Comfrey is a perennial plant. The rootstock is black outside, fleshy and whitish inside, and contains a glutinous juice. The angular, hairy stem bears bristly, oblong lanceolate leaves, some petioled, some sessile. There are also tongue-shaped basal leaves that generally lie on the ground. The whitish or pale purple flowers have a tubular corolla resembling the
finger of a glove and grow in forked racemes from May until the first frost. Each flower is followed by four seeds in a little cup-like fruit.
Family: Boraginaceae (Borage family)
Other Names: Knitbone, Boneset, Bruisewort, Consormol, Knitback, Slippery root
Flowers: May – First Frost
Parts Used: Root and leaves
Habitat: Moist meadows and other moist places in the U.S. and Europe.
History: Few herbs have had as many extravagant claims made for them as has comfrey. Known for centuries for powerful abilities as a healer, comfrey was often granted purely miraculous ones as well. Culpeper claimed that comfrey root “is said to be so powerful to consolidate and knit together, that if they be boiled with dissevered pieces of flesh in a pot, it will join them together.”
Aside from claims such as these, this showy member of the borage family has, indeed, been used for centuries by herbalists for a wide variety of ailments. Many of its uses are not as radical as the one suggested by Culpeper, but run the gamut from poultices made from the leaves and used to reduce swellings, to teas and infusions of the root used to treat diarrhea.
Constituents: Mucilage, Allantoin, Tannins, Resin, Essential oil, Pyrrolizioline alkaloids, Gum, Carotene, Glycosides, Sugars, Beta-sitosterol and steroidal saponins, Triterpenoids, Vitamin B-12, Protein, Zinc.
Properties: Anodyne, Astringent, Demulcent, Emollient, Expectorant, Hemostatic, Refrigerant, and Vulnerary.
Main Uses: Comfrey is used for fractures, bruises and burns (external); respiratory and digestive disorders.
Comfrey is one of the most famed healing plants. Its remarkable power to heal tissue and bone is due to allantoin, a cell-proliferant that promotes the growth of connective tissue, bone, and cartilage, and is easily absorbed through the skin. Recent American research has also shown that comfrey breaks down red blood cells, a finding that supports its use for bruises, hence its country name, Bruisewort. Comfrey is also useful externally as a poultice for varicose ulcers and as a compress for varicose veins. It also alleviates and heals minor burns.
Modern science has established that comfrey is high in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and other trace minerals. The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C.
How To Grow: Comfrey can be raised from plants, crown cuttings containing eyes or buds, and root cuttings. While the first two methods will produce a respectable crop the first year after planting, root cuttings are by far the cheapest method and can be easily ordered through the mail. Although some herbalists mention raising comfrey from seed, few growers have had success with this method.
Once established, comfrey is a hardy perennial. The roots will withstand frost down to -40 degrees F. In fact, it is a difficult crop to eradicate. The roots will produce new plants from any sliver left in the ground.
Cuttings are planted three to six inches deep in a horizontal position. The soil should be well-tilled and manured. Comfrey likes a sweet soil, with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Limestone should be applied liberally. Other soil requirements can be met by dressing with ground phosphate rock for phosphates and greensand for potash. The cuttings should be spaced three feet apart each way. Grasses and weeds should be kept down by cultivation or mulch. Once you cuttings are established, they can be divided for more plants. The best time to divide is in the spring when the leaves begin to appear above ground.
Harvest: Harvest comfrey just before it blooms. Nutritional and medicinal value seem to decrease once the plant blossoms. Cut the plant with a sickle or knife when the leaves are twelve to eighteen inches high, leaving a two-inch stem stub. It is important not to cut lower than this and damage the newly-forming growth on the crown.
Herbal doctors seemed to have preferred fresh comfrey, giving little value to dried leaves. Nevertheless, the leaves can be dried. Cut the leaves at the end of the day when their food value is highest. Comfrey leaves are tender, so avoid bruising. They should be dried quickly in thin layers in the sun. Allow about two days for the drying to take place, then store in boxes layered between layers of grass hay. Be careful not to shatter or compress the leaves when packing them.
Comfrey root can also be dried for winter use. Clean it carefully (avoid bruising or scraping) and dry slowly in the sun, turning often.
Preparation And Dosages:
Poultice: Stir fresh, chopped rootstock and fresh, chopped leaves into a little hot water to form a thick mash. Spread on a linen cloth and apply to wound or bruise, etc. Renew every 2 to 4 hours.
Caution: Care should be taken with very deep wounds as the external application of Symphytum can lead to tissue forming over the wound before it has healed deeper down, leading to the possibility of an abscess. Excessive internal consumption of the root should be avoided because of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which have been linked by some research to liver cancer in rats.
Warning: There is a danger that the leaves of Comfrey may be confused with the first-year leaf rosettes of Foxglove (Digitalis), with fatal results.