Monthly Archives: April 2016


Comfrey is one of my all time favorite herbs, ever. It’s uses are numerous. We use this plant for permaculture, animal feed and herbal healing. Comfrey is a vigorous plant, it grows easily in all types of soil, and while it doesn’t’ spread, the clump gets bigger and bigger each year and it is easily divided and grows quickly from it’s woody roots.  I will go over the various ways we use comfrey on the farm.

Comfrey is widely used in permaculture landscapes.  Comfrey is a bio-accumulator, it has very long deep roots, they can grow to a depth of ten feet.  They collect minerals from deep in the earth, bringing them up into their leaves where they can be used by other plants, animals, microbes and us. Comfrey leaves have calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iorn, magnesium and iodine, to name just a few.

Comfrey is the only land plant that takes vitamin B12 from the soil. The entire plant is a good source of vegetable protein, and the green leaves contain vitamins A, C, E, and several B vitamins, including choline, the fat-emulsifying vitamin that helps fight cholesterol deposits. Other ingredients are folic acid, the anti-anemia vitamin, and some B12, which controls the deadly pernicious anemia. (

We grow comfrey in one big patch, those are what I consider my stock plants, and I harvest from them in all but the coldest months. We use the leaves as green compost when creating dead-fall swales and huglekulturs.  We also add the leave to our compost piles, they are great for activating the composting process and adding all those wonderful minerals to the compost.  I also take small roots from these plants and plant comfrey in our orchard meadow and other various places on the farm.  Several times throughout the growing season we slash back the plant letting the leaves fall around, mulching and composting in place, thus creating bio-mass and top soil.


Because of the incredible nutrition captured in the leaves of the comfrey plant we use them as animal fodder. a few leaves a week are fed to our rabbits, along with their other forage.  We will throw leaves to the chickens, along with the comfrey they nibble on when free ranging our in the meadow.  When the goats come this spring, they too will get comfrey.
We also use comfrey medicinally.  There is some debate on its use. The root of the wild comfrey plant has been found to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can cause liver damage if ingested in large amounts.

 In the 1980s there was a research paper that reported liver damage in laboratory animals that had varying doses of these alkaloids injected into them intravenously. This came as shock to the Herbalist community because comfrey has long been regarded as one of the safest herbs…..
…Naturally, experts rushed to the defense of comfrey. One expert pointed out that the rats had been fed the equivalent of twenty-four times their body weight in comfrey leaves. (Green Pharmacy Barbara Griggs 305) Fred Fletcher Hyde argued forcefully that a plant is not only a physical dilution of its chemical constituents:

Teas, almonds, apples, pears, mustard radishes, and hops, to list only a few items, all contain substances which, if extracted, can be shown to be poisonous when tested under conditions similar to those used in the comfrey experiments. Must we then ignore our experience of the usefulness and wholesomeness of these foods because controlled trials and scientific evidence have not been published to establish their safety? (Green Pharmacy Barbara Griggs 305)



Perhaps it starts with confusion, aided by imprecise language. There are two species of comfrey: wild comfrey, Symphytum officinale, and cultivated comfrey, Symphytum uplandica x. (The “x” means it is a hybrid, a cross.)Wild comfrey (S. off.) is a small plant–up to a meter tall–with yellow flowers. Cultivated comfrey (S. uplandica x.) is a large plant–often surpassing two meters–with blue or purple flowers.

Everyone I know grows uplandica and that is what is sold in stores. But gardeners and herbal sellers alike usually mislabel it, causing no end of confusion.

To complicate the situation even more: the roots and the leaves of comfrey contain different constituents. Comfrey roots, like most perennial roots, contain poisons. Wild comfrey (officinale) leaves have some of the same poisons. But cultivated comfrey (uplandica) leaves don’t.

Susun Weed

Comfrey is generally reguarded as safe when used topically, and you can find commercially prepared topical application of comfrey. Comfrey, also known as “Knit-bone” is the great healer of all bones, muscles, connective tissues and skin.

Comfrey ointment heals wounds, cuts, burns, bruises, itches, and most skin problems. But it is most amazing when used to stop friction blisters from forming when you over use your hands or feet–walking, raking, rowing, hoeing, whatever. Even after the blister has swelled and filled with fluid–though better at the first twinge of pain–frequent applications of comfrey ointment will make it disappear as though it was never there. I apply the salve every five minutes for the first hour if I can, then 2-3 times an hour until I go to sleep.

Susun Weed

We use comfrey leaves (never roots) in salves, oils and poultices.  We do also choose to use comfrey internally, although it is illegal in the United States to sell commercially prepared comfrey for internal use.  We dry and chop our own comfrey and use it in herbal infusions.  One of my favorite ways to use comfrey for injured and painful joints is to prepare my herbal infusion, pour one quart of boiling water over one once by weight of dry comfrey, place a tight lid over the hot infusion and let sit for four hours or longer.  After at least four hours (I make mine at night and drink in the morning) strain through a cloth and drink at least a cup.  Then I take the strained leaves, place them in a pot and pour two cups cold water over them and bring it to a boil, let simmer for a few minutes, let cool, once it is cool make a poultice and cover the affected area and let sit as long as you can.  I have found this to be powerful herbal nutrition for strained and sprained joints, and use it often with my teenagers, who are runners and have injuries from time to time.  This year I will be making comfrey oil and salve, I would like to try and see if it is as effective as a poultice. Otherwise I will be spending a lot of time harvesting and drying comfrey leaves to make herbal infusions throughout the year.


Soil Types

soilSoil is defined as the top layer of Earth that allows the growth of plants.  All areas have a different soil horizon, and that profile will change over time, and can contain all of the different types of soil discussed in this article.  You can find out what your soil horizon is by digging a hole in the ground and then observer the cross sections in that hole.

Permaculture is not about changing one type of soil to another type of soil, but is about creating a top layer of soil, in your soil horizon, that plants will thrive in without having to change the underlying soil profile.  BUT, it is very important to know what the soil type is that you are building your permaculture soil on.  The underlying soil type will effect the temperature, water drainage, water retention, and the depth of your plants roots.  Typing your soil can be very complicated.  You will hear people classify soil by color, weight, and other measurements.  I hope that this article helps in clarifying some of the different types of soil, and terminology used.  Over time as you build your permaculture top layer, the underlying soil horizon will change.  It will take years, but eventually the changes  you make on the top layer will percolate down to the lower layers of the soil horizon.  That is a great side effect of doing permaculture gardening, but it is not the ultimate goal.

According to the Unified Soil Classification system (USCS) there are 5 different types of soils.  They include Gravel, Sand, Silt, Clay and Organic.  But I would like to add an additional type, and that is of Peat.  There are different grades of those types (poorly graded, well-graded, high plasticity, and low plasticity), but I will leave that for another post.



Gravel is composed of rock fragments.  These fragments can be in a lot of different sizes.  It is pretty easy to identify gravel.  There is really not a good test to verify it is gravel besides the look and texture.  Because gravel has an inferior ability to retain moisture, nutrients, plant life in gravel soil is more sparse.  One advantage to a gravel soil is that it does have a very high water drainage rate, so it can be good for plants that need a dryer root system.  But it also does not retain nutrients.



Sand is more granular than gravel is, and is comprised of finely divided rock particles.  It is finer than gravel, but is coarser than silt.  Water drains rapidly, and also does not store nutrients for plants very efficiently.  The nutrients are carried away usually to quickly for plants to be able to use them.  You can test to see if your soil is sand by picking some slightly wet sand up.  If you try to create a ball with it, it will not form one, will leave particles on your hands, and crumbles easily in your fingers.



Silt is finer than sand, but not as fine as clay.  Silt is fine enough that it may also be found in suspension in bodies of water.  Silt is usually what makes rivers, and lakes have a dirty look to them.  When silt is wet, it will have a slippery feel, but when it dries, it will have a floury feel.  Silt drains poorly, and is usually cooler than sand.



Clay has the smallest particles.  Clay can be easily molded in your fingers when wet, but when it dries, it becomes hard or brittle.  If clay is wet, it forms into balls easily if rolled in your fingers, and feels sticky.  Clay soil is cold, and takes time to warm, because it does hold moisture well.  Clay also stores nutrients well.  The downside is that when clay becomes dry, it becomes very hard and plants have a hard time growing in dry clay.



Organic soil is soil that is primarily made up of matter composed of organic compounds.   It usually contains the remains of plans, animals, and their waste products.  Organic soil is usually created by the organic matter being broken down by bacterial or fungal action.  Soil holds water, and nutrients, giving plants the capacity for growth.



Some people classify peat with organic soil, but I feel it is in a class all of its own, because of how unique it is in its formation.  It only forms in peatlands, bogs, and mires.  Peat if rolled will not form a ball.  It is spongy to touch and will release water if squeezed.  Peat can be added to the other types of soil to increase its ability to retain water and nutrients.

So, which soil is the best?

The answer to this question is all of them in a mix.  When you have some of all of the soil types mixed, you get what is called Loam.  usually the composition is 40%-40%-20% (sand-silt-clay).  The best type of soil to plant in is loam with the inclusion of organic matter.  This way you get the best combination of draining, nutrients and moisture.  But because it is almost impossible to create loam, permaculture may be the answer.  It is impractical to create loam on a large scale in most environments.  Loam is ideal for starting plants that then can be moved to your permaculture garden.

Loam is considered ideal for gardening and agricultural uses because it retains nutrients well and retains water while still allowing excess water to drain away. A soil dominated by one or two of the three particle size groups can behave like loam if it has a strong granular structure, promoted by a high content of organic matter. However, a soil that meets the textural definition of loam can lose its characteristic desirable qualities when it is compacted, depleted of organic matter, or has clay dispersed throughout its fine-earth fraction.

Loam is found in a majority of successful farms in regions around the world known for their fertile land.  Loam soil feels soft and crumbly and is easy to work over a wide range of moisture conditions. [Source]

Besides doing the ball test, as motioned in the different soil types, you can do jar test.  The jar test is explained at the end of this document: Soil Types and Testing.  It will help you find where your soil fits, if it is sandy, clay, or loam soil.

Below is a video that explains loam a little better, with details on how to mix it.


Other Factors

Soil color can also tell you a lot about the soil, dark soils have high organic matter, aeration, available nitrogen, fertility, and a low erosion factor.  Moderately dark soils have medium organic matter, erosion factor, aeration, available nitrogen and fertility.  Light soils have low organic matter, aeration, available nitrogen, fertility and a high erosion factor. [Source]

Soil Temperature also has a lot to do with growing plants, and the type of soil you have under your permaculture can effect that as well.  For the fastest growth, you want to try to keep your soil temperature at 65-70 degrees F.  Above or 85 degrees and below 40 degrees you have no growth, and little to no bacteria or fungi activity.


Vinaigrette Salad

This is a re-post from
March 29, 2012

This salad is a lot like other salad recipes I have posted.  I love a good vinaigrette salad and I am always looking for different combinations of ingredients.  In this salad I especially loved the combination of bacon and feta cheese, very good!  I really liked this salad, Dadzoo liked this salad and about half of my little punks liked this salad (my children with the more mature palates).  It is defiantly a keeper!

Starting with the dressing we are going to need:

1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 olive oil (use the good stuff!)
1 tsp poppy seeds

Throw it all in a blender and mix well


For the body of the salad we will need:

2-3 Romain hearts shredded
(I was lazy and used a spring mix)
1-2 apples, chopped
1 pkg bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 pkg walnuts or pecans, chopped
1 pkg feta cheese

Toss all ingredients together with the dressing right before serving and enjoy!


One of the first flowers of the spring season is the much maligned dandelion.  Dandelion the bane of the manicured lawn. The cash cow of herbicide companies.

Dandelion, she is my friend and ally and I rejoice at her appearance.
The uses for Dandelion are numerous: greens for salad, flowers for wines and jelly, all parts of the plant are medicinal and they are one of the first spring food for the bees and other beneficial insects.

Dandelion captures the heat and energy of the sun and lights a fire in the digestive track, helping nourish and heal.  It is a liver tonic, strengthening  and healing this most important organ.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) is a persistent perennial of lawns and gardens and one of the best-known medicinal herbs in the world. All parts – the root, the leaves, the flowers, even the flower stalk – strengthen the liver. A dose of 10-20 drops of the tincture (0.5-1 ml) relieves gas, heartburn, and indigestion, as well as promoting healthy bowel movements. A tablespoon of the vinegar works well, too. More importantly, taken before meals, dandelion increases the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, thus increasing bio-availability of many nutrients, especially calcium. And the oil of the flowers is an important massage balm for maintaining healthy breasts. (There’s lots more information on dandelion in Healing Wise.)

Susun Weed

IMG_6060I am very careful when harvesting dandelion blossoms, to only take about half of what is there, leaving the rest of the flowers for the bees and to mature and spread its seeds.  Later in the fall I will harvest roots, taking only about half of the plants, giving thanks for gift of these weeds at my finger tips.
IMG_6057You can always tell it is spring on the farm when my kitchen window seal and the shelves in my pantry are filled with infusing oils.  The vinegars will be used in recipes and salad dressing. The oil will be made into salves and used as is on the skin to invigorate and refresh, giving the fire and energy of the sun to the body, the tincture and a digestive aid and liver tonic. I love using these simple plants that are right outside my door step to feed and nourish my family.


The Little Sisters

The little sisters have finally graduted to a larger yard.  The chicken tractor had become too small for them and they needed to be able to stretch their legs and wings, but they are still too small to be with the older ladies.
While our chickens free range 99% of the time, they do have a yard that we can pen them up in if we need to.  For example, sometimes they decided that it would be fun to lay eggs in other places and go broody on me, when that happens they will be locked up in their yard for a couple days while they remember what the nest boxes are for.  The chicken yard is divided in half with a little coop at one end, that way was can isolate a chicken if needed or keep groups seprate.
The little sisters are in this area.  I don’t love that they are there, the ground is very bare and has been picked clean so they aren’t getting green food right now and I like my chickens to be free to eat green food and bugs, its healthier for them, but for now this is what they have.
IMG_6073In a week or so I will introduce them to their older sisters during the day and they enjoy free ranging over the meadows and fields, doing what chickens do best.

If Heaven Had Given Me…

But I think I have observed that your countrymen who have been obliged to work out their own fortunes here, have succeeded best with a small farm. … It is at the same time the most tranquil, healthy, and independent.  –Thomas Jefferson April 29, 1795

If you know me, you know that I have a fondness for the Founding Fathers.  I see them as men with great wisdom before their time.  I give them, and God credit for the founding of the United States and the ability to setup a form of government that has lasted since 1776.  I like to read their sayings, their writings and their letters.  In doing so, I have come to understand them better, and to gain a greater appreciation for the country that I call home and love.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by his friend CW Peale (1791)

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by his friend CW Peale (1791)

Thomas Jefferson had a friend Charles Willson Peale that exchanged letters with him off and on.  CW Peale was a known painter (he did this famous portrait of Thomas Jefferson), soldier, scientist, inventor, politician, and naturalist.  He also started a natural history museum that included the skeleton of a mastodon that was found, excavated, and mounted by Peale himself.

Jefferson and Peale wrote to each other for years.  The first letter was recorded in 1791.  They continued writing to each other until 1826.  The Jefferson Papers contain 188 letters between Jefferson and Peale.  You can find them at

There was a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to CW Peale on the 20th of August 1811.  The August 20th letter contained this quote:

I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden.  No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.

There are a lot of other quotes form the founding fathers that talk about their love for farming, agriculture and gardens.  Jefferson ends his letter with this statement, “Think of me sometimes when you have your pen in hand and give me information of your health and occupations, and be always assured of my great esteem and respect.”

A few weeks later, Peale responds to Jefferson’s letter with a lengthy letter on September 9th, 1811.

I am most cheerfully accept your kind invitation of a renewal of correspondence … I shall get instruction in my new occupation, that of a famer, which thus may be diffused to others, as I am willing to put into practice every thing that promises to meliorate the condition of Man.

CW Peale, Self-portrait (1791)

CW Peale, Self-portrait (1791)

Peale then writes a lengthy letter to Jefferson about what he is doing on his farm.  I am going to include some excerpts from this letter in the post.  I am hoping that the knowledge of these patriotic farmers will transverse the gap of time.  I feel the same way today as Peale did when he wrote his letter to Jefferson.  In a way, I want to also diffuse the information I have and will learn to others.  It is my hope that others will be able to gain insight from our little farm’s failures and successes, and it a small way will also help meliorate the condition of man.

In the letter, Peale starts out by thanking Jefferson for his design of a Mould-board (curved metal blade in a plow that turns the earth over).  He talks about how he is using Jefferson’s idea to create new plow.  Peale states, “if the form of it was given to every Plow, the land would be infinitely better plowed; greater products consequently, withall less labour to Horses.”  He then goes into detail on how to produce the Mould-board out of White-oak.

Drawing of Mould-board by CW Pearle.

Drawing of Mould-board by CW Pearle.

He then discusses the museum, and how he wants to retire from it.  He convinced his son to take over the museum, so he could “be out of sight, by retiring to the Country, to muse away the remainder of my life.”

You ask whether “the farm is interresting?” my answer is that it is exactly what you would wish, “a rich spot of Earth, well watered, and near a good market for the produce of the Garden.”  I am situated ½ a mile from Germantown and have the same distance to the old-york turnpike road—two Streams run through my land, who’s sources are within 3 miles, on each there are 3 mills above me, from the east stream I can have 23 feet head of water, and on the other 10 feet within my own land, and liberty from my neighbours land below to add 5 feet more—This stream is the nearest to my dwelling. It is my intention as soon as I can conveniently have it executed, to Build the End of a Mill-house, which may be extended if wanted in future, my object at present is only to apply it to the saving of labour of the farm, such as churning of Butter, Grinding our tools, beating of Homony, washing of Linnen, a turn bench &c &c all of which may be performed by bands, thus expence of wheels is avoided. on the other Stream I intend to Build a Grist Mill, after my farm is put into compleat order, if I am able to make it so.

He then talks about his trying to farm on shares, but found that it was more reliable to work the farm himself and not rely on the farmer he picked who turned out to be to lazy, and the crops were always put in the ground to late.

One of my favorite parts of the letter, from Peale to Jefferson, is when he discusses weeds, and how, “I found that where I had cut off one head, Hydra-like a half dozen had sprouted up in place.”  It looks like everyone has to deal with unwanted vegetation in the form of weeds.

…weeds grow so fast that the loss of labor could not be recovered, great part of my new Garden became a wilderness I am now taught to know that a garden must be constantly attended to—This is not the only mistake I have committed, even with the best intentions, I have laughed at my folly in thinking I could do wonders by my steady perseverance. I see my farm, and those of all my neighbors around having an abundance of weeds, I thought that if I cut off those weeds while in Blossom that I should prevent them from seeding, and by a persevering labor of cutting them off, I should at last have my place free of weeds…

The letter contains so much information, I strongly suggest that you read if for yourselves if you want to gain the knowledge that he is bestowing.  He discusses how he grows fodder for his cattle, a machine he made to take his milk from the cow-pen to the spring-house, a three wheeled carriage to take the milk to the market, how he Kiln dries fruit, and a discussion of his fruit trees, using plaster or ash on his land, and producing potatoes.

Machine by CW Peale to move milk.

Machine by CW Peale to move milk.

Three wheeled cart used to transport milk to the market. CW Peale

Three wheeled cart used to transport milk to the market. CW Peale

In conclusion he states the following:

Some of my friends told me that I would soon be tired of a country life, as others of their acquaintance had been. I believe my fondness for the farmers life is becoming daily stronger.

I agree with CW, the more I farm the land and enjoy the “country life” the fonder I become of it.


Deep Mulch

Over the last little while (like the last couple years) we have been collecting a lot of green waste.  Most of it isn’t ours, it is waste that we have brought in.  The thing is, it’s not waste to us, to us it is brown gold.  Beautiful, rich, nourishing brown gold that is going to help us make this desert blossom and feed families.
In the past we have rented chippers and shredders to process the trees, branches and bushes that we acquire, but this year we decided to invest in our own chipper/shredder. It will pay for itself in about two weeks.
The shredded leaves and branches will become deep mulch for our gardens, the idea is that we are mimicking the natural fertility found in the forests.  In the most naturally fertile areas of the world you will find deep layers of organic matter, leaves that have fallen, rotting wood, worms and manure from animals. At the farm we are attempting to recreate this fertility, the chipped leaves and branches are icing on the cake, or the top of the sheet mulching.
The bed above has layers of paper and cardboard, straw and horse manure, we are now adding 6-8 inches of the shredded mulch on top. Along with adding so much organic matter and fertility, we are also preserving water, the water in this dry, dry land will stay put under all the layers of leaves.  The deep layer of mulch will also snuff out weeds and the weeds that do make it through will be easily pulled.  A big bonus around here.
The bed above is finished and has been planted with our spring peas, all tucked in among the beautiful leaf and wood mulch.


When I was a little girl we lived for a time in an apartment off the house of my great-grandparents.  The property was nice and large, with a corral and barn in the back and big lawns in the front. It was a great place for a little girl to explore.  In the spring time the lawns would be full of fragrant little violets. That was before everyone was so obsessed with thick green lawns of Kentucky blue grass, the lawns were more diverse, along with grass there would be clovers, violets and other such small plants.  It was beautiful and healthy for the lawn and land around it. I loved those violets, I would pick them by the fist full and breath in their fragrance.
We lived there a year or two and moved on to a newly built home in a new neighborhood.  There were a lot of new lawns and no violets.  I think I forgot about them for a few years until we moved again to the most enchanting house.  The home was a the long time residence of an elderly couple who had raised their family there and then passed on.  They were gardeners and created the most beautiful gardens, the perfect place for such a girl as I was, full of day dreams and stories, always looking for the fairies and talking flowers. There was a particular area on the side of the house that was planted with many low lying trees and to my delight that first spring the fiddle shaped heads of ferns started pushing up.  I loved watching those green beauties making their appearance, ferns are very uncommon here in the high desert, this little micro climate was special indeed.  Among the ferns, little purple ladies bloomed, my beloved violets! Once again I basked in the beauty and fragrance of my dear little violets.
IMG_6053We left that home too, after a couple years, but I never forgot about my violets and I’ve wondered how to get a hold of these antique spring flowers.  Then about a  year ago I went to see my sister’s new house, and what was there to greet me at the door?  A carpet of sweet little violets “we are here!” they called!  This spring my sister brought me a little pot of violets, they will make their home in the orchard meadow among my other little botanical treasures.

Interesting, in the year since I saw the violets at my sister’s house I researched them a little more and found they are a wonderful medicinal.

  • Use the leaves, harvested any time, even during flowering.
  • Externally: Eases pain and inflammation, heals mouth sores, softens skin, antifungal.
  • Daily dose: Use without limit, non-toxic.
  • Fresh leaves: in salad, as desired.
  • Dried leaf infusion: up to one quart (1 liter).
  • Fresh or dried leaf poultice: continuously.
  • Internal and external use of violet can shrink a breast lump in a month.



Susun Weed

Not only will my little darlings bring a splash of color and scent to my meadow in the spring she will nourish and heal my body.  I am so excited to make violet honey, vinegar, oil and tinctures in the next few years once she is well established here on the farm.

Violet Syrup

Yields 3 cups/750ml

½ lb/225g fresh violets

2 cups/500 ml water

2 cups/500ml honey

Enlist all the help you can to pick violet blossoms.  Boil water;  pour over blossoms;  cover.  Let steep overnight in non-metallic container.  Strain out flowers.  Reserve purple liquid.  Alternate method for loners:  pour 2 cups/500ml boiling water over as many flowers as you can get.  Strain liquid.  Reheat and pour over the next day’s harvest.  Do this daily until your liquid is pleasingly violaceous (purple).  Combine mauve-colored liquid and honey.  Simmer gently, stirring, for ten or fifteen minutes, until it seems like syrup.  Fill clean jars.  Cool.  Keep well chilled to preserve.

Preparation time:  Hours and hours of picking await you, and all in pursuit of some purple-colored sugar water.  Or is there more to it than that?  Perhaps Aunt Violet will open a gateway to ecstasy for you.  Uncle Euell Gibbons pours his on hot broiled grapefruit and proclaims, “Utterly delicious!”

Copyright 2011 Excerpted from Healing Wise by Susun Weed


Healing Wise (Wise Woman Herbal Series)