Comfrey – Symphytum officinale (Boraginaceae plant family).
Native to Europe and Asia; naturalized all over the world. Loves rich soil and full sun. Under ideal conditions comfrey can grow to a height of 5 feet. Comfrey is a hardy, upright, leafy perennial that dies back in winter and re-emerges in late spring.
Comfrey can be grown from seed or by dividing the roots in late autumn. Plant comfrey away from the herb and vegetable garden as comfrey grows vigorously and is almost impossible to eradicate.
All parts of the comfrey plant can be used. The leaves can be gathered and tied into bundles and hung up to dry in a warm, airy room. The rhizomes can be dried in a cardboard box and kept there all winter. Turn the rhizomes weekly so that they dry evenly. Because comfrey contains small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (a liver toxin) there is some concern over whether comfrey should be ingested. Comfrey is considered to be generally safe if used externally.
The ancient Greeks used mashed comfrey leaves as a poultice to staunch heavy bleeding, especially after child birth. I can attest to this healing power, having had the honor of being present during a home birth. The mid-wife prepared a poultice of comfrey and the soft cloths were soaked in this poultice tincture and applied after the placenta had been expelled. I sat with the mother all night and took care of her, and can honestly say there was very little swelling due to the use of the comfrey poultices that I applied each hour. The mother was up and around in a few days with hardly any discomfort.
Greek physicians of the first century used the plant to heal wounds and mend broken bones. The word comfrey comes from the Latin, meaning “grow together”. Thick poultices were made from the fleshly rhizomes as a sort of glue for binding up gaping wounds. The rhizomes contain a fleshy, juicy, mucilaginous (glue-like) substance. The wounds were packed with the comfrey and allowed to heal. In addition to comfrey’s wound regenerative abilities, it also seems to be effective in destroying harmful bacteria in wounds and burns.
Fresh leaves can be chopped finely in a blender and applied to the skin. Spread the chopped leaves on sun-burned skin, cover with a damp towel, and change the dressing every few hours. Don’t use the poultice on severe burns. Seek medical attention instead. A soothing spray for insect bites and scrapes can be made by soaking a handful of fresh leaves in very hot water. Soak the leaves overnight, strain and add the comfrey-infused liquid to a spray bottle. Be sure to label the contents.
Good to know: comfrey leaves were often the only bandages Civil War physicians had for field dressings during battle. The large, fresh leaves were applied to staunch bleeding after amputations.
Blessed be, sweet ones