Comfrey Leaves as Potato Fertilizer

Soil health

Notes to broadcasters

The comfrey plant has many uses. It can be used as livestock feed. The leaves can also be eaten by people as a green vegetable or herb. It is commonly used for medicinal purposes.

Comfrey leaves have a high potassium content and can be used as fertilizer for vegetables. They decompose quickly in the soil making plant food quickly available. To fertilize potatoes, a number of comfrey leaves are put at the bottom of the planting hole or trench, the potatoes placed on top of the leaves, and the hole filled with soil. Comfrey is difficult to remove once it is established so it should be planted in a place where it is wanted for a long time.


A man in South Africa has learned from a village elder that comfrey leaves are good fertilizer for his potatoes.

One day Tabo was out in his garden working. He was planting potatoes. He was planting them different ways to see which would grow the best. Next to his animals, Tabo loved nothing more than working in his garden.

Some of the seed potatoes Tabo planted with no preparation; others he planted by mixing animal manure into the soil first; others he planted by mixing fertilizer he had bought from the wholesaler in town. And a few potatoes he planted by putting a number of large leaves from a comfrey plant (Symphytum spp.) under them first. He simply placed some comfrey leaves in the bottom of the planting hole, placed the seed potatoes on top of the leaves, and filled the hole with soil. An old herbalist had told him about this last trick. Where the old herbalist had learned it, he wouldn’t tell.

While Tabo was busy working, his neighbour Sipo came by. “What are you planting this time of year?” asked Sipo. “I’m planting rocks,” replied Tabo. “No way,” said Sipo. “You must be crazy. Let me see those rocks.”

Tabo stooped down and picked up a small rock that was lying near his seed potatoes and threw the rock over the fence to Sipo. “Get out of here, man,” said Sipo. “I don’t believe you. You aren’t planting these things. What’s in the bucket over there?”

Tabo laughed and laughed. “Hey, man. I’m planting seed potatoes. Can’t your eyes see clearly this early in the morning?” Sipo threw the rock back at Tabo. Sipo ducked as the rock flew harmlessly overhead.

“And what are those big leaves lying next to those potatoes over there?” asked Sipo. “Those,” said Tabo, with a twinkle in his eye, “are fertilizer for my potatoes.” “Hey, stop teasing me,” said Sipo. “I’m not teasing,” said Tabo, “I’m speaking the truth.” “I’ve never seen fertilizer like that,” said Sipo. “Where did you get that stuff anyway?” “I got it from Tata Nyawusa,” replied Tabo. “I wouldn’t trust what that old man says,” said Sipo. “He had the nicest potatoes in the village last year,” said Tabo. “He has a snake, that’s why his potatoes grow so well,” said Sipo. “No, you are wrong,” said Tabo, “He doesn’t have a snake. He makes his potatoes grow so well by using this plant he calls comfrey.” “Well how do you make comfrey into fertilizer for potatoes?” asked Sipo.

“You pick about ten leaves and place them in the hole under the seed potatoes,” replied Tabo, “Then you cover the leaves and seed potatoes with soil.” “Where did you get the comfrey leaves” asked Sipo, “Up in the mountains?” “No,” said Tabo. “This comfrey plant does not grow up in the mountains. You have to plant it somewhere in your garden.” “Where do you get seeds for this plant?” asked Sipo. “Do you buy them from the wholesaler?” “You can’t buy this plant in town from the wholesaler,” said Tabo. “The Creator made this plant to help people, not to make money for the wholesalers. That’s why it is called “come-free”.You find someone who has this plant and you ask them for some roots. Then you break the roots into lots of little pieces and each piece of root makes a new plant.”

“But does it work?” asked Sipo. “Try it and see for yourself,” answered Tabo.


  • By Harvey Harman

Information sources

  •  Henry Doubleday Research Association, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Coventry CV8 3LG, United Kingdom.
  •  Comfrey for gardeners and smallholders (1985) by Lawrence D.Hills, Henry Doubleday Research Association (see above address).
  •  Comfrey; past, present and future (1976) by Lawrence D. Hills, Henry Doubleday Research Association (see above address).