Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
Dear Readers, while I was passing All Saints’ Church on Durham Road in East Finchley today, I noticed that, despite everyone’s efforts, the Creeping Comfrey had crept back along the fence that edges the church garden. A few years ago there was a whole bed of the plant, its red buds and cream flowers nodding under the assault of what seemed like a hundred bees. It is a glorious plant, but one that has something of a tendency to take over. Last time I looked, someone had dug it up. But not, apparently, all of it, because here it is again, flowering in December ( a whole three months early).
I have written previously about Common Comfrey which is a much taller, rangier plant. This little chap only grows to about 40 centimetres tall, and, as my Harrap’s Wild Flower guide states, ‘spreads aggressively via sprawling leafy runners that root at the nodes’. The buds are a pinky red colour, which soon turns to creamy-white bells. I wonder why, though, it was called ‘grandiflorum’? It is to my mind a most modest little plant, and one that I am tempted to try to grow under the trees in my north-facing garden where nothing much thrives. It is often seen in churchyards (as here) and in shady places, so maybe it would feel right at home.
Unlike Common Comfrey, this plant is originally from the Caucasus and was first grown in gardens in the late 19th Century. By 1898 it had ‘jumped the fence’ and was growing in the wild. Like Common Comfrey, however, it can be used as a green manure, or rotted down as a liquid fertilizer, and there seems to be some agreement that the leaves can be used for external poultices for sprains and other injuries – after all, one vernacular name for the whole of the comfrey family is Knitbone, as the root was once grated and used as a kind of Plaster of Paris.
Another name for Creeping Comfrey specifically is ‘Cherubim and Seraphim’, maybe because the fat pink buds look like cherubs, and the white flowers resemble the robes of angels. . So, another appropriate ‘weed’ for the festive season!
Creeping Comfrey is such a useful plant that it has spawned a number of ‘domesticated’ varieties, such as ‘Hidcote Blue’ and ‘Goldsmith’, pictured below. As usual, though, I confess to preferring the unadulterated version. We constantly think we can improve on nature, and we are so rarely right.
This will be the last post before 2016 headbutts its way through the door. I wish you all a happy, healthy and inspired New Year, and hope that it brings you what you most need. See you next year!
Goldsmith variety – Leonora Enking – https://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4557977817
Hidcote Blue variety – By Lotus Johnson https://www.flickr.com/photos/ngawangchodron/16958103029