Roots 'n' Shoots: December 2012

Why is RnS Moving to

Google had brought out an algorithm update in May 2017. With previous updates like Panda or Penguin, Mr G had penalized blogs or websites with low quality content and those more focused on aggressive adverts (including multiple ads or pop-up ads in articles). However, many blogs/websites that weren't shady got penalized beyond recovery too and a lot of people lost their income. The May 2017 update has had wide-scale effect on blogs and websites, but without any explanation from Mr G as to why or what it does. RnS has been hit by it too and hard. RnS organic search stats (i.e. users from Google) have dropped by 75% since. Even though RnS is not a source of income, I tried to figure out why RnS is being culled. It seems that it doesn't really have anything to do with RnS per se, but likely because RnS is FREE and not paying for page ranking (via AdWords or Ad Ranking). Now it is likely being aggressively shoved to lower page rankings to accommodate the paid ads.

I cannot rely on Mr G anymore to get RnS' content where it is needed. So I am busy moving RnS to Wordpress where you can find me as Whisker Flowers @

I am also imposing 301 redirects from already moved posts and pages!

- The Shroom - (AKA Whisker Flowers)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Comfrey: How To Grow – Herb of the Month

Comfrey stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
3/5 – Bi-weekly check-ups
2/5 – Minimal, twice per week (especially in a container)
4/5 – Full sun, shade tolerant
1/5 – Minimal (harvesting keeps plant in shape)
1/5 – Minimal, at least during the growing season
Time to Harvest:
1/5 – Immediate (purchased a seedling) to Soon (from seed)
Frost Hardiness:
3/4 – Tender (can’t take mild frost)

Medicinal, Pollinator attractor & Compost
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Some caterpillar feeding
Container Plant:
Yes definitely

Symphytum officinale
Flora of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (1885)
Kurt Stober Online Library

Quick intro

Comfrey is known for its healing properties and is currently also used as compost addition or as a liquid fertiliser, which is prepared from the leaves. Even though it has wonderful medicinal and composting properties, the plant may be considered as a weed by many.


Comfrey is native to Europe, especially Ireland and Britain, and temperate parts of Asia. It has been cultivated since 400BC due to its unrivalled potential for healing external wounds and broken bones, hence receiving its namesake ‘Knitbone’ or ‘Boneset’.

Comfrey was favoured amongst the Greek physicians, especially during times of war. Today comfrey is also grown in North America and it roots and leaves are still used for medicinal purposes.

Science Stuff

Comfrey belongs to the Boraginaceae family of herbs, the Forget-me-not family. This family mainly contains herbs with hairy leaves, including Borage, Fiddelenck, Forget-me-not, Alkanet, Lungwort and Bugloss.

There are two main species, wild or common comfrey (Symphytum offinale) and rough or prickly comfrey (Symphytum asperum). A hybrid variety exists as well between S. offinale and S. asperum, known as Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum).

Comfrey is used both internally and externally, but it is unadvised to use internally, as comfrey contains the toxin symphytine (Pyrrolzidine alkaloid), which causes liver damage and may be carcinogenic.

Comfrey leaves and roots are used to make extracts for extrernal use. These extracts contain allantoin, which stimulates the growth of new cells, rosemarinic acid, which is an anti-inflammaroty and mucilage, which soothes inflamed tissues. Roots contain twice the amount of allantoin than leaves. Comfrey is generally used as a cream and applied to affected areas that includes wounds, broken bones and is frequently used as a skin product.

Growing Comfrey

Leaves are main part of the comfrey plant used in the vegetable garden. Therefore it requires a fair amount of nitrogen to encourage good leaf production and will do well when fertilized with nitrogen-based mulch, such as animal manure or lawn cuttings.

Comfrey is difficult to grow from seed, as germination takes long (20 weeks) and is erratic. New plants can be successfully propagated from root cuttings. It is also advisable to grow comfrey in a container as it has a deep root system, making the plant nearly impossible to remove from the garden as new plants regrow from any root stumps left in the soil. Keep comfrey well-watered during the growing season if you plan to harvest leaves from it.

Russian Comfrey
Symphytumn x uplandicum

Essentially no pruning is required, since regular harvesting keeps the monster in shape J.

Other Tips

Comfrey, specifically Russian comfrey, as a compost addition or liquid fertiliser is highly recommended when you have a vegetable patch. It is high in nitrogen (hence proteins), phosphorus and potassium (Good NPK values J). For detailed NPK quantities of comfrey refer to Composting. If your comfrey is in the garden (and you tend to keep it there) then your comfrey will tap into deep nutrient reserves in the soil that can be recovered in the leaves.

Here are a few ways comfrey is used as a compost/feed addition:

ü    Compost activator – add to compost composed mainly of dry brown material. Layers of comfrey between the brown matter will heat the compost heap and assist with decomposition. Do not add too much comfrey as the comfrey will break down instead of assisting the decomposition of the heap.

ü     Comfrey mulch – a 5cm layer (2 inches) of fresh leaves around the stems of plant will break down slowly and release nutrient to the soil without removing nitrogen whilst decomposing (such as straw and leaves). It is good for just about any vegetable or fruit, but can be useful addition to nutrient guzzlers such as fruiting plants (tomatoes & fruit trees) and root vegetables (potatoes).

ü    Liquid feed – There are two ways to make liquid comfrey feed or comfrey tea. One is really smelly (the reason why I switched to the other) and the other is not.

o      Smelly: Simply cut the leaves into small pieces and add to a bottle or bucket of water and seal. After about 1-3 months, depending on the amount of leaves, you will have nasty smelling liquid feed. It works wonders, but the smell is terrible. It smells bad due to the anaerobic (no oxygen) decomposition of the comfrey in the water. Dilute this in a ratio of 1:10, 1 part of comfrey liquid to 10 parts water.

o      Not smelly: Place comfrey leaves in a plastic container with holes in the base. Weigh it down with a stone or brick. Place this container (with holes) in a second container. The second container can be lined with a plastic bag if you intend to re-use it for another purpose. Place a lid on this to prevent flies from making a breeding ground in there. As the comfrey decomposes it produces an odourless black syrup that drips to the bottom container. (Alternatively you can use one bucket with a hole and the comfrey placed on top of another. Comfrey will then drip into the bottom bucket for collection.) The comfrey liquid is a concentrate and therefore requires dilution before use. It is also diluted in a 1:10 ratio (1 part liquid comfrey to 10 parts water).

Liquid comfrey can be used on tomatoes or similar crops three times a week and potted plants once a week. The tea can be stored in glass jars in a cool dark place until further use.

If you have caterpillar feeding on your comfrey it is easiest to physically remove them from the plant. Other problems may include rust and powdery mildew. To control these, cut the plant to the ground and burn the infected leaves. New uninfected leaves should regrow rapidly.

Harvesting & Storing

Comfrey leaves can be harvested up to 5 times a year during the spring to summer months. Leaves are harvested once they are 30-60cm high (~ 1-2 feet).

Comfrey leaves can be dried, but they are brittle. Thus it is preferable to use comfrey leaves when they are fresh.

Seed Saving & Propagation

Russian comfrey (S. x uplandicum) produces clusters of pink, purple or blue flowers in summer. Common comfrey (S. officinale) produces white or pink flowers and is likely insect pollinated.

Russian Comfrey Flowers
Symphytum x uplandicum

Russian comfrey is preferred in the garden as it is sterile and does not self-seed yet bares the same nutrient-rich foliage properties of S. officinale.

Since comfrey is difficult to raise from seeds, root cuttings are used.

My Comfrey

I have the Russian comfrey. Originally one comfrey, which self-propagated from a leaf cutting if I remember correctly J. Very prickly, wear gloves if your skin gets irritated when you handle the leaves.

Russian Comfrey
Symphytum x uplandicum


Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Vegetable Garden Myths & Truths

I was going through the internet articles and blogs where I read all kinds of reasons for having a vegetable garden. But I felt like most of the reasons aren't true and many things go unmentioned. So I decided that I would make my own versions of vegetable garden myths & truths. Now, just another note on the "saving money part", here in SA we get charged a fortune for both water and electricity - so water needs to be free and anything in the vegetable garden based on electricity (such as water pumps, timed irrigation ...) is also out of the question on my little student budget. As such, the truths & myths above would mostly apply to gardeners in SA :) But that doesn't mean that the rest of the world can learn something too!


- Update 2014 -

Since posting this article the economic state of South Africa has changed a lot and growing your own veg saves a lot of R!!!

See my updated post for a list of vegetables worth growing:
Starting a Productive and Economic Food Garden

If you enjoy the content please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers or Follow Your Way widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! J

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