Growing and Using Comfrey Leaves

Grow comfrey for healing scrapes and bruises, activating compost and conditioning soil.


| May/June 1974



Comfrey Plant

There are many uses for comfrey, but it should not be taken internally because it is toxic to the liver.


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/ FLORIN CAPILNEAN

Four years ago — mostly from curiosity, because we'd heard so much about the plant's virtues — we set aside a small rectangular spot on our acre for a bed of 30 comfrey cuttings. They grew like mad. We harvested comfrey leaves all summer, and found so many uses for comfrey that, at the end of the season, we ordered 150 additional roots and expanded our little patch to a plantation of 200.

In case you're not familiar with comfrey (Symphytum officinale), it's a member of the borage family, a strong-growing perennial with somewhat hairy leaves 12 to 18 inches long, rising on short stems from a central crown. The flower is a pretty blue bell, fading to pink. We don't wait to see the blossoms, however, because the foliage is at its best if cut before blooming time. The plant reaches a height of over two feet and spreads to more than a yard across, but — since comfrey doesn't throw out creeping roots and hardly ever sets seed — it's remarkably non-invasive for such a sturdy being.

Comfrey leaves have a high moisture content and dry more slowly than some of the herbs you may be used to working with. Just give them a little extra time. Make sure the leaves are crumbly before you store them, though, since any remaining dampness will cause mold. Then pack the foliage into jars and close the containers tightly.

Medicinal Uses for Comfrey

Comfrey has long been used as a cure by Gypsies and peasant peoples, and has an ancient reputation as a mender of broken bones. In her marvelous book Herbal Healing for Farm and Stable, Juliette de Bairacli also recommends it for uterine and other internal hemorrhages and for the healing of wounds. British Gypsies, she writes, feed the roots to their animals as a spring tonic. (Please Note: Comfrey is toxic to the liver for both humans and livestock and should not be taken orally or used on open wounds. —MOTHER.) 

Comfrey contains allantoin, a substance known to aid granulation and cell formation . . . which is what the healing process is all about. The effectiveness of this valuable plant can now be accounted for, and is therefore more widely accepted. (Funny how pinning a name on the curative property makes it possible for us to acknowledge it!) Here on our acre, we follow Mrs. Levy's advice and treat both people and animal hurts with comfrey. Generally we use an infusion (strong tea) of fresh or dried leaves, either to soak a part such as a sore finger or to dab on a cut with cotton. Crushed foliage can be applied externally, or a raw leaf rubbed on skin lesions such as rashes and poison ivy blisters. (Scratch and heal in one operation!) Comfrey should not be applied to open wounds or broken skin.

The most common medicinal use of comfrey are in poultices to help heal swellings, inflammations and sores. To make such a dressing, let the leaves mush up in hot water, squeeze out the excess liquid and wrap several handfuls of the hot, softened foliage in a clean cloth. Apply the pad to the affected part—comfortably hot, but not scalding—and cover the area with a thick folded towel to keep the heat in. The moist warmth enhances the healing effect of the allantoin.

paulgibson
8/4/2016 1:31:20 PM

About 15 years ago, the tongue of a trailer filled with firewood caused a large and severe cut to my hand. Knowing that comfrey and turmeric are vulnerary herbs, which means that they promote healing, I began putting compresses of the the two of them (mixed) onto the wound. When I first got the wound I feared I would be out of work for a month it was so large and severe. (My job at that time was in carpentry and I had to constantly use saws and drills, etc) I began using the comfrey/turmeric compresses and the speed at which the wound healed was something to behold! Every time I replaced compresses I could see significant improvement. I was actually able to observe the healing taking place before my very eyes; it was like watching a video of a slow process like the opening of a flower or the transformation of a caterpillar that has has been speeded up so that the whole process can be viewed in 5 minutes. The wound healed completely in 5 days and I was able to go back to work with no pain, discomfort or opening of the wound. I suffered no ill effects, just the most miraculous healing I have ever seen! BTW - Just for your information, I changed the compress morning and evening at which time I soaked my hand for 5 minutes in a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water.


randy
12/22/2015 8:40:48 PM

sferguson72 - -if you still have the blood problem - -Moringa seeds are a very good blood purifier.


randy
12/22/2015 8:36:19 PM

If Comfrey contains a toxin that is bad for the liver but is used instead for garden fertilizer wouldn't that toxin be absorbed by the garden plants making them toxic to be consumed.


desertwillow
7/31/2014 12:28:18 AM

Hera123, I'm not an expert on comfrey. I do grow it and use it for poison ivy rash and feed very small amounts to my rabbits if they are under the weather, since old time rabbit breeders swear it keeps them healthy. I've read a fair amount about the historic uses of comfrey, and it has been used for many hundreds of years at least for skin conditions and wounds. I think that in the case of your dog, the benefits definitely outweigh the risks. If it's working, I would continue until the wound is healed. That's a remarkable improvement in your dog's condition, and I hope it will continue and become a full recovery. I also have Labradors and have a soft spot in my heart for them, so I wish you and your dog all the best. Good Luck!


hera123
7/6/2014 3:54:46 PM

Hi there, I have a question about comfrey. Hopefully someone would have some feedback for me. Two months ago my 12 yr-old Lab dog developed a huge cancerous aggressive and said incurable growth on the surface skin in her hip area. After a surgery to try to remove the cancerous tumor, the growth came back (it was impossible for the vet to remove all the cancerous cells as they infiltrate in all the surrounding tissues). The growth has gotten bigger now (size of a big canteloup). About 2 weeks ago, it has opened up in one spot of the growth, releasing there the blood vessels that this type of cancer is building up (it tries to build up its own blood vessels inside the growth).There is now a 3"x2" cavity within the growth, which I believe has created some kind of a release point. I decided to take care of the wound/cavity myself. About 6 days ago, in addition to disinfecting, etc. I started to put aloe vera and comfrey's fresh leaves in the cavity. What is interesting is that all the blood vessels that the cancer had built up started to dissolve in this cavity and all that was left was my dog's own tissue. In that cavity there was a hole. Upon examining it with my finger I found out empty spaces inside the mass (like a maze), and no blood in it!...which is I believe a good sign! To this day and despite all this my dog still eats well, and doesn't show sign of pain when I dress the wound. So I am not giving up on her. I am not sure what is dissolving all those blood vessels...comfrey? aloe vera? the energy healing and frequencies that my dog is receiving to correct the cancer imbalance, other herbal supplements I give her to boost her immune system and milk thistle for the liver, but something seems to be working and helping dissolve that mass. Plus the skin around the cavity seems to be healing well. Now, I read just recently then that comfrey should not be taken orally and internally because of damage to the liver and to not apply it to an open wound. But some says that it can be taking internally on a short-term basis. So my question is: Would applying comfrey inside my dog's open wound be considered as taking it internally and dangerous for the liver or else of my dog? Or it is OK on a short-term basis? Sorry for the long message. Any feedback would be appreciated.


krystina
6/19/2014 12:13:34 AM

sferguson72 Try Burdock root it is the best blood purifier try one ounce per 100 lbs. eat raw before flower in salads or dry and make as tea. taste like more sweet version of potato. I've nver eaten cooked but raw has amazing flavor. Seed acts similar to flax with different flavor slightly nutty. does not seem to effect celiacs disease as with flax ;)


sferguson72
6/9/2014 11:06:41 AM

I have heard that comfrey can be used as an alternative medicine for liver disease. I was contaminated with bad blood used in a transfusion in 1975> I now am contaminated with hepititus C. I am seeking to a naural product I can take to cleanse the liver. Comfrey would be easy to grow but I am not convinced this is what I am seeking. Taking an internal alternative would be what I am seeking. Any ideas?


cazzie
4/24/2014 1:11:28 PM

I have used comfrey internally (tea) for many decades. It is a demulcent (soothing to mucous membranes) and an expectorant. It has cured many of us of stomach problems and lung problems. Like any other medicine, it is not to be used long term and with careful thought. It got a bad wrap in the early 70's when a very few folks used it excessively and had bad results. How many people have had horrible side effects and even died from modern day medicines-thousands. I will continue to use it, with wisdom, internally.


pete truslow
12/10/2008 11:14:18 AM

Would like to start growing Comfrey for my animals. Can you give me the name of a supplier?


jeremiah_2
11/8/2007 1:32:58 AM

here is a bit I just discovered about comfrey: Subject: Comfrey Safety Answered by: Conrad Richter Question from: Tony Staiano Posted on: March 9, 1999 Is comfrey a safe herb? This is a matter of some controversy. There are a number of studies that suggest that comfrey can cause liver damage and tumours. On the other hand, there are many herbalists who believe that comfrey was the victim of inappropriate over-regulation based on dubious scientific and clinical studies. There is no doubt that comfrey has powerful healing properties. We believe that comfrey should have a role in the treatment of short-term illnesses such as acute ulcers, skin problems, etc. Comfrey should not be taken over a long term. In our opinion, the problem for comfrey began when it was touted as the nuttitional supplement, and zealots advocated its daily consumption for its high protein and vitamin B12 content. People were encouraged to eat leaves or take root or leaf powder daily. Some studies showed that continuous, long term ingestion of comfrey can indeed cause liver damage. But when taken over a short term, as is the traditional usage of comfrey, comfrey, in our opinion, poses little risk to health. In any case, the compounds implicated in liver damage are not absorbed through the skin, and so skin creams and ointments make from comfrey do not pose any risk. Can comfrey when taken, cause dizziness ? We have never heard of this effect. There is nothing in comfrey that suggests how it could cause dizziness.


hannah_3
6/10/2007 5:15:33 AM

I really appreciate this article. We got our first plant yesterday from a local greenhouse. I'm so excited about being able to use it as part of my goat's feed ration.






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