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Monday, May 11, 2015

Russian Comfrey - Plant Profile

Update:Hello and all the best to you all as spring really gets rolling.  In most of the country it is well established.  Here in north central Maine it is a little slower and the farm is still inaccessible via the 6 mile woods road to it's wilderness location.  Most of the top half of the country has some sort of  mud season.  Here it is a big thing and really does shut down roads for weeks.  We are preparing for a working blitz as soon as we can get in there.  The blog will become again much more real-time once we do it.  The first thing will be to assess the winter damage, if any to the seaberry orchard.  Snow causes significant damage to the plants in Mansfield, MA.  Having said that, the plants didn't seem to mind a few broken branches.  We are wrapping up the Massachusetts location and moving everything to Maine- lots of that is complete already.  We are working out of a temporary shipping facility in Bangor, ME, again, until the woods allow us to return.

Russian Comfrey for Your Integrated Permaculture World- 

Information collected from

Traits of All Russian Comfrey Cultivars

All types of Russian Comfrey (cultivars Bocking No. 1 through Bocking No. 21) are botanically known as "Symphytum × uplandicum" or "Symphytum x uplandica". They all are a cross (natural hybrid, not GMO) between rough comfrey and common comfrey.

They grow to 4 feet tall including the flower stalk. Russian comfrey has purple, magenta-pink, red or blue (that fade to pink) flowers. The seeds are not viable (sterile, will not grow). It has to be reproduced by root and crown cuttings.

Russian Comfrey is very hardy. The foliage (leaves) can tolerate 15 degrees for short periods. The perennial roots can withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees. It can survive in temperatures as hot as 120 degrees. Good in USDA Zones 2-9.

The powerful roots of Russian Comfrey Bocking #4 go down 8-10 feet. Bocking #14 roots go down 6-8 feet. Both are good plants to use to break up hard soil.
Russian Comfrey is High in Protein

The protein amount in dried comfrey is 20-30%. Most beans (legumes) are around 8-9%. Soybeans are around 17%.

"I (have) comfrey roots, that I intend to use for rabbits I am raising for food and for fertilizing later on. They have come up beautifully and are looking very nice and healthy. " -Cindy, Jacksboro, Tennessee

Russian Comfrey is High in Biomass

Both Russian Comfreys produce up to 100-120 tons per acre of leaf biomass (recently cut) per year. This is about 12.4 tons of dried comfrey leaf per acre. This is 3 times the amount that True Comfrey produces.

Alfalfa yields 18 tons per acre (just cut). Corn is 25 tons per acre before it is dried. Pasture grass is 25 tons an acre.

The drawing below is Russian Comfrey from Lawrence Hills' book "Russian Comfrey: A Hundred Tons an Acre".

Feeding Comfrey to Livestock

Every farm should grow comfrey. Livestock love Russian comfrey.

If using comfrey to feed animals, there are several ways to do it. One is to plant your roots where the animals can not reach them. Then cut all the leaves and stalks off a few inches from the ground. A sickle works well for this. Bring the leaves to the animals. Repeat in a few weeks.

The photo below a Toggenburg doe and doeling in my pasture with comfrey #14 and other plants.

Rotational Grazing of Comfrey

Another way is to use rotational grazing. Plant comfrey in your pasture with other plants. Let your animals in that pasture for a day, a few days or a week. Stop them before they eat everything down too much. Then let your pasture grow back and repeat.

Animals will weaken the comfrey plant if left with it all the time. They love it too much.

Russian Comfrey #4 and #14 Are Similar

Both Bocking #4 and #14 can be used as garden fertilizer, compost activator, mulch, medicine, or be fed to animals as fodder.

Both reduce transplant shock of plants. Put some leaves in the hole before you replant.

This photo is a Toggenburg goat eating some Russian Comfrey Bocking #14. Goats like all types of comfrey.

Comfrey and Your Garden

Bocking #14 is more frequently used as a garden fertilizer because its stalks are a little thinner than #4 so it decomposes faster. Bocking #4 is used more as an animal fodder (feed). However, either variety can fulfill your needs if you only want to grow one type. The differences between the two are small. 

Leaves are wilted and then placed in a hole or trench to act as nutrition for whatever is planted in the hole such as potatoes or a tomato plant.

Comfrey and Liquid Fertilizer

Another way to use it is by making liquid fertilizer or compost tea. You put about 5 pounds of comfrey leaves in 7 gallons of water. If you want a lot of fertilizer, use a 55 gallon barrel. Use a proportional amount of leaves. Cover with a lid and let sit for 4-6 weeks. The liquid is used to fertilize your plants. 

This photo is Russian Comfrey with frosty leaves. It is very frost hardy.

Comparing #14 to #4: Potassium

Russian Comfrey is high in potash (potassium). Dried leaves of Bocking #14 are 7.09% potash. Bocking #4 is 5.04%. True Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) has 5.3% potash.

Wilted Comfrey #14 has more than twice as much potash as farm manure and 30% more than compost.

Comfrey NPK

The Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium (NPK) ratio of True Comfrey is 1.80-0.50-5.30.

In the chart to the left, fresh leaves of Comfrey #14 compares favorably to farm yard manure in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Rust and Drought Resistance

Bocking #14 Comfrey is more rust resistant. Rust is a fungal disease. Disease is very rare in all comfrey. 

Bocking #4 is more drought resistant than #14 because it has deeper roots. Though both are very drought resistant because they have very deep roots. 

If you would like even more information please visit

Nancy Shirley has written a book with tons of information and passion for farming.  

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