If you would like to use less chemical fertilizer for your fruit trees or are tired of weeding around them, there’s a solution. Does watering your fruit trees less often sound good? Yep, there’s an answer for you. The solution to all these things is the humble, yet mighty plant known as comfrey.

A very hardy plant, comfrey is a perennial herb of the boraginaceae family of plants with a scientific name of Symphytum officinale, or the more popular Symphytum uplandicum. The most popular cultivar is known as Bocking 14 which is sterile and propogated by root cuttings. Though wildly popular as a medicinal, comfrey is a perennial and strong growing in most zones with somewhat fuzzy leaves that grow to more than a foot long. The leaves grow from a main crown that eventually will sprout flowering stems with bell-shaped flowers that range in color from purple to blue to pink.

But, it’s not its blossoms that are coveted by most growers, though pollinators love them. Its greatest characteristic may be that comfrey is a nutrient accumulator.

Comfrey has a long tap root that reaches deep into the soil drawing up nutrients that most plants can’t reach. These nutrients are then pushed out into the plant’s leaves. Then, when the leaves are cut off (chop and drop) and allowed to cover the ground, they decompose more quickly than most plants releasing the nutrients at much shallower levels making them accessible for plants with shallow root systems. When combined with a bit of finished compost, comfrey will feed your fruit trees the good, wholesome stuff they need.

A single comfrey plant can spread its growth pretty wide, as much as 3 to 4 feet across, making it very difficult for weeds to compete. Many fruit orchards have comfrey around the base of their fruit trees or under their berry bushes. Since the comfrey roots are deep, they’re not overly competitive with the other plants. When practicing chop and drop techniques, comfrey leaves can halt weed growth. Simply select a number of leaves to cut from the plant and lay them out accordingly around the area as a covering mulch. No need for herbicides, propane burners or hand weeding.

Finally, since the comfrey plant is wide and the chopped and dropped leaves cover the ground, it helps the surrounding soil retain water longer by shading the ground and blocking the solar energy that would vaporize the water at or near the surface of the soil. Essentially it creates a beneficial shade and ground litter.

This cursory look at comfrey should be supplemented by the many resources out there on the benefits of comfrey as a companion or guild plant. There’s an entire comfrey world out there to enjoy.

Dan Grubbs

Dan Grubbs, editor of Stewardculture, lives in northwest Missouri where he is implementing and managing a permaculture-style design on his 15-acre homestead. A weekly teacher of the Bible, Dan believes that an agrarian lifestyle is one in which he can answer God's calling to steward creation through regenerative techniques that attempt to mimic God's design.

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