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‘True Comfrey’ (Symphytum officinale) is a common herb in Europe. The other common variety is ‘Russian Comfrey’ (Symphytum x uplandicum) in many cases. This is, in turn, a hybrid of two varieties. The ‘x’ in its taxonomic name means that it is a hybrid.
‘True Comfrey’ will self seed prolifically, while the ‘Russian Comfrey’ we often buy as Comfrey is a sterile hybrid but is far more vigorous.
Our ‘True’ Comfrey has white to pink flowers, while Russian Comfrey has blue to purple flowers. Of course, ‘True Comfrey’ has a red/purple variety, just to make it all the more confusing.
If you want to know which variety you have, wait until it flowers. That’s the easiest way. Otherwise, True Comfrey has more of a stem at the bottom of the leaves and this extends onto the main stem. This is called ‘decurrent’ in plant lingo.
But is it worth all the fuss? Probably not.
Purists will only accept S. officinale for medicinal use and S. x uplandicum for feeding animals and providing biomass, but thats probably because S.x uplandicum is far more vigorous and grows faster.
In reality, there are more than 30 species in Europe that are all called ‘Comfrey’ and have been used interchangably. Those that are found in the US were introduced there in the 1700’s.
Use what you’ve got, I say! Comfrey is a great healer of the body and garden.
You might be interested in checking out the Comfrey page for more information on his fascinating plant.