I grow comfrey in every spare nook. This deep-rooted perennial comes from Europe but has naturalized here, and it is one of the first plants to come up vigorously in the spring. Its leaves are large and dark green, and the plant also boasts purple or blue flowers which nod over in clusters. It flowers from May to August and will produce four cuttings through the season.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) has long been used medicinally and is most renowned for its ability to heal wounds, stings, sprains, and inflammations of all kinds. Known commonly as “knitbone,” it is used for healing broken bones in people and animals. Probably due to its high mineral content and the phytochemical allantoin, it stimulates cell reproduction.
In addition to its medicinal properties, farmers have traditionally fed comfrey to livestock as a rich source of minerals, especially in spring when they need a boost after a long winter with no greens.
Because comfrey is so deep rooted, it draws nutrients into itself from the subsoil and its NPK nutrient profile rivals that of commercial fertilizers, especially in the potassium department. In addition to using it medicinally, it can be used as a natural fertilizer, mulch, or compost pile activator.
Comfrey is easy to grow, tolerating a range of conditions, and once established is tenacious and enthusiastic. It spreads from the roots and even a tiny piece will produce a new plant. Its lush foliage makes a wonderful ornamental addition to the garden – just make sure you put it in a place you’d like it for a long time to come. When getting established, it loves lots of manure or compost as a fertilizer.
Comfrey Oil for External Uses
One way to get the benefits of comfrey for external use is by making comfrey oil. This oil and the salve made from it (by melting in beeswax for a firmer consistency), is soothing and moisturizing. Comfrey oil and salve are used for people with dry skin, chapped lips, excema, cuts, scrapes, and burns (in the later stages, after the initial hot sensation has subsided). I use comfrey salve every time after I bathe—as a moisturizer, it nourishes the skin and prevents wrinkles.
I got a call from an elderly woman who was suffering so badly from eczema that the skin on her hands was cracking open. She had used a variety of creams and lotions that doctors had prescribed over the years, all to no avail. After using comfrey salve for just two days, not only was the pain gone, but also the skin had actually closed over her knuckles.
Making Your Own Comfrey Oil
- Harvest the comfrey leaves in the afternoon, after the sun has dried off the morning dew. Wet plant materials will make moldy oils, so it is best to wait at least 36 hours after the last rain before harvesting.
- In a warm, dry, well-ventilated place (such as an attic, an oven with a pilot light, or even your car!), wilt the whole fresh leaves for 12 hours or until the edges are crispy.
- Stuff your jar completely full of the whole wilted leaves, leaving a little headroom. Add olive oil until the jar is full to the brim.
- Tightly seal the jar. Label it with the plant name and date harvested. Put it in a dish on the counter (herbal oils always leak).
- Tend it a few times a week by poking the plant material down to release air bubbles and topping it off so the level of the oil is above the level of the leaves.
- After six weeks, strain out the plant material, and your infused oil is ready to use!
As many have found, comfrey is powerful healer for skin and the connective tissues. Note that the internal use of comfrey is controversial–actually, illegal per the FDA. For the full scoop and more details on working with comfrey, visit my blog, Along the Wise Woman Path.
Corinna Woodis an herbalist and teacher in the Wise Woman Tradition for 30 years. She founded the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference and Red Moon Herbs. Read her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here. For a free copy of Corinna’s guide, Wild Plants, Wild Women! hop over tocorinnawood.com.
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