If you have ever been to one of my herb classes, then you have probably heard me talk about Comfrey. Its Latin name is Symphytum officionalis. Whenever you see a plant’s species name as “officionalis,” you know it has a long history of medicinal use, at least in Europe.
Comfrey is a native of Europe growing in any temperate climate and just needs some sun. It may be one of the easiest plants to grow and propagate. It can be grown from seed, but it is much easier to use a root cutting. Just cut a piece off of its extensive root system an inch or two long, put it in the ground, and you will have a new plant in no time. You will not kill the original plant doing that. In fact, that is one of the things this plant is famous for; it is very hard to kill even if you want to. So be sure you want the plant in a spot as you cannot easily remove it. Luckily, it doesn’t spread too badly especially if you cut it back before it goes to seed (more on that in a bit).
Comfrey is one of my favorite plants for first aid. It is a powerful tissue healer. It has an amazing ability to encourage the regeneration and healing of damaged tissue as in cuts, scrapes, and bruises. One of its common names is knitbone because it can reportedly improve or speed the healing of a fracture. There are not studies and it is hard to know if it actually does that, but I don’t doubt it. It is typically used externally as a poultice using the root or leaves; the root is the strongest. Simply clean and then grate the root and apply it to the wound. It has a slimy texture and helps soothe irritated tissue. It can be applied to minor burns and especially sunburn much like you would use Aloe. I keep track of where it grows in my garden so I can go dig up the root even in winter for first aid use.
It can be used internally to soothe an irritated stomach or ulcer, but it should not be used for more than a few weeks at a time and not at all if you have any sort of liver damage. The plant contains a chemical that can irritate the liver with long-term use.
You can make oils and salves and other preparations from this plant. I also dry the root and it is easy to powder in a blender or coffee grinder. However, this plant is best used in its fresh form right out of the ground or off the stem. So you need to have it growing in your yard. Keep reading and I’ll tell you how to get some.
Comfrey is a great healer for our tissues, but it is also a wonderful plant to heal our soil. The plant grows an deep and extensive root system that extracts nutrients from deep in the soil. If you then cut the plant back, the nutrients are deposited on the surface of the soil to fertilize your plants. For that reason, comfrey works great next to fruit trees or other perrenials. Never till where there is comfrey as every little piece of root will become a new plant. It grows large, soft leaves very quickly and they compost very quickly. So you can cut it back all the way to the ground several times a year and it will just keep on growing. It is a mulch fertilizer machine!
By the way, chicken and goats like them too. They won’t kill it as long as the animals are not left on that same area all the time so the plant can have a chance to grow back.
I am leading an herb walk this Saturday morning. We are meeting at Food Matters Market at 9am and will carpool to the site. The cost of the walk is $20. I will be teaching you to identify and use plants that we find. Everyone coming to this walk is eligible for a free root cutting. Just e-mail me ahead of time and I’ll bring it to the walk.