Comfrey – Dave Hamilton

Dave, 30 October 2009, 5 comments
Categories: Outdoors, The soil, The vegetable patch, Wild foods
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Common Comfrey is related to both the herb ‘borage’ and the similar plant ‘Russian comfrey.’   Herbalists have used it for centuries, including the classical Greeks and the Turks.   Its old English name was ‘knit-bone’ or ‘bone-set’ because its ability to heal wounds.

Comfrey – As a plant feed

Comfrey is often eliminated as a weed from many a garden and plot. It can get a bit out of hand but by no means should it be considered a weed. It is extremely useful as a plant feed.  Some reports, claim  its long roots absorb nutrients usually only taken up by tree roots.   It does seem to contain a high number of nutrients and has high amounts of potash, making it an excellent feed for tomatoes.   The leaves should be placed into a bucket of water and left until it starts to give of a disgusting smell.   The foul smelling liquid (and believe me it does smell bad) can then be diluted and used as a plant feed on most plants on a vegetable plot.

A non-smelly method involves putting the leaves in a bucket with a perforated base. Put this perforated bucket into another one and weigh down the leaves, rather like putting sieve into a bowl.  The resulting liquid will make a concentrated feed without the smell.

You can also layer comfrey into a compost heap for a more fertile compost. For more information check out my book Grow your food for free (well almost) .

Comfrey as a food

It has been brought to our notice that many organisations are against the consumption of comfrey as it has been linked with liver damage. Thanks to the reader who told us, we have decided to keep this article up for the time being and let you make your own minds up, the comfrey in the recipes can be substituted for spinach, fat hen, nettle or any number of wild leaves available throughout the year. Please do your own research of scientific literature and make an informed decision before you eat any comfrey.

Comfrey can make an excellent food for both humans and plants alike.   It can be a valuable source of B12 if grown in a position where this nutrient is available to the plant.   B12 is a strange nutrient and many vegans find it lacking in their diet as it is usually found in meat and dairy products.   B12 can be formed by bacteria so is present in many fermented products such as yogurt, soy sauce and Marmite.   It can also be present in the soil; it is made as a by-product of many microorganisms present in the soil.

In addition to  0.7mg/100g of B12, they also contain -

B1, Thiamine 0.5mg/100g
B2, Riboflavin 1mg/100g
Niacin 5mg
Pantothenic Acid 4.2mg
Vitamin C 100mg
Iron, Calcium, Pro Vitamin A Trace

Comfrey Pasta

Ingredients – weights and measures conversion chart
One Onion
Garlic to taste
5 Mushrooms – (Button or freshly picked ceps)
20 or so leaves of Comfrey
Pinch of Nutmeg
Some oil for frying, (pref. Rapeseed oil)
Olive oil or Butter to flavour
Black pepper
Basil
Pasta for two

Method

Fry up the onions until soft then add garlic.

Add the mushrooms and once softened add the comfrey and cook until wilted.

Chuck in the remaining ingredients

Serve with pasta and garlic bread and a smile.

Comfrey fritters.

Sift 200g of plain flour add a pinch of salt and pepper. Add a knob of butter and half a pint of milk, stir and add the egg.  You can leave the mixture to stand but this is not always necessary.

Coat one or two leaves with the batter

Fry until crispy, serve as a snack or a starter.

Comfrey bhajis

This is more or less a vegan version of the above recipe.   Make a batter using garam flour, a pinch of coriander powder and/or fresh leaves, sparkling or still water and other spices of your preference.   Mix until it has a thick but not solid consistency.

Add some chopped comfrey leaves and mix trying to ensure most of the comfrey is coated with the batter. Deep-fry until golden brown and puffed up.  

Comfrey Aloo.

An excellent version of the traditional Indian dish Saag Aloo substituting the spinach for comfrey.   It can also be made with nettles and or a mix of any seasonal wild leaves, (good King Henry etc).

Part boil some potatoes whilst toasting coriander, fennel, fenugreek and cumin seeds.   Take the seeds from the dry pan and crush in pestle and mortar or on a chopping board with a meat cleaver or side of a big knife. Fry some onions, garlic, ginger and chilies. Add the part boiled potatoes and crushed seeds.   Add some comfrey leaves and a little turmeric to colour.   Cook until potatoes are soft and the comfrey has wilted.

Can be served with naan bread, yoghurt and comfrey bhajis.

Comfrey has traditionally also been used as a flavouring for wine and butter in Russia and the Baltic.   It has also been widely used as an animal fodder.  

Comfrey Pancakes

Make a batter the same as in comfrey fritters above.

Chop two comfrey leaves finely and add to a pan of hot oil. Pour in the mixture so that it just covers the bottom of the pan. Fry each side until golden.

NB. – The responsibility of what is done with the information on all of our pages belongs to those who view it and not to anyone who works at selfsufficientish.com.


Comments

5 Responses, Leave a Reply
  1. Bernie Rees
    23 November 2009, 3:18 am

    Comfrey, like spinach, apparently contains a substance which inhibits the absorption of iron by the body if eaten uncooked. I discovered this by personal experience, having eaten raw green leafy plants including Russian Comfrey (Bocking 14) from our garden over a period of months. Far from improving my health, this diet eventually left me tired, weak and listless. Stopping eating them raw has left me fitter, but it has taken almost a year, including taking iron tablets. (I am a fairly fit 58 year old doing regular gardening, fencing, landscaping, tree surgery and general fooling about.)
    Interesting footnote: annual checkup at my doctor’s revealed anaemia, for which several intimate internal investigations failed to find a reason. My suggestions that raw comfrey and spinach could be the cause were politely ignored. The cause of the anaemia still seems to be a medical mystery to my doctors and consultants.
    I now think it best to compost the Comfrey for the plants. Plenty of other stuff to eat instead.

  2. Dave
    23 November 2009, 9:58 am

    Spinach, rhubarb and leaves of the goose-foot family (fat hen etc) all contain oxalate. So you are absolutely right to take them out of your diet as they will indeed bind with iron forming iron oxalate – leading to anaemia. The oxalate also binds with calcium and cause kidney stones!! Any Doctor worth his salt will know this.
    Thanks for your comments – very interesting, I wasn’t aware of comfrey containing oxalate too but will look into it.

  3. CulinaryCaveman
    05 December 2009, 4:34 pm

    You are quite right to focus on comfrey, along with stinging nettles they make the best fertilizer. Also they are fantastic for human consumption, requiring at the very minimum some blanching. The FDA is scaremongering at the moment because it has obviously received a ‘research grant’ from a pharmaceutical conglomerate that wishes to find some secret curative ingredients amongst its phytonutrients from the amazing comfrey, beit anti-carcinogen or heart and blood help.
    Delighted I stumbled on your site, for being a bit ‘ish’ it is surprisingly spot on.
    Harmonious vibrations . . . The CC

  4. paul chesters
    27 June 2010, 10:13 am

    my mother-in-law suffers from haemochromatosis which is an over abundance of iron in the body and is very dangerous. I wonder if eating raw spinach would help reduce the uptake of iron in the diet?

  5. Dave
    07 July 2010, 12:34 pm

    Perhaps it would but it could lead to other problems – oxylates in spinach more readily bind with calcium, causing kidney stones. A much safer alternative would be to include more calcium in the diet, perhaps in the form of low-fat dairy or tofu. Calcium inhibits the uptake of iron, one glass of milk can half the amount of iron absorbed. If she hasn’t already perhaps she should see a dietician?

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