By Mike on Sunday, June 28, 2009, 21:20 - Permalink
It's the end of June - we went for a walk alongside the river Itchen and saw lots of interesting wildlife and plants, including a plant I have often seen, but never yet eaten - Comfrey.
What Is Comfrey?
Symphytum officinale - A bristly perennial plant in the Borage family - it's common in damp places - especially river banks.
A little variable in appearance - it may be found growing with a sprawling or upright habit and the flowers may be (on different plants) white, creamy yellow, pink, maroon, purple or lilac blue.
It's been used as medicine and food for centuries - one of the common names is knitbone - as it was believed to be effective in promoting healing.
I picked some of the younger leaves at the top and made them into Comfrey fritters.
Possible Health Risks
All of my wild food books extol Comfrey as a delicious and nutritious wild vegetable, however, some more recent online sources I have been reading suggest that there may be serious adverse health effects if it is consumed in quantity.
I think they must be talking about significant quantity, or else people could not have been eating this stuff for years and years with apparent impunity - but just to be on the safe side, I think this wild food is better used for a light snack, rather than a substantial meal.
Proceed, as always, at your own risk...
I washed the leaves and dipped them in a simple batter made from wheat flour and water, flavoured with a little smoked paprika and a pinch of salt.
I always find that a batter of this sort stays crisp longer after cooking than one made with egg.
The result was highly satisfactory - little crispy golden fritters (they look a bit like fried fish) with a subtle, yet quite pleasant vegetable flavour - they'd be great with some chilli dipping sauce.
Other Uses For Comfrey
Comfrey makes an excellent green manure - the leaves can be left in water to decompose (be warned, it stinks) and the resulting liquid used as a general purpose plant food.
Alternatively, a layer of the fresh leaves can be placed in the bottom of a soil trench before planting a row of vegetables - the leaves will have broken down and begun to release their nutrients by the time the vegetable roots reach down to them.