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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Symphytum - Comfrey

I try to do a perennial spotlight every few weeks. Yesterday I wrote one for my Melanie's Perennials blog, it featured some of the hardy Geraniums in bloom right now.

Another perennial that is deserving of the spotlight is Symphytum which is commonly known as Comfrey or Borage. Any book on herbs contains a page on this hardy perennial. Throughout history it has been used for many different ailments, unfortunately it has come to light that internal use of this plant causes liver cancer.

While I grow quite a few herbs in my garden, I rarely use them in any way other than ones specifically grown for flavoring foods (fennel, basil, mint, rosemary and so on). I have no problem keeping this lovely plant in my garden.

The tallest of the three comfrey's growing in my garden is this purplish/blue one.

I would love to have the full botanical name for this plant but I never purchased it with a tag. My friend Kim and I each rescued a small piece that had been planted at a local historical house. I am just crazy about it and look forward to seeing how it grows in future years.

Another Symphytum in my garden is this pale white/pink variety. I actually purchased this one at a local nursery but none of the pots had labels in them. I have it planted in full sun and part shade, it appears happy in either condition and has been blooming for almost a month now.

In one of my front gardens we had a telephone pole that had broken. The phone company simply cut it off at ground level and put in a new pole. I was worried that nothing would grow near the rotting base of the old pole so planted Symphytum in that spot.

I had read that Symphtum is an invasive plant but so far I have yet to experience any type of invasiveness from any of these varieties. Maybe that one reference was wrong?

This pink blooming one is the only one I have the full name for, it's Symphytum 'Langham's Pink'.

The leaves on Symphytum are rough to the touch and have been used (and still are used) to make a poultice to help knit broken bones. Another use I've read about is to add them to your compost pile to speed up decomposition or to make compost tea with them. I have tried the tea, it stinks to high heaven so I haven't tried it again. If any of you make compost tea with this plant I'd love to know about it.

Over the years I've seen another Symphytum for sale, it's name is 'Goldsmith' and it has foliage that is marbled with yellow & green. Although I did buy this and plant it in my garden in semi-shade it is not here now. I would try it again if I saw it for sale but put it in a sunnier location.

Searching on-line I found some great information at Wikipedia The article states that comfrey grows back quickly after being cut back. This is something I have had first hand experience with, I've cut mine back hard after flowering, put the foliage on the compost heap and had a new flush of growth and bloom.

One thing I haven't tried yet is to divide any of my comfrey. Let me know if you have!

Melanie

5 comments:

rockriverstitches said...

Very interesting plant!! Will have to look for this one next time I'm out shopping for flowers. Love looking at all your garden pics! Just beautiful!

Tammy

webb said...

In my color palette - definitely going to give it a try. thanks.

Hoot Owl Hollow Nursery said...

We grow two variegated versions of Comfrey. All of the comfreys seem to be difficult to divide because they make a single hard crown. These variegated ones don't seem to set seed and aren't invasive. Borage, though, can be quite invasive because it self seeds too readily. I still grow it for the beautiful blue flowers and just dead head before it gets a chance to spread itself throughout my beds.

Randy Emmitt said...

Melanie,
Meg wants this plant, but have not found a local source for it. We saw it growing in the seeds Garden in Durham, NC this spring. Really enjoyed this post and the lovely photos!

ladyfern said...

Hi there! Loved your pictures of comfrey. Mine never gets much of a chance to bloom because I cut on it throughout the season. I use it as a fertilizer on everything. The tea is terribly stinky but I have an advantage. I have teenagers! Once a week we take a 5 gallon bucket of this tea and dump it into an over sized rubber maid container and hand out the buckets. Everything in the garden gets a drink and everything thrives! You may want to reconsider its benefits as a fertilizer simply because it cost you nothing to do. Poop stinks too but I bet you use that! Anyway, happy gardening. I've enjoyed your blog.
Peace, Angie
http://agardenamongsttheweeds.blogspot.com/