Comfrey is a herb that is very well-known for its natural medicinal properties. It is mainly grown in some regions in Asia, Europe and North America. The use of comfrey for medicinal purposes can be traced back to over 2,000 years back and this herb was used widely all through the Middle Ages, where comfrey baths were very popular.
Comfrey belongs to the plants of the genus Symphytum and the plants bear white, blue and purple flowers. Comfrey is distinguished by its long, slender leaves and black-colored roots. For several years, the leaves and roots of comfrey have been used in traditional medicine all across the globe.
In the ancient times, comfrey was called “knitbone” and was used in Japan to treat the inflammation of the joints, heal bruises, sprains and burns. In Europe, this medicinal herb was used to treat painful conditions like gout and arthritis. Even to this day, comfrey is very popularly used for medical purposes all over the world. Comfrey is also a great herb to maintain permaculture systems.
Comfrey contains chemical compounds called rosmarinic acid and allantoin, allantoin helps in the growth of new cells, while rosmarinic acid is beneficial in reducing inflammation and soothing pain.
A very important aspect that you must keep in mind is that comfrey contains toxic chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, or PAs that have toxic effects on the liver of humans and livestock and so it must not be used to treat open wounds or consumed orally.
Nevertheless, comfrey has plenty of uses – topical and in the garden. The herb is very simple to grow and it is usually at its best when cut for use before it blooms and produces flowers. Comfrey is a non-invasive plant and grows around 2-ft in height and a yard across. The plant does not set seeds or throw out creeping roots.
Growing Comfrey in Your Garden
Comfrey can be planted and harvested all-year-round. The ideal soil conditions to grow comfrey are with a pH of 6.0-7.0 and it thrives in moist, rich soil and plenty of sun. Comfrey can tolerate a bit of shade and can be grown in any place, whether dry or wet. Comfrey can adapt to any environment and even flourish in drought conditions that are not conducive for the growth of plants.
When you start growing comfrey in your garden, you can use root cuttings which are essentially 2-6-inch roots planted 2-8-inches deep, horizontally. If the soil is sandy, then you must plant it a bit deeper. If the soil is clayey, plant the comfrey in the shallow end around 3-feet apart.
Maintaining and Harvesting the Comfrey
Comfrey is a very hardy plant and once it has taken root, it takes care and flourishes on its own, without too much of extra care. However, regular watering will help the plant to grow stronger and bloom. Once it is well-established, the comfrey plant will get bigger and the roots become denser and it can live for several years. Comfrey is not afflicted by many diseases, although it can be affected by comfrey rust that causes the yield to reduce, this too is rare.
You can harvest the leaves of comfrey at any time and they can be dried. When the plant reaches around 2-ft, you can make your cuttings. If you harvest the comfrey early, then the plant will not produce any flowers.
Fantastic Ways to Use Comfrey
Activating a Compost Pile
Comfrey leaves have a high nitrogen content that makes them a great bio-activator and they can be used to activate compost heaps. If you have managed to collect plenty of fall leaves or other organic materials from your garden and kitchen, layering this with comfrey leaves is a fantastic way to balance the carbon-nitrogen ratio and catalyze the decomposition.
In order to do this, crush the comfrey leaves using garden scissors. Crush them further to a paste by adding water to the leaves. Add more water to the paste to make a liquid and pour it on the compost pile. Crushing and grinding the comfrey helps the helpful microorganisms in the compost heap to work more quickly and efficiently. This also results in getting compost with a higher nutrient content.
Improving the Health of Your Plants
Tea made of comfrey compost can help to provide a big nutrition-boost to the established plants in your garden. Compost tea can be made by soaking the fresh comfrey compost in water. The liquid is then strained and can be utilized to water plants that require a nutritional-boost if they are stressed or in the middle of the season when they need additional nutrition. The comfrey compost tea provides extra nitrogen to your plants that help them to grow well and flower better.
How to Make Compost Tea?
To make comfrey compost tea, fill any container halfway with comfrey leaves. Fill water to the top of the container, cover it and let the leaves be submerged in the water for 3-6 weeks. When the tea is ready it is quite smelly. Strain the liquid and dilute it. You can make weaker and less smelly tea by adding a gallon of water to a quart of comfrey leaves and allow the mixture to steep for just 3 days and stir it every day. You can then strain the tea and use it for your plants at its full strength.
Plants such as fruit trees, asparagus, berry bushes and fruit and vegetable seedlings can get a fantastic nutritional jump start from comfrey. When you plant the seedlings in your garden, bury some comfrey leaves under each plant. When the comfrey leaves decompose, they provide essential nutrients to the young plants to grow strong and healthy.
Making Comfrey Oil
Store-bought comfrey oil can be quite expensive. You can save plenty of money by making your own comfrey oil at home. The oil has several uses and benefits. To make comfrey oil, you must use freshly dried leaves. Both the leaves, as well as, the roots of the comfrey are used in making the oil. After harvesting the leaves, wipe the dirt off gently with a towel and keep them to dry overnight. When the weather is dry, dig out the comfrey roots and clean them by brushing the dirt away gently. Chop up the roots finely and put them in a paper bag to dry overnight.
How to Make Comfrey Oil?
- 4oz comfrey roots
- 8oz comfrey leaves
- 16oz extra-virgin olive oil, sufficient to cover the leaves and roots
Chop up the comfrey root finely and break up the leaves. Place the leaves and roots in a glass jar and submerge them using extra-virgin olive oil. Close the jar with a tight lid and shake the contents well. Allow the mixture to soak for around 28 days. Strain out the oil using a strainer and store it in a dark-colored glass bottle.
Treating Blisters Caused by Poison Ivy
You can rub raw comfrey leaves on blisters caused by poison ivy or use the oil made of comfrey leaves. However, take care not to apply these to open wounds or if the skin is broken.
Hastening Wound Healing and Preventing Scar Tissue
If you have a wound that is no longer open and is beginning to heal, you can apply comfrey oil or crushed comfrey leaves to prevent the formation of scar tissue. The oil also helps the wound to heal faster.
Relieving Sore Feet
You can make a herbal foot bath using comfrey to soothe and rejuvenate tired and sore feet.
- Bring a gallon of water to a quick boil and add a cup of freshly dried comfrey leaves to it and simmer for around 5 minutes.
- Then, turn off the heat and let the mixture stand for around 10 minutes or more if you want a stronger infusion.
- Strain the liquid into a bottle using a strainer and discard the used comfrey leaves.
- You can pour the herbal liquid to warm water in a basin or a tub and soak your tired feet. You can also add any calming essential oil such as vanilla or lavender to the foot bath.
Healing Skin Rashes
Comfrey is extremely beneficial for the treatment of skin rashes. This is the reason why comfrey balms, creams and salves have been used for centuries. However, this treatment must not be used if the skin is broken.
If you have a body rash, you can put the fresh or dried comfrey leaves in a muslin bag and use it in a bath and have a good soak. This will help to soothe any itching caused by the rash and also help in curing the rash. You can use crushed leaves or comfrey oil to the affected area to aid faster healing.
Soothing Pain and Inflammation
If you have an infection and/or also have pain and inflammation and you don’t want to use the comfrey oil directly, then you can use a poultice. The way to do this is to add 4 cups of comfrey leaves and stems that have been chopped, to a quarter cup of almond or olive oil. Wrap this comfrey oil paste in a cotton cloth. Then, freeze the paste and apply it to the affected areas and let it rest for at least 30 minutes for best results.
Healing Fractures and Torn Muscles
Crushing the comfrey leaves or applying comfrey oil to a fracture or torn muscle can help in quicker healing. Comfrey oil or leaves can also help in alleviating upper and lower back pains.
Comfrey has several uses and legendary healing properties. In fact, the term “comfrey” means “to grow together”, which is extremely appropriate for this healing herb.