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Propagating Comfrey: Easy and Rewarding

Amelia has been an avid gardener since childhood and enjoys experimenting with natural and sustainable gardening methods.

Several large patches of comfrey fill in between trees and shrubs in my food forest.

Several large patches of comfrey fill in between trees and shrubs in my food forest.

Comfrey is possibly the most abundant temperate biomass crop, as well as a medicinal and fodder crop. Who wouldn’t want to grow this useful plant?

Fortunately, it is also very easy to propagate. If you don’t have comfrey yet, it can easily be grown from root cuttings you find online. If you already have a plant, however, it could easily, within the year, be five or more plants.

My Experience Growing Comfrey

When I started my backyard food forest, I had no comfrey, so I ordered about 30 comfrey root cuttings. As soon as the weather warmed, at least half of them sprung up immediately. There was a strong correlation between the amount of water each area got and the number of cuttings that sprouted.

Interestingly, the following spring, some cuttings that hadn’t sprouted the first year started sprouting. Then, even mid-summer of this year, I planted something my daughter gave me. And as I started watering a very dry area, another cutting sprung up a year and a half after planting!

Well, my comfrey plants were doing quite well, but I found it a nuisance to have comfrey growing right in front of my patio. So, as the first growing season came to a close, I dug up those plants growing in front of my patio and distributed the divisions around the yard, splitting each plant in three or more parts. This spring, not only did the comfrey come up in all the places I had moved it to, but it also came up right in front of the patio.

Later this spring, I repeated the process with two other comfrey plants, splitting them into many plants. From those two plants, I planted half a dozen divisions (parts of the plant, containing root and leaf), as well as over a dozen root cuttings—all have sprung up. Furthermore, multiple plants have sprung up in the places from which I removed the comfrey plants.

Perhaps a warning is order: While it is not invasive, it is very tenacious. So consider carefully where you want to plant it.

Growing Comfrey From Cuttings

Early spring is the best time to do this. But any time works, as long as you can keep the soil moist. I got my original cuttings online from Etsy, I believe. Plant as soon as possible after your cuttings arrive to prevent rot.

  1. Dig a hole, 2” deep and wide enough to lay the cutting horizontally.
  2. Drop cutting in hole.
  3. Cover with dirt.
  4. Water immediately and regularly until established.

Simple. In less than a month (unless it is winter), you should see your comfrey plant begin to emerge. The first leaves will be only a couple inches long and oval. In the first year, it will grow a foot high and a couple feet wide. The following spring it will grow wider, and the flower heads will grow 3 feet high. Talk about biomass!

Comfrey is amazingly resilient.  This hugelkultur often dries out and the comfrey wilts. But as soon as it gets some water, it springs back to life.

Comfrey is amazingly resilient. This hugelkultur often dries out and the comfrey wilts. But as soon as it gets some water, it springs back to life.

Propagating by Division

By this method, you will end up with some cuttings as well as divisions. For the cuttings, plant as for cuttings above. If you planted cuttings in the spring, you can probably use the resulting plant for division in the fall. If you wait until spring, however, you will likely get as much as twice as many divisions.

  1. Choose a large, healthy comfrey plant at least one whole growing season old.
  2. Cut off the leaves.
  3. Dig up the whole plant. Dig down at least 6 inches and gently lift the plant out. It will likely come in sections.
  4. Pull gently to separate natural sections.
  5. Long roots can be trimmed to make planting easier. Plant as cuttings.
  6. Plant divisions out separately at the same depth and orientation (leaf side up) that they were when you dug them up.
  7. Pat the dirt in gently around them.
  8. Water.

The divisions will leaf out immediately, much faster than the cuttings, because the leaf-growing structures are already developed. Water daily for healthy new plants. Within a few weeks (or in spring if division is done in the fall or winter), you will have one to several new comfrey plants where the original plant was dug up.

Uses for Comfrey

In case you are wondering why you might want 14 new comfrey plants, let me give you a few reasons:

  • Biomass: Comfrey can produce up to seven cuttings in a year!
  • Medicinal uses: Only for external uses, comfrey is highly effective for bee stings, sprains, and more.
  • Fodder: Pollinators and poultry love this abundant herb.
  • Beauty: The simple elegance of comfrey is a welcome sight in the forest garden. When planted thickly, it can choke out grass and other undesired weeds.
  • Compost: Comfrey is a great compost activator and can be made into a nourishing compost tea to be used in your garden.

Making new comfrey plants is so simple and the dividends are so abundant. This is definitely a worthwhile DIY project!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Amelia Walker (author) from Idaho on August 28, 2019:

Thanks for the comment, Linda!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 2019:

Thanks for sharing the information. I've never considered growing comfrey before, but it sounds like a great idea.