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Symphytum uplandicum - Nyman.                
Common Name Comfrey
Family Boraginaceae
Known Hazards This plant contains small quantities of a toxic alkaloid which can have a cumulative effect upon the liver. Largest concentrations are found in the roots, leaves contain higher quantities of the alkaloid as they grow older and young leaves contain almost none. Most people would have to consume very large quantities of the plant in order to do any harm, though anyone with liver problems should obviously be more cautious. In general, the health-promoting properties of the plant probably far outweigh any possible disbenefits, especially if only the younger leaves are used.
Habitats Not known in a truly wild situation.
Range A hybrid of garden origin, S. asperum x S. officinale[200].
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Symphytum uplandicum is a PERENNIAL growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 0.6 m (2ft in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to June. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.

USDA hardiness zone : Coming soon

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Symphytum uplandicum Comfrey

Symphytum uplandicum Comfrey
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Ground Cover; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Gum;  Tea.

Young leaves - cooked or raw[2, 4, 5, 9, 46, 61]. The leaf is hairy and the texture is mucilaginous. It may be full of minerals but it is not pleasant eating for most tastes. It can be chopped up finely and added to salads, in this way the hairiness is not so obvious[183]. Young shoots can be used as an asparagus substitute[46]. The blanched stalks are used[183]. Older leaves can be dried and used as a tea[26]. The peeled roots are cut up and added to soups[183]. A tea is made from the dried leaves and roots[183]. The roasted roots are used with dandelion and chicory roots for making coffee[183].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Anodyne;  Astringent;  Demulcent;  Emollient;  Expectorant;  Haemostatic;  Refrigerant;  Vulnerary.

Comfrey is a commonly used herbal medicine with a long and proven history in the treatment of various complaints. The root and the leaves are used, the root being more active, and they can be taken internally or used externally as a poultice[4, 222]. Comfrey is especially useful in the external treatment of cuts, bruises, sprains, sores, eczema, varicose veins, broken bones etc, internally it is used in the treatment of a wide range of pulmonary complaints, internal bleeding etc[4, 238, K]. The plant contains a substance called 'allantoin', a cell proliferant that speeds up the healing process[4, 21, 26, 165, 222, 238]. This substance is now synthesized in the pharmaceutical industry and used in healing creams[238]. The root and leaves are anodyne, astringent (mild), demulcent, emollient, expectorant, haemostatic, refrigerant, vulnerary[4, 21, 26, 165, 222]. Some caution is advised, however, especially in the internal use of the herb. External applications and internally taken teas or tinctures of the leaves are considered to be completely safe, but internal applications of tablets or capsules are felt to have too many drawbacks for safe usage[238]. See also the notes above on toxicity. The leaves are harvested in early summer before the plant flowers, the roots are harvested in the autumn. Both are dried for later use[238]. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh root, harvested before the plant flowers[232]. This has a very limited range of application, but is of great benefit in the treatment of broken bones and eye injuries[232].
Other Uses
Biomass;  Compost;  Gum.

The plant grows very quickly, producing a lot of bulk. It is tolerant of being cut several times a year and can be used to provide 'instant compost' for crops such as potatoes. Simply layer the wilted leaves at the bottom of the potato trench or apply them as a mulch in no-dig gardens. A liquid feed can be obtained by soaking the leaves in a small amount of water for a week, excellent for potassium demanding crops such as tomatoes. The leaves are also a very valuable addition to the compost heap[26, 200]. A gum obtained from the roots was at one time used in the treatment of wool before it was spun[100]. Plants can be grown as a ground cover when planted about 1.2 metres apart each way[208].
Cultivation details                                         
Tolerates most soils and situations but prefers a moist soil and some shade[1, 4]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Best grown in an open sunny site in a deep rich soil if it is being grown for compost material[200]. Hardy to about -20°c[187]. A naturally occurring hybrid species (S. asperum x S. officinale), it does not set viable seed and so is not aggressive. The root system is very deep, fragments of root left in the soil can produce new plants. A number of named forms have been selected for their higher production of leaves[183]. Subject to attacks by the rust fungus, this can be alleviated by giving the plants a high potash feed, wood ashes are often used[26].
Seed - sow spring or autumn in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. This is a hybrid species that does not usually produce seed. If you have sufficient seed you can try an outdoor sowing in situ in the spring. Division succeeds at almost any time of the year. Simply use a spade to chop off the top 7cm of root just below the soil level. The original root will regrow and you will have a number of root tops, each of which will make a new plant. These can either be potted up or planted out straight into their permanent positions.
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[5]Mabey. R. Food for Free.
Edible wild plants found in Britain. Fairly comprehensive, very few pictures and rather optimistic on the desirability of some of the plants.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[26]Hills. L. Comfrey Report.
A small booklet giving a fairly comprehensive guide to the uses of comfrey.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[187]Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Perennials Volumes 1 and 2.
Photographs of over 3,000 species and cultivars of ornamental plants together with brief cultivation notes, details of habitat etc.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[208]Thomas. G. S. Plants for Ground Cover
An excellent detailled book on the subject, very comprehensive.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[232]Castro. M. The Complete Homeopathy Handbook.
A concise beginner's guide to the subject. Very readable.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Mi Bri Sat Mar 22 2008
Under Edible uses, you only list leaves as edible parts. However, in the text, you describe roots as used in soups
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