Can Comfrey Grow in the Tropics?


Comfrey is a very versatile plant with numerous uses that make it a must have in any garden. Many gardeners, especially permaculturalists, have been touting the benefits of growing comfrey for years.  But does comfrey grow in the tropics?

Lucky for us, comfrey not only grows in the tropics, but it thrives in the tropics.  In fact, it does well in almost any growing zone. In the tropics, comfrey is a fast growing herbacious perennial that is green all year, unlike its temperate counterpart that dies back in the cold season.

This miracle plant has so many uses that once you become accustomed to having it in your garden, you will find yourself using it for almost anything.  I love how it holds back grass and looks good while doing it, but there is so much more to it. Let’s dive deeper into comfrey so that we can learn what all the fuss is about.


Related: In order to propagate Comfrey, you need a good tool to dig it out of the ground. Here is a lnk to my favorite tool from Amazon.

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Description

Comfrey is a low growing, leafy perennial shrub that grows to about 3’ tall.  The leaves tend to be long, dark green and hairy, a little bit spiky even. It has beautiful pink/purple flowers that bees love.  In the tropics, the comfrey plant tends to only flower in the colder elevations in the spring.

Comfrey is a resilient plant that grows from zone 3-10.  Once established, it’s hard to kill. It grows very easily from root cutting so make sure that wherever you plant it, you want it in that spot because you can’t change your mind.

Benefits of Growing Comfrey

Comfrey has been known in the Permaculture circles as one of the most beneficial plants that can be grown in a garden.  It has many uses that make this plant indispensable. 

I chop the leaves of comfrey regularly to add to my compost pile or to make a fertilizer tea for the garden.  It’s like growing your own fertilizer. But it can do so much more than that.

THE ROOTS

Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator.  Its roots reach deep into the soil, breaking up hard pan, adding organic matter and mining the deep soil for vital nutrients and minerals that it then “shares” with other plants through leaf fall.

THE LEAVES

Comfrey accumulates nutrients in its leaves which can be used as fertilizer for other plant species.  By chopping the leaves and mulching them around the desired plant, you create a nutrient rich mulch that is practically an instant compost.  The leaves breakdown in no time, leaving rich nutritious organic matter behind.

In the tropics, the leaves of the comfrey plant can be cut almost indefinitely.  They grow back with extreme vigor when cut.

Adding comfrey leaves to a compost pile kick starts the breakdown process into high gear.  The leaves help any compost pile become more nutrient rich, making them vital for creating awesome compost where plants thrive.

The leaves of comfrey can also be used to make a foliar spray.  Comfrey is high in potash, making the foliar spray especially beneficial to your Solanaceae crops.

If that isn’t enough, comfrey leaves are used medicinally.  The leaves can be made into a poultice with antibiotic properties that rival any over the counter ointment when it comes to cuts, rashes or other skin ailments.

Wait, there’s more.  The leaves make a nutritious feed for livestock too.  Chickens, cows, sheep and goats can all benefit from access to the protein-rich/low fiber leaves of the comfrey plant.

Ok.  There’s probably more amazing uses of the comfrey leaf, but we’ll stop for now.

THE FLOWERS

Comfrey is a great source of nectar for local bees and other pollinating insects.  The flowers bloom at a time of year where pollen sources can be a bit harder to come by for some insects.  Providing comfrey for them can help tie them over.

The plant also makes great habitat for numerous other insect species that are beneficial to your garden.  Permaculture regularly speaks on stacking functions to provide multiple yields. Just by planting a single comfrey plant, you achieve that principle and more.

How to Propagate Comfrey

Comfrey is typically propagated in 2 ways, through division or root cuttings.  When dividing a comfrey plant, I like to cut the leaves off and set them aside, dig the whole plant out of the ground and divide it with a knife, machete or whatever cutting tool you have.

After the leaves are cut, it is easy to see the individual comfrey plants that you can divide.  Just follow the leaf stems to the base and slice right where they all meet up. You can also just hack into the thing and cut wherever you want.  The plant is so resilient it’s almost impossible to kill it.

You can also take root cuttings by digging out the roots around the plant and separate them out.  Roots that are 1.5” to 6” long are best. Root cuttings are able to provide more clones than by simple division.

I have a little trick for root cuttings though.  I have 2 comfrey plants that I grow in pots. I leave them in a spot in the garden where I would like new comfrey plants, around trees, near my tomatoes, wherever you want.  

After about a month or two, the comfrey has begun to root outside of the pot and into the native soil in my garden.  I just rip the potted comfrey off the ground and place it in its new home, breaking off tons of roots in the process.  These roots left behind grow new plants!

I don’t know about you but I’m a lazy gardener.  If there is a garden hack that will make my life easier, I’m going to take advantage of it.  This one has made it really easy for me to spread the gifts of comfrey throughout my garden with little effort on my part.

Related: Create An Off Grid Food Forest In Hawaii


How to Use Comfrey

Comfrey is a useful plant, but only if you know how to use it.  Let’s go over a couple of ways to use comfrey on your homestead.

WEED CONTROL

I love to plant comfrey on the drip line around my fruit trees where they can build soil and hold back encroaching weeds.  I have found comfrey to be exceptional at this job, even in Hawai’i where the grasses can be rampant.

If you never actively use comfrey, this use alone will save you tons of time keeping weeds at bay and providing fertilizer for your edible plants.

COMPOST ACTIVATOR
You can kickstart your compost pile by adding just a handful of comfrey leaves into your pile.  The nutrient accumulation in the leaves and the speed at which comfrey breaks down switches your compost making into overdrive.

It doesn’t take much, a couple of dozen leaves layered somewhere in the middle of your compost pile and you can accelerate the breakdown of your compost by almost a week.  My garden needs lots of compost. Having it breakdown as quickly as possible is a plus for me.

MULCH FERTILIZER

Comfrey leaves are so rich in nutrients that simply chopping the leaves and dropping them on the ground as mulch not only helps smother weeds but fertilizes your plants as well.  The leaves breakdown so quickly its almost as if you are applying a fertilizer rather than a mulch.

ANIMAL FEED
Preparing comfrey to feed to livestock depends on what type of livestock you are feeding the comfrey to.

I have yet to see a free ranging chicken take a bite out of comfrey growing in the garden, but take a chicken confined in a coop and feed it finely chopped comfrey leaves and they’ll gobble it right up.

As for cows, goats and sheep, they’re less picky I guess.  I have seen them chow down whole comfrey plants in a matter of minutes.  Lucky for us, comfrey grows right back.

MEDICINE

Comfrey has long been known as a powerful medicine. To use it, simply mash it in your fingers, use a mortar and pestle, or chew it up until it forms a paste. Apply it to a wound or skin rash and cover with a bandage.  It works just as well as any antibiotic ointment, doing a great job keeping infection out of the wound.

Propagating Comfrey

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Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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