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Lawrence Hills on comfrey

Lawrence HillsBooks in the popular press about permaculture are quick to sing comfrey's praises, but they are much slower to give any practical advice about how to use the wonder plant.  When I discovered that an entire book was written about comfrey in 1953, and that it can be downloaded for free from the Soil and Health library, I had to check it out.

Lawrence D. Hills' Russian Comfrey: A Hundred Tons an Acre of Stock Feed or Compost for Farm, Garden or Smallholding details the history and uses of comfrey from a British perspective.  I was surprised to read that comfrey has been used for over two hundred years in the United Kingdom, where the plant is praised for the high protein content of the leaves and for its prolific growth.  One farmer planted a quarter of an acre of comfrey, which provided feed for three cows and two horses, while others feed comfrey to poultry and pigs.  The same qualities make comfrey a great crop to create copious compost or compost tea.

On the other hand, Hills is quick to point out that not all farmers love the wonder crop.  Comfrey was immensely popular in the mid 1800s, but soon letters started appearing in agricultural publications and newspapers.  Hills wrote:Comfrey flower

...the most frequently quoted letter of all appeared in an Irish newspaper, stating that no beasts or sheep would eat Comfrey, detailing the ploughing, harrowing, hoeing, and finally picking up by hand into baskets unsuccessfully employed, and finishing with the plea 'Can you or any of your correspondents tell me how to get rid of it?'

 So, what's the deal?  Is comfrey worth its salt?  How should it be grown and used?  Stay tuned to hear the answers in this week's lunchtime series.

(By the way, all of the black and white pictures in this lunchtime series, with the exception of the one above of Lawrence Hills, are taken directly from his book.)

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This post is part of our Comfrey lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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The roots of the comfrey (Symphytum Officinale) are useful for helping wounds and even broken bones heal. They contain a compound that promotes cell division. But internal use is discouraged because of the alkaloid content.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon May 31 19:00:40 2010
The leaves seem to work the same way. I've lightly cooked leaves (to get rid of the spines) and used them as a poultice on really bad cuts, and they healed up remarkably fast!
Comment by anna Mon May 31 19:55:08 2010

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