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Comfrey

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn Spring Spring Summer Summer

A common and surprisingly tasty treat when battered and fried.  See the Hedgerow Medicinal section 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 variegated 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 and purple. Pictured.

Green Alkanet is also similar, but again the flowers are quite different, rather more like Forget Me Not flowers, being small, flat and bright 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 to be sure you only eat from this safer 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 pharmaceutical 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.

Comfrey and other members of family Boraginaceae have a special fungal pathogen, called Comfrey Rust (Melampsorella symphyti), which appears on the rear side of the Comfrey leaves. The undersides may be completely covered with the rusty orange-yellow coloured uredinia, (see picture). Uredinia are pustules which form from a mass of hyphae and spores of a rust fungus, which then rupture the host’s cuticle. Comfrey Rust is a common fungal disease in the UK.

COMMENTS

11 comments for Comfrey

  1. judy says:

    I think this is the plant my dog loves to eat the leaves of on her walks. Is this possible, and will it be causing her any harm, she eats a lot of it, would it be for her digestion? I would be interested to know why Esme does this.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      There is some concern about eating comfrey due to some tests on mice, injecting them with an alkaloid contained in some comfrey plants twice a day for some months. Many had tumours on their livers but these were later found to be benign. The end of the report suggests that human consumption of comfrey is safe but the report caused panic on the internet about comfrey. Purple flowered comfrey contains the alkaloid apparently white flowered doesn’t. I will still eat either, just not twice a day every day!

    2. michael says:

      My dog does the same, loves the stuff but only takes one bite out of each leaf … I think it’s instinctively done to help thier digestion… they’re senses are more a tune than ours for stuff like this… the Roman soldiers when marching weeks upon weeks used to plant comfrey as soon as they made camp for to them it was kown as knitbone— for its incredible healing abilities it’s can literally knit bone

  2. Becky says:

    This is great advice, clear to understand and well balanced. I picked several leaves of comfrey yesterday that grows near me, but it has purple flowers to I’ll give consumption a miss and use it as fertiliser instead. I didn’t know that about white and purple flowering plants.

    Thank you for this wonderful website.

  3. Girla B says:

    Where can I find recipes for the comfrey fritters and other recipes? I have only used Comfrey in compost , have quite a lot of the white flowering plants in my garden

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      A recipe for comfrey fritters is on our website in the recipes section.

  4. Bee feeder says:

    Here it states white comfrey flowers in May, other references say April. However, mine started flowering at the beginning of March? Not as tall or profuse as the purple comfrey and it doesn’t get ‘leggy’ and collapse, but excellent plants which I started a couple of years ago from a single feral rescue, and now have ten. Shame is that the bees aren’t around yet to enjoy them.

  5. Deming says:

    Isn’t Comfrey rich in Potash (see RHS website, https://www.rhs.org.uk/garden-jobs/fertilisers) , hence when composted, I suppose, it makes soil rich more with Potassium than with Nitrogen? Its roots do go very deep into the soil for a couple of metres, hence it is likely to scoop up quite a big amount of nitrogen as well, though.

  6. Linda says:

    Topical Pain Relief—I have purchased dried comfrey leaves for decades and used it as a treatment for sore muscles, and topical pain relief.

    Once, after breaking my baby toe, it was throbbing in pain. I quickly submerged some comfrey leaves in a small pan of water on the stove at a low simmer until the water was dark green, 10 to 15 minutes. I added that to more water and put my toe in it: the pain was gone in a couple of minutes.

    I was so excited to find it growing in my front yard this year!

  7. sia says:

    Immense gratitude for your article.
    I have loads of purple comfrey in the garden which I use for compost activator; mulch; fertilizer and am yet to use it for pain relief.
    Have noticed a white flower comfrey come up and wanted to know if it differed to the purple.
    So I am now super keen to try it as fritters knowing it’s definitely safe to eat. It is also high in B12.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      White comfrey is our native comfrey and is considered safe to eat. There was some controversy over purple comfrey but you would need to eat large amounts every day for a period of time for it to be of any harm.

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