Comfrey has long been touted as a miracle plant by permaculture enthusiasts for its soil-boosting properties. Does it really heal damaged soil?
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I have long advocated that no permaculture homestead is complete without comfrey. I’ve written a lot on comfrey over the years:
- What is comfrey and how to grow it
- Comfrey’s role in growing your best fruit trees
- 7 ways to fertilize the garden with comfrey
Why is comfrey supposed to be so amazing?
Comfrey’s roots reach deep down into the soil, breaking up hard-pan clay, and enriching it as the roots die back and decompose.
Comfrey leaves are an amazing mulch. Comfrey accumulates nutrients in its leaves, which can be chopped-and-dropped as nutrient-rich mulch every couple of weeks throughout the summer.
Comfrey’s spring-blooming flowers are important to the bumble bees.The early-blooming comfrey flowers attract pollinators and provide them with much-needed early season nectar.
If the plant is not chopped and is left to grow, the giant leaves provide habitat for beneficial insects like spiders.
The leaves have miraculous healing properties for both skin and bone injuries, and are popularly made into a comfrey salve.
Open Source Science
There has only been one problem with the permaculture community shouting from the rooftops about comfrey’s badass skills:
Permaculturists world-wide operate as open-source scientists. Permaculture designers run their own trials with suggested techniques and report back to the community about what worked and what didn’t. If it worked, more designers give the technique a try, thus creating more supportive evidence.
The upside is that permaculture science is fast evolving without the expensive, top-heavy, corporate-funded research of a university. Permaculture is accessible and affordable to anyone who is willing to seek out education through:
- Books (such as Gaia’s Garden and The Suburban Micro-Farm)
- Courses (see my article How to choose a permaculture class)
- Visits to your property from a professional designer (See my article 3 reasons to hire a permaculture designer for your landscape)
The downside is that this homegrown research data sometimes lacks credibility. A double-edged sword, no doubt. It’s tough to know if a particular technique—like growing comfrey for its ability to accumulate nutrients in its leaves—is a tried-and-true solution or if it’s an old wives’ tale.
One permaculturist set out to take some soil samples over time and see whether this whole comfrey thing was actually true: Did it improve his soil?
After 5 years of comfrey, the topsoil in this sample shows a lower pH and higher percent organic matter than any of the previous samples, and the nutrient levels are practically off the charts – a 47 to 232% increase over the previously observed highs.
I did not test for calcium or magnesium either before or after, but just on the basis of NPK the comfrey is completely vindicated.”
To celebrate, plant some for yourself today! I recommend planting Bocking 14 root cuttings.
Need more ideas for building soil in the permaculture garden?
Click here to get your 19-page Guide to Organic Soil Amendments!
Would you like to learn more about using plants to regenerate healthy soil?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Have you noticed any improvements in your garden after adding comfrey to it?