This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Referring to the close of my note in March last, viz: " that it is not all valuable alike," and thanking you for the compliment paid me as being a conscientious cultur-ist, etc., I confess I like to be accurate in my observations and investigations, striving at all times only to acquire and note facts, hence the delay in referring to this topic. I again visited Europe this fall, and have taken some pains to collate the principle facts obtainable regarding this forage plant, both past and present. The name Comfrey is derived and was applied from its supposed strengthening qualities, and the property it possesses of curing wounds. There are at least ten different species of it which Messrs. Jaques & Henriq describe in their Manual des Plantes, and the following seven were published in 1818 in the Hortus Suburbans Londinensis by Robert Sweet, F. L. S.: Symphytum officinale, native of Britain; S. tuberosum, Britain; S. Bohemicum, Bohemia; S. ori-entale, Eastern: S. tauricum, Tauria; S. corda-tum, Transylvania, and S. asperrimum, Caucasus, the latter being the true Prickly Comfrey. This variety was first introduced into England in 1790, and was named Prickley Comfrey in distinction from the native wild variety.
It was next to be found described as finding a place in Kew Gardens in 1799. From the year 1808 it was sold in single plants for ornamental purposes. In 1811 it was fully brought out by the Messrs. Loddiges as a shrubbery and border plant. Its bold foliage growing in the shade to a height of five to six feet, coupled with its graceful pendant bright blue flowers, readily secured it a place in the mixed shrubs and showy flowering plants in borders where it has ever kept its place, and may yet frequently be met with about old places, especially at the sides of the private roads in England. In 1830 it was introduced as a forage plant, and found by many to answer the purpose well. The Farmer^s Journal re-printed notices of the plant for the benefit of its subscribers, and at this time there was hardly a garden of any importance that did not possess a plant of Prickley Comfrey. The root of the other species resembled so closely the Caucasian variety that horticulturists sold it to the farmers as comfrey roots, causing disappointment and bringing it into bad repute: and the result is seen in different parts of the country even now.
In France also, where it suffered from like causes, the result to-day is a variety of comfrey having a small foliage and a pale indistinct color of flower, sometimes pink, sometimes lilac or cream colored, but never the bright blue of the asperri-mum. This is an important characteristic. They are also devoid of that asperity peculiar to the true kind. The variety asperrimum has a stem almost solid, and full of gum and mucilage, and the more solid the stem is the better it is, on account of producing a greatly increased weight of food per acre, as it branches out more freely, and plants placed three feet each way soon cover the ground with a large quantity of leaves. This plant will grow in sandy or other soils, but likes a clay loam or any good, deep soil best, as the roots will tap down six to eight feet for moisture. The yield ranges from five to ten lbs. to the plant at each cutting, according to soil, as a minimum and maximum, or from 60 to 100 tons an acre per annum; on good clay soil well enriched it has been estimated at as high as 120 tons per acre. During the last week in September, when I was there, they were cutting it for the fifth time, and the average for each cutting was estimated at about twenty tons per acre.
The leaves were then from fifteen to eighteen inches long, allowing a cut of nearly fifteen inches, leaving two to three inches at the crown: it is advisable not to cut the leaves any closer than this. The yield in well-established plants is largest if cut just before the flowers open, as the leaf is not then so large, coarse and prickly as if cut later, and almost any stock will take to it more kindly if fed in this state. As it grows well in almost any soils during drought or wet, and can be cut and fed in all weathers with the best effect on all stock, whether for milk or flesh, it's advantages may be briefly summed up as follows. Great productiveness, quick growth, easy culture, stability in withstanding heat and cold, wet and drought. Its yield of fresh succulent leaves never fails to provide through the longest, driest summers a nutritious and palatable food. If, when cut down, a little rotten dung be put between the rows and lightly stirred in, and then some long manure be spread over the surface to furnish food, and protect the soil from becoming too dry, the duration of this perennial crop would be from fifteen to twenty years without renewal of the plants.
There is little doubt when better known, its cultivation will be largely increased, as it can be preserved for a winter food, green, by the ensilage system: or it can be dried into hay possessing a sweet and agreeable odor if cut when in full blossom, these being profuse and very rich in honey. Cured in either way it has proved an agreeable and nutritious winter food, and deserves to rank as one of the very best of all known forage plants, if not the best. This is the verdict I find wherever it has been fairly tried, and I trust that I may have awakened some interest here in this matter, and will only add, I have none to sell, having only imported it for our own use in a small way, and have no axe to grind in the matter, my aim and end being only to speak of things as I find them, and give reasons for differences where I can find them in causes. We all know there is no effect without a cause. I may have condensed too much, and not explained enough in detail to suit all, but think I have touched the leading points.