Let’s talk about my gardening mistakes. Buy a keg and stop by — when the two of us have emptied it we’ll have arrived at the story of Comrade Comfrey, the monster mafiya thug in my garden.
See him? That big ole hosta is two and a half feet tell, so you get the scale. He’s lurking in the background with his hairy leaves and droopy violet flowers. We rarely name our plants because 1)My father is a strict Gardening Latin guy and I try not to shame myself when I talk plants with him, and 2)My roses have pretty names of their own — Therese Bugnet, Abraham Darby and Betty Prior for three. But Comrade Comfrey isn’t just a plant: (Symphytum x uplandicum , Daddy) he’s my garden antagonist, my Professor Moriarty, my own personal KGB Colonel. Somehow, “That damned Symphytum x uplandicum” doesn’t have the right ring. We curse him by name.
Oh, twenty years ago I went through a misguided and unselective course of reading about medicinal herbs, and bought a book called “Medicinal Herbs”. The authors were true believers, and described comfrey (folk name Knitbone) as a cross between penicillin and all-natural steroid skin ointment. There is some evidence, real clinical trials and everything, that prove that used topically it can speed up healing of flesh wounds, rashes, bug bites — even acne. But the authors neglected to provide the small print: “When taken internally in sufficient quantities Symphytum x uplandicum may cause liver failure and some forms of cancer.”
So much for combining it with sorrel for soup. Darina Allen provides a recipe for Comfrey Fritters in her Forgotten Skills of Cooking, but she adds this caveat: “No one should eat too much comfrey as it can cause liver toxicity’but these fritters, made from the young leaves are nutritious and delicious — in small doses of course.” Ta, Love.
Wouldn’t you know, the best purpose for Comrade Comfrey is to him cut him up and let him rot! He’s such a hog for nutrients that he makes a sensational fertilizer tea or mulch. Check this out, from the interwebs — not only does peeing on him not kill him, it makes him strong. The Commissars trained him well.
Comfrey is a fast growing plant, producing huge amounts of leaf during the growing season, and hence is very nitrogen hungry. Although it will continue to grow no matter what, it will benefit from the addition of animal manure applied as a mulch, and can also be mulched with other nitrogen rich materials such as lawn mowings, and is one of the few plants that will tolerate the application of fresh urine diluted 50:50 with water, although this should not be regularly added as it may increase salt levels in the soil and have adverse effects on soil life such as worms.
Comrade wasn’t planted near the hosta, he was planted in a bed thirty feet away. When I was slashing the original plant with a machete a piece of one leaf blew across the lawn and found a place it liked. That monster grew from one leaf lying on the ground. It spreads more efficiently than mint. (Mint: My gardening mistake #1. Bring over the rum and I’ll tell you all about it over mojitos.) I thought Victor and amigos had eradicated the original plant. Hah!