaculture

    FREE Permaculture Junior Member

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    Hi all,
    yay comfrey talk! :D
     
  17. scottie

    scottie Junior Member

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    Hi cathy,

    I recently sowed some Comfrey seeds which I ordered from the Diggers Club too. I planted 9 seeds in small individual pots & put them in the fridge for 2 weeks (as per the instructions) & then moved them into the greenhouse. Well, after ~4 weeks 1 of the 9 comfrey seeds sprouted. It's now ~3 months since sowing & I've still only 1 out of 9 growing & even he's starting to look yellow & stunted.

    Anyway, about a month ago I planted another 7 Comfrey seeds in small individual pots & put them straight in the greenhouse (no fridge) & whadayaknow! 2 out of 7 sprouted & are thriving! They've surpassed (in size) the Comfrey I (initially) put in the fridge months ago & are looking very healthy.

    Just thought you'd like to hear someone else's experience with growing the same seed.

    Good luck with your Comfrey.

    Scott. :)
     
  18. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    Symphytum x uplandicum is sterile and does

    I double checked my information
    Diggers are not selling correctly labeled plant -seed
    The "Bocking" variesties of Comfrey have never been sorted out in Australia.
    They have probably never all been imported from the UK.

    Nursery miss- labeling is rife in Australia, as Andy Strachan says (about the UK), but it is also reprehensible;
    especially when it comes to herbs that may be used medicinally
    ...................................
    The Henry Doubleday Reseach Assoxiation is a very worthwhile organic gardening group. They have a seed bank and you would have a better chance of getting properly named Comfrey (roots) from them than anyone else. I beleive the Australian group has a web site
     
  19. cathy

    cathy Junior Member

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    Hi everyone,

    thanks for all the replies :D :

    Michaelangelica - thank you for following up on the symphytum x uplandicum. I think I will write to Diggers and ask them to please clarify what they are selling given that you have confirmed this plant should definitely be sterile. A bit disappointing. Fortunately I am only planning on composting it, not eating it, but I do agree with your comment. I'll also follow up on HDRA thanks.

    Scottie - thanks for the personal experience. I must say I found the instructions weird, but like you have followed them to the letter. I'll try your alternative for the next punnet and let you know what happens.

    Chickadee - Hiya. No, the instructions say to sow then refrigerate. I've never put a punnet of seeds in the fridge before but, hey, there's always a first time. At least from Scottie's post I'm not the only one! From what I've read, any of your root cuttings should work. In fact, much of what I've read makes me nervous that just looking at the roots will make the comfrey take over my whole garden - of course that presupposes I get any to grow -or that what grows is what it was supposed to be in the first place. :(

    Cheers everyone
    Cathy
     
  20. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    Some Uses of Comfrey

    Pity, it is worth more than composting.
    It is a very versatile plant
    Some suggestions:-
    1 As bird and chook food -high in protein. vitamins some say it is the only land plant that contains b vitamins

    2. as human food small leaf added to salads is nutritious soothing and contains germaium a powerful anti-oxidant.
    (Many point out that it contains small amounts of pyrrolidine alkaloids which will severely damage the liver in high doses so eat only a small leaf occasionally so the pyrrolidine alkaloids do not build up in the liver). Comfrey fritters are delicious

    3 Medicinally it is known as "knit-bone" and certainly promotes bone healing ( I've only used on animals so far KOW)
    Traditionally the roots were pounded and grated into a mash; this was spread on a bandage and then this bandage would be used to splint broken bones. Aparently, unlike plaster, it 'gives' if there is any swelling.(especially useful where the break is on or near a joint)
    Poultices like this are untidy,messy to make and have lost favour in modern times. However historically comfrey was planted (along with horseradish for colds) along the medieval crusader roots/highways near streams. I saw a big clump of Comfrey growing at the ruined "Fountains Abbey" in England. No doubt left over from when the monks left 500 yeras ago!!
    It has great drawing power for sebaceous cysts and boils etc.

    A tea is soothing for sore throats

    The leaves and especially the roots contain a lot of allantion a cell growth/ granulating promoting substance of remarkable power.
    So an ointment made from comfrey roots is excellent for many skin problems.
    I have seen it used to great effect on the persistent leg ulcers that many older people get.
    In one case it saved the person's leg from amputation .
    (Always use on edges of ulcer so the healing works toward the middle.)
    If you cut yourself and put a comfrey leaf or ointment on it immediately within minutes it looks like an old cat scratch!
    Many worry about this healing speed, as if the wound it not clean, they say it might 'lock in' infection. This has not been my experience but I have never used it on a dirty wound).

    There are very many documented cases of comfrey being used to cure some types of skin and facial cancers.

    4 Fill a garbage bin 1/2 full with leaves then fill with water. At the end of three weeks you will have a fertiliser about equivalent to commercial tomato fertiliser.

    5 When planting potatoes put down first a heavy layer of Comfrey leaves. Many say this improves the crop no end (watch little bits of root don't get planted with the leaves. you are right you only have to look at a comfrey root for it to grow. It is a bog plant though and likes lots of water
    In the early days of Australian settlement people tried to grow it as stock food but it always failed because of lack of water. I believe it is grown extensively in NZ as a racehorse food. Any NZ's out there might like to confirm that?

    I am sure others on this list will also have many other uses they could share with you

    It is a most versatile, fascinating and lately, much neglected herb.

    I would be fascinated to see pictures of the flowers of any comfrey people grow. If you could post them here ( by following Murry's detailed instructions -you do need an alan-key though :) )
    It is one way to sort out the varieties The flowers clusters are small, but beautiful.
    Best wishes
     

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