When I was a kid I spent half a dozen summers on Mennonite farms, and many weekends in between. They ate produce from their own land and traded between families for what they didn’t have. I loved the fresh corn, peas and potatoes, straight from the garden. The one thing I took a pass on was their daily smoothies. Remember, this was 40 or 50 years ago, before smoothies were a thing, but these were folks ahead of the curve and very much interested in healthy eating. I don’t know what all went into the concoction, but one of the ingredients seemed to be comfrey (Symphytum officinal), and when pulsed in the blender looked – and tasted – like grass clippings. I’m sure it was good for you, but my then undeveloped taste buds weren’t particularly appreciative. I loved the way they pronounced comfrey with their broad country accents: ‘calm-free’, when I called it ‘come-free’.
If you’re not familiar with the plant, it’s a large, fast-growing medicinal related to borage, with long, hairy leaves on a main stock and drooping clusters of purple or blue flowers. Comfrey can reach heights of 5’ and be cut and harvested several times in a season. It’s easy to grow in hardiness zones 3-9 and endures extreme cold and heat.
Comfrey is low in fibre and high in nitrogen and protein, which makes a great contribution to your compost pile (or compost tea). The leaves have a high moisture content and dry more slowly than some herbs. Once thoroughly dried and crumbly to the touch it can be stored in glass jars.
About a decade ago, I planted a few edible trees (pear, apple and autumn olive) in a grassy opening across my driveway, directly in front of my house. Each of them has companion plants situated 3’ away from their trunk. One of those plants is comfrey, which is a dynamic accumulator helping to fix nitrogen in the soil around the periphery of the trees’ root systems.
I had chickens in a coop in my forest, and then took a hiatus for four years. When I decided to get birds again I wanted to relocate them. The logical choice was in my little orchard. Each tree was already protected by a 4’ high wire ring against the advances of hungry Black-Tailed Deer, so would also be safe from curious birds. I fenced both the new coop and the trees within a 30’x40’ pen. My flock has managed to peck at leaves that have grown through the wire mesh, but not enough to cause much damage. When I cut them down I give the whole plant to my flock.
Benefits For Chickens
- Enhances egg yolk colour
- Contains allantoin, a compound used to treat dry and irritated skin; promotes new skin growth; regenerates cells
- Used to treat burns, reduce inflammation and for minor pain relief (poultice)
- Good source of dietary calcium, protein, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A and B12
Warning: Comfrey contains the pyrrolizidine alkaloid echimidine, which is a naturally occurring plant toxin. If consumed in large amounts, these can be toxic to the liver. In 2001, the FDA in the USA advised dietary supplement manufacturers to remove oral comfrey products from the market. In 2003, Canada banned two species of Symphytum (S. asperum and S. x uplandicum); while common comfrey, Symphytum officinale, and other species are not. It is legal to buy and sell comfrey seeds and plants although creams, ointments, pills and teas are prohibited.
There is lots of information on the internet about feeding chickens dried comfrey leaves including research studies looking at its efficacy as a source of protein and minerals in meat chickens. My advice is to feed your chickens fresh leaves sparingly and mainly use it topically.