Comfrey is a large herbaceous perennial with broad leaves and bell shaped flowers that come in a variety of colors. Mostly labeled a weed in the USA, comfrey is typically a sterile hybrid that propagates itself by root division. The most common variety is Russian comfrey and it is a multipurpose plant that is popular for use in permaculture guilds where it serves as a herbaceous layer and performs various functions. Comfrey is in fact not a weed but a highly beneficial plant that has been called ‘the queen of multifunctional plants’ due to its versatility and flexibility. It is perfect for survivalists, homesteaders and anyone else who wants to become self sufficient food wise.
Comfrey performs the following functions that should convince you to incorporate it into your permaculture guild:
Comfrey’s large and broad leaves provide excellent mulch whether they dry and drop off on their own or are cut away from the plant as part of the pruning process. The leaves are used to cover the soil around the canopy layer in order to conserve moisture, prevent soil erosion, kill off weeds and regulate the temperature of the soil. Most comfrey plants can grow up to 12 inches in height and are usually pruned down to two feet in order to ensure that the remaining leaves maximize nutrient production. The pruned matter is then used as mulch to cover the ground.
2. Nutrient Accumulation
Comfrey has a deep taproot that reaches up to 12 feet below the ground and brings up nutrients from underground and makes them easily available for use by the other layers in the guild. It is great at mining essential plant minerals from the ground and making them accessible to other plants in the guild which have shallow roots.
3. Source of Fertilizer
Leaves and stems that are pruned from the plant accumulate on the ground and are broken down into compost that feeds the soil and improves its fertility. You can also create a green liquid fertilizer for future use by steeping comfrey leaves in water for several weeks until the mixture turns thick and dark. Comfrey leaves can also be added to compost in order to increase its nitrogen content.
Comfrey is a great plant to add to your permaculture guild due to its multifunctional properties, hardiness and tolerance to dry conditions and ease of growth. In addition to the benefits it supplies to the other layers in your guild, comfrey also has medicinal properties and is also used as a source of food for livestock.
To learn more about this versatile plant, consider signing up for a course at the Open permaculture school and regenerative leadership institute and get access to information that will help you make a decision on whether to include comfrey in your guild.