Comfrey 'Bocking 4', questions

dirtslinger2(6)January 28, 2009

I and hoping to plant a quarter acre of Bocking 4 Comfrey, to harvest and dry for livestock feed supplement (pigs, poultry, and a few cows). The Richter's catalogue suggested it is the best variety for this purpose due to the higher protein levels.

Is there truly a significant difference between the Symphytum x uplandicum 'Bocking 4', and the common comfrey Symphytum officinale? I'm particularly worried about the dangerous alkaloids that are not supposed to be ingested. I am assuming the Bocking 4 is safer...?

Commom comfrey seeds are incredibly cheap- I could start a plantation for about $10, rather than the named plants for likely over $200.

Any suggestions? I'm not set up for any propagation here. And would like to be harvesting sooner than later.

Actually plants would be ideal (besides the $$ issue!) because my farm is over run with canary reed grass, which creates the most difficult establishment process! I am hoping that comfrey planted tight will help smother the CR grass, similar to my jerusalem artichoke patches that have worked quite well...

Sorry for the long post- just curious if Bocking 4 is really superb for livestock feed or will common comfrey be just fine? Thanks.

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I don't know that drying gets rid of the alkaloids; you would probably be better off going with the safer product.

The growth habit of comfrey is to grow straight up and then fall over, killing off everyhing around it for about a 3 foot spread, so it should help you with your weed problem.

I'm assuming you realize that once you plant comfrey, you will have it forever, correct? It can propagate from even a small piece of root.

That said, it would probably pay to get what you really want, because you will not be able to shift gears later.

Additionally, you might find that you would have a good secondary market to sell the Boking as an herb, since many would rather grow a low-alkaloid one (if your source allows this). Much of the comfrey sold as herbs comes unspecified from the usual sources.

Furthermore, if it is really without alkeloids, you might enjoy eating some of it as a vegetable yourself. I would occasionally do so in the spring, by collecting the leaves, stacking them, folding the stack in half, and then thinly slicing it up and steaming it--it tasted delicious, sort of a bit like asparagus, and was good with a bit of butter and salt or topped with cheese.

MMMMM...makes me want to grow some that is without the alkaloids...

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 8:54AM
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? Anybody get good productivity from comfrey when the daytime temperature is consistently high ?

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 10:22AM
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Questions you'd definitely want answers to before planting and using this comfrey strain in animal feed:

1) Is this variety substantially or entirely free of hazardous alkaloids (I've never heard of any strain with this characteristic, and the opening post suggests it's marketed because of high protein content)?

2) If meat from the livestock will be used for commercial sales, have you clarified whether comfrey feed supplements are permitted (one online source I found said that comfrey was removed from feed supplements in the U.S.)?

Of course, there would be concerns even with personal consumption. The argument has been made that comfrey has a history of feed use in various countries, supposedly without problems, but then again it was only in recent decades that the problem of potential liver toxicity and carcinogenesis with internal consumption of comfrey in humans was discovered.

More on comfrey's status for use in animal feed here.

Here is a link that might be useful: Comfrey and health

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 11:18AM
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One of the self-administered herbal fiascos I saw was a fellow putting fresh comfrey leaf directly on his open leg wound - made wound worse in all the parameters you can think of.
Goats, however, had good use for comfrey on friend's Bio-dynamic farm (or I should write the farmer employed it).
If you are 1/4 goat look at the comfrey & goat veterinarian details elaborated at Horizon Herbs website.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 6:50PM
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Would the alkaloids persist in the meat of an animal fed comfrey?

Would they apear in the milk of an animal fed comfrey?

I think those are the only real concerns, given how short the lives of many domesticated animals are.

What about poultry? Their metabolism is quite different than ours, and some things that are poisonous to us are not to them.

I still like my comfrey arthritis rub. It is not as toxic as my turpentine one, or the even more toxic ones I have in mind for the future....


Oh, I almost forgot to mention--comfrey should not be placed on an open wound; it can cause a wound to heal up so quickly that infection can be sealed inside.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 9:09PM
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Thank you for all the ideas- I must do more research on this, I'm not sure exactly where (links above to start, thanks!)

Yeah- it bothers me some what that I can't find anything specifically about Bocking 4's safety- particularly when it is recommended (BY RICHTERS...) for livestock.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 9:29PM
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On the same page that Boking4 is mentioned, Richter's states a comfrey free of alkaloids has yet to be developed.

I would check with someone in veterinary science, to see what they would know about how the animals you propose to feed the comfrey would metabolize it. If the alkaloid would get into eggs or milk it could be a problem. If they would excrete it unharmed, it might still be useful.

If it were my livestock, I would probably only risk using it on stock scheduled for slaughter at an early age, even if the alkaloid was all excreted.

The traditional English comfrey first used by the English was susceptible to rust, which is why Russian comfrey began to be used. It is possible the Russian comfrey has more of the alkaloides, but I'm just guessing.

Here is a link that might be useful: Richter's First Commercial Herb Growing Conference

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 1:59AM
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I just did a search- there is an article in Mother Earth News that was recommending it for feed of their livestock, for tea, for salad, etc etc. And no where did it even mention variety!!

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 12:05PM
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    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 3:26PM
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    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 4:20PM
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Unfortunately I don't see anything in those two GW threads that would answer dirtslinger2's questions about feeding 'Bocking 4' comfrey to livestock.

The last thread linked to does illustrate the strong correlation between lacking facts to support a contention and the tendency to engage in ad hominems.

If dirtslinger2 hasn't seen this article (registration may be required) on comfrey in animal feed he might find it interesting. Dated 2002, the gist is that state regulators were targeting comfrey to get it out of animal feed products, and that manufacturers were removing it in anticipation of these actions. In addition to checking with his state's agriculture department, it might be worthwhile to check with AAFCO to find out how regulators are currently viewing comfrey in animal feed.

As mentioned previously, the main issues with using the Bocking 4 supplement (or other comfrey product in feed) seem to involve animal and human safety, and avoiding violation of any regulatory standards covering these products.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 6:58PM
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watermanjeff(z7 AR)

From "Coe's Comfrey" :
"According to Dr. D. B. Long, P.h.D., M.A. from his extensive laboratory research on the Alkaloid Content of Comfrey, âÂÂExperience gained over many years with feeding cattle and horses on Comfrey in different parts of the world has failed to produce any evidence of an acute reaction. Equally well there is an absence of any direct evidence of liver tumors of the chronic reaction in Comfrey-fed animals having been observed in slaughter houses.âÂÂ
The main difference in the Bocking #4 strain seems to be that it is just as vigorous and productive but non invasive (doesn't propagate from underground runners). I would still put it where you plan on it staying...after a couple of years it will more than likely be there "for good". Don't confuse with Bocking #14 which is reportedly too bitter for livestock.

Here is a link that might be useful: Uses of Comfrey

    Bookmark   December 29, 2013 at 9:38PM
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check with your ag extension agent and Richter's, they should know for sure.

good question! following.....

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 11:55AM
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Bocking 4 - Great animal fodder, good for medicinal use, low in PAs(Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids), most popularly planted of all varieties.

Bocking 14 - Higher production, the best for compost use, slightly higher in PAs thus not as recommended for medicinal use or animal feed, stays put more than other varieties.

Symphytum officinale - approximately 1/3 production of either Bocking varieties, seeds freely, can naturalize, might have lower PAs and best for medicinal uses.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 5:38PM
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