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Comfrey

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn Spring Spring Summer Summer

A common and surprisingly tasty treat when battered and fried.  See Other Facts below before consumption.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Comfrey, Knitbone
Scientific Name Symphytum officinale
Season Start May
Season End Oct
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.

Leaves

Large, broad, lance shaped, hairy and sometimes varigated leaves. The leaf edges extend down the stem giving a winged appearance to the stem.

Flowers

Comfrey has clusters of bell/trumpet shaped flowers that can be white, pink, yellow, blue, red or purple.

Stem

The stems can be ‘winged’ with the leaf edges extending down from the leaf.

Habitat

Damp grassy places, ditches, riversides, bogs, fens, hedgerows, lanes and damp woodland.

Possible Confusion

Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, leaves look very similar before flowering but the flowers of Foxglove are different being deeply trumpet shaped, large an purple. Pictured.
Green Alkanet is similar but again the flowers are different being small, flat and blue.

Taste

Unique.

Frequency

Common.

Collecting

Only pick from white flowered Comfrey, see below. The younger, higher up leaves are more succulent to use as a green but the older, thicker leaves are better for making fritters from. People have used the stems, cooking them a little like asparagus. The roots have been used roasted as a coffee substitute, mixed with dandelion.

Medicinal Uses

Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids some of which can harm the liver so some foragers no longer consider this a safe plant to eat but we still eat comfrey fritters from time to time as have many people with no obvious ill effects. Quantity is the key, a little every now and again is not likely to cause any harm.
White flowered Comfrey does not contain echimidine, the pyrrolizine alkaloid that is causing concern at the moment so wait until the plant flowers and eat only from the white flowering variety.Comfrey has long been used to ‘knit bones’, used as a poultice it it is said to help broken bones heal although this may originate from the grated root being used like plaster of Paris as it can be moulded before setting very hard.
As with a lot of plants comfrey is said to treat many different conditions but none seem to have been scientifically proven although the phamaceutical industry take quite an interest in this plant.

Other Facts

Composted Comfrey leaves make one of the best fertilizers known and helps enrich the soil with nitrogen.

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