One of the most useful plants I grow is not one we eat. Rather, it is that workhorse of the permaculture garden – comfrey. If you are already into permaculture, you are no doubt already aware of the benefits of this perennial plant. But for those who are new to the concept, here is a brief primer to help you understand why this is such a useful plant to grow in your garden.
Comfrey Attracts Pollinators and Other Beneficial Wildlife
The comfrey in my forest garden is just coming into flower – and going close to it reminds me of one of the reasons that growing it is such a good idea. I can hear the buzzing of all the bees around it from quite far away. I’ve seen tree bumblebees, red-tailed bumblebees, white-tailed bumblebees, common carder bees and a range of other native species visiting these flowers – and they all seem to love them. In my non-scientific opinion – they make a bee line for the comfrey, choosing it preferentially over other flowers in bloom in the area.
Comfrey is a Marvellous Mulch
This weekend, I’ve been using comfrey to mulch the tomatoes growing in my polytunnel. While leaving some flowers for the bees, I chop back armfuls of leaves and stems at this time of year to place around crops elsewhere in the garden. The plant will then put on plenty of new growth to chop again later in the year.
The degree to which comfrey is able to dynamically accumulate nutrients, and the amounts of various nutrients returned to the soil are not scientifically verified. But in my personal experience, tomatoes and other fruiting or flowering crops do seem to benefit from a comfrey mulch laid on the soil around them.
Of course, some of the benefit is simply from the fact that the large leaves cover the soil, helping to retain moisture and reduce competition from weeds. But I do think comfrey is a better mulch than other mulches I have tried.
Comfrey Gets Your Compost Going
I also pop some compost leaves on my cold composting pile. They rot down quickly, and help to get things going as we head into the summer months, and there will be plenty more material to add.
Comfrey Can Be Used To Make a Liquid Feed
I also use comfrey to make a liquid feed for plants.
And Chickens Love it Too
Our chickens love to eat the comfrey leaves. So much so, in fact, that I have to grow it in an area which they cannot access and toss some leaves to them. Otherwise they just eat it to the ground before it has a chance to get going in the spring.
I would usually hesitate to recommend a plant in this general way. It is, of course, very important to choose the right plant for your specific garden. But comfrey is such a useful plant in so many locations, that it is well worth considering for a wide range of different garden designs. I’m not saying that it will definitely be right for you. But it could very well be a great plant to consider.