I know a few things about comfrey.

I know that its old name was “knitbone” and it was used in poultices to treat, as the name suggests broken bones.

I know that it makes an excellent organic plant feed, especially a variety called Super Bock.

(Actually that last bit is rubbish – there is a “super” variety and it’s called Bocking 14 – I had to look the name bit up. Super Bock is a Portuguese beer that they sell in Nando’s)

And I know how to pronounce its name, unlike TV-pretend-gardener Joe Swift.

But I’d never heard that it was edible, until I read recently in a book (p121- The Lazy Kitchen Gardener – John Yeoman – 2002), that “You can eat comfrey like spinach”.

This was something new to me and also felt odd. It seemed strange that if edible, at least one of the many articles I’d read on comfrey tea for plants would have mentioned the fact. Not that I’m not still learning how many unexpected plants can be eaten.

So I turned to a favourite plant reference book, Mrs M Grieve’s A Modern Herbal. It mentions lots of medicinal uses, including Nicholas Culpeper’s claim that it was a good treatment for haemerrhoids, but nothing on the culinary front.

Must be rubbish then, I thought but to make sure had a look in The Forager Handbook by Miles Irving. He says “in the 1970s, it was recommended as a kind of vegetarian superfood. However, the discovery of its high pyrrolizide-alkaloid (PA) content, including the carcinogen symphytine, means that the wild plant can no longer be considered safe to eat.” Whilst Miles does mention that there are cultivars with a negligible PA content, I personally don’t trust any nurseryman, or seed supplier to that extent.

You might argue why trust one book above another, but when on side you have a scholarly work, coupled with a dense handbook by someone who makes a living from wild food, and on the other a self- publishing writer who has some strange ideas about things, then it seems pretty clear-cut to me.

So, the moral of all this is that if someone tells you that you can eat comfrey, you are best of making like Nicholas Culpeper and telling them to stick it up their bum.