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Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)


    Family: Boraginaceae

    Grow zone: 3-9

    Comfrey, also known as Symphytum officinale, is a perennial herb that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Its leaves and roots are primarily used for medicinal purposes. Comfrey contains various compounds, including allantoin, rosmarinic acid, and tannins, which contribute to its potential health benefits. However, it’s important to note that comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic to the liver in high amounts. Due to safety concerns, the internal use of comfrey is not recommended. Here are some common external uses of comfrey for medicinal purposes:

    1. Topical Applications: Comfrey has been traditionally used topically to promote wound healing, reduce inflammation, and alleviate skin conditions. It may help speed up the healing process of cuts, bruises, sprains, and minor burns. Comfrey ointments, creams, or poultices can be applied directly to the affected area. However, it’s important to ensure that the skin is not broken, as comfrey should not be used on open wounds.
    2. Joint and Muscle Support: Comfrey has a long-standing reputation for its use in supporting joint and muscle health. It may help alleviate symptoms of arthritis, sprains, strains, and general muscle aches. Comfrey-based creams or oils can be applied topically to the affected area for temporary relief.
    3. Skin Conditions: Comfrey has been used for various skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. It may help soothe itching, reduce inflammation, and support the healing process. Comfrey creams or ointments can be applied to the affected skin, but it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or dermatologist before using comfrey for skin conditions.
    4. Comfrey Compress: A warm or cold compress made with comfrey leaves or root extract can be applied to swollen or inflamed areas for relief. This method is commonly used for joint pain, strains, or sprains.

    Medicinal Effects:

    Anti-catarrhal (Cough & Cold - Reduce Mucus):
    Anti-inflammatory: Alleviate inflammation throughout the body
    Anti-rheumatic (Arthritis - Relief): Alleviate symptoms associated with arthritis, such as joint pain and stiffness. Available in various forms, including capsules, extracts, and topical creams, which are used for joint pain relief.
    Arthritis - Reduce Inflammation/Swelling (Anti-rheumatic): Alleviate symptoms associated with arthritis, such as joint pain and stiffness. Available in various forms, including capsules, extracts, and topical creams, which are used for joint pain relief.
    Astringent (Also See Acne):
    Cough And Cold (Decongestant; Demulcent; Anti-catarrhal; Antitussive):
    Demulcent (Cough & Cold - Soothe inflamed tissues/mucous membranes):
    Expectorant (Mucus - resolve): expels mucus in the respiratory system  
    Skin Health & Conditions: Extracts or preparations topically to treat various skin conditions, including wounds, cuts, and skin infections
    Vulnerary (Wounds - Healing; Healing - Wounds;): Vulnerary herbs possess healing properties that promote tissue repair, aid in wound healing, and soothe skin irritations and injuries.

    Here are the steps to grow and harvest comfrey:

    1. Planting:
      • Choose a location that receives full sun or partial shade.
      • Comfrey can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions but prefers well-draining soil.
      • You can start comfrey from seeds, but it’s more commonly propagated from root cuttings or divisions. Obtain comfrey root cuttings from a reputable source.
      • Dig a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the root cuttings.
      • Place the root cuttings in the hole with the buds facing upward.
      • Backfill the hole with soil, ensuring that the cuttings are adequately buried but not too deep. Leave about 1-2 inches of the cuttings above the soil surface.
    2. Watering and Care:
      • Keep the soil consistently moist during the establishment period, especially during the first few weeks after planting.
      • Once established, comfrey is a relatively drought-tolerant plant and can withstand periods of dryness.
      • Mulching around the plants can help retain moisture and suppress weed growth.
      • Comfrey has deep roots that can access nutrients from the soil, so additional fertilization is often not necessary.
    3. Maintenance:
      • Comfrey is a fast-growing plant that can become invasive if not managed properly. Consider planting it in a contained area or using a root barrier to prevent its spread.
      • Remove any weeds around the comfrey plants to minimize competition for nutrients.
      • Comfrey can benefit from an annual top-dressing of compost or well-rotted manure to provide additional nutrients.
      • Prune comfrey plants back in early spring to encourage new growth and prevent them from becoming too leggy.
      • Regularly divide and replant comfrey every few years to control its size and rejuvenate the plant.
    4. Harvesting:
      • Comfrey leaves are typically harvested for their medicinal properties and use as a nutrient-rich mulch or compost material.
      • Harvest the leaves when the plant is actively growing and has reached a sufficient size, usually in late spring or early summer.
      • Cut the leaves close to the base of the plant using clean pruning shears or a sharp knife.
      • You can harvest the leaves multiple times during the growing season, but avoid removing all the leaves at once to allow the plant to continue growing.

    How to use as medicine:

    While comfrey has been used traditionally for medicinal purposes, it’s important to note that internal use of comfrey is not recommended due to potential liver toxicity associated with its pyrrolizidine alkaloid content. However, comfrey can still be used externally for its potential benefits. Here are some ways to use comfrey as a topical medicine:

    1. Comfrey Salve or Ointment: You can make a comfrey salve or ointment to apply topically to the affected area. Here’s a simple recipe:
      • Ingredients: Dried comfrey leaves or root, carrier oil (such as olive oil or coconut oil), beeswax (for firmness).
      • Instructions: Infuse the dried comfrey leaves or root in the carrier oil by placing them in a jar and covering them with the oil. Let it sit for several weeks in a warm place, shaking occasionally. Strain the oil and melt beeswax in a double boiler. Mix the infused oil with the melted beeswax to create a salve or ointment consistency. Store it in a clean jar or container. Apply the salve topically to the affected area as needed for pain relief or wound healing.
    2. Comfrey Poultice: A comfrey poultice can be applied directly to the skin to provide relief for bruises, sprains, or minor wounds. Here’s how to make a poultice:
      • Ingredients: Fresh or dried comfrey leaves, hot water, clean cloth or gauze.
      • Instructions: Crush or chop the comfrey leaves to release their juices. Place them in a bowl and add hot water to make a paste-like consistency. Let it cool slightly. Apply the mixture directly to the affected area and cover it with a clean cloth or gauze. Leave it on for 20-30 minutes before removing.
    3. Comfrey Infused Oil: Comfrey-infused oil can be used as a base for various topical applications. Here’s how to make it:
      • Ingredients: Dried comfrey leaves or root, carrier oil (such as olive oil or almond oil).
      • Instructions: Fill a jar with the dried comfrey leaves or root and cover them completely with the carrier oil. Place the jar in a sunny spot for a few weeks to allow the oil to infuse. Strain the oil and store it in a clean, airtight container. Use the infused oil topically on the affected area for pain relief, wound healing, or skin conditions.

    When using comfrey topically, it’s essential to follow these guidelines:

      • Use only externally: Avoid internal use of comfrey due to the potential liver toxicity associated with its pyrrolizidine alkaloid content.

      • Avoid open wounds: Do not apply comfrey to open wounds, as it can promote rapid healing and close the wound before it has had a chance to properly heal from within.

      • Patch test: Before applying comfrey to a larger area of skin, perform a patch test on a small, unaffected area to check for any adverse reactions or allergies.

      • Discontinue use if necessary: If any irritation or allergic reactions occur, discontinue the use of comfrey and seek medical advice if needed.