Comfrey – the gardener’s pet herb

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe who used comfrey for many years in Ireland and the UK before moving to Spain some twenty years ago. Authors of a number of books on gardening in Spain- Click here for details.

For years we grew a few comfrey plants but only since moving to Spain – where the plants grow wonderfully well – have we had sufficient all the year round. Our original seven small cuttings are now over five hundred large plants about to be split again in the next couple of weeks. Below we illustrate the many ways in which we use comfrey during the year. Although we use many natural herb based infusions and concoctions in our gardening comfrey is the most frequently used.

We plant our comfrey – the Russian or Bocking 14 variety – around the perimeter of our vegetable and soft fruit allotment There are four reasons for this.

  1. It is a convenient place.
  2. It creates a good looking healthy low hedge around the plot.
  3. This boundary hedge is easy to cut without disturbing other plants.
  4. The dense hedge provides our first line of defence against snails coming onto the plot from surrounding orange groves, other vegetable plots and the ancient water channels which we use to flood the plot each week during the hotter months when there has not been a storm. The snails eat the outer leaves and get overfull. They can then be collected from under the outer leaves to put in a snail cage where they are fed on rosemary for a month before cooking for a delicious starter dish.

The leaves are harvested several times a year. Most are put into coarse bags and then covered with water in large barrels to decay for a month or two to produce a potent natural fertilizer rich in potassium – especially important for fruit vegetables – and with a useful nitrogen and phosphorus content. The resultant strong solution is This is used independently after diluting with water or in a cocktail together with nettle, horsetail and neem solutions. The cocktail acts as a good natural fertilizer, fungicide, insecticide and controller of slugs.

How we use comfrey in the garden

  • A very important use is the annual mulching of very productive lines of raspberries not normally grown in our region of Spain.
  • Kiwi, blackberry, redcurrants, blackcurrants and grape vines are also mulched with comfrey leaves.
  • Fruit trees grown in the garden and in containers are given comfrey feeds during the spring and summer months.
  • The hot dry climate means that special care needs taking in layering compost heaps –See the chapter on Composting in each of our three latest books. Comfrey leaves are added as an excellent accelerator and as compostable material which enriches the final compost.
  • Comfrey leaves have a useful potash content.
  • Trenches prepared for planting peas and beans are lined with comfrey leaves before filling with compost from the compost heap.
  • Each seed potato is wrapped in comfrey leaves before sowing in holes or trenches.
  • Pot plants are fed every three months with a dilute comfrey solution.
  • When we plant out young seedlings or plant seeds we surround them with a line of freshly picked comfrey leaves as a deterrent to snails and slugs. They do not like to slide over the hairy leaves.

How we use comfrey on the gardener

  • If overeating and drinking causes a mild attack of gout a comfrey poultice helps soon get the swelling down.
  • Likewise a comfrey poultice on a sprained or strained muscle fro gardening or mountain walking often accelerates recovery.

We hope this stimulates more gardeners to plant up and actively use comfrey in the above ways – not just in Spain but world wide..

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe 1st October 2007.