What is Comfrey?

What is Comfrey? It wasn’t too terribly long ago that I was asking Tomithy this exact question. We had really started digging into perennial plants that our homestead could benefit from. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) seemed to really be an ideal plant for us.

I feel that I must tell you up front that the FDA has some things to say about this plant. They do not suggest consuming this plant. They also don’t suggest that you use this plant or its properties for longer than 10 days in a row or no more than 4-6 weeks out of a year. SO PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH ON THIS PLANT BEFORE YOU JUST JUMP INTO THIS VERY BENEFICIAL PLANT!!!!

Now- That being said….. Let me share some things we have learned about this plant.

It is native to Europe. It has a thin turnip like root, meaning the tap root is long and thick and goes straight down. It is a great fertilizer for organic gardening. It is a perennial herb that has many medicinal benefits. It is also a great compost activator and also makes a fantastic companion plant for other perennials and trees.

Not to mention, they are beautiful too!

Let’s share just a few things I know that this plant is medicinal for. The range is HUGE. Comfrey contains allantoin, which is known to assist granulation and cell formation . . . which is what the healing process is all about. It is great for bronchial problems,  broken bones, sprains, arthritis, uterine and other internal hemorrhages, gastric ulcers, varicose ulcers, acne, rebuilding teeth and bone properties and also helps in boosting the memory. The comfrey plant is also known as knitbone. It can help to rebuild damaged cells and fix sprains and also allow the bone to grow back healthier and stronger.

One of the most common ways to use comfrey is as a poultice. A poultice is basically the leaves of plants that have been crushed to release the juice from the leaves. Then you wrap your bone, skin, sprain or burn in the leaves. Poultices have been used for centuries being made from plantain and/or comfrey leaves. Interestingly, we have found that comfrey poultices used on aches and pains that have gone on for years (e.g. arthritic broken bones, improperly healed muscles) seem to cause intense pain for a couple hours, followed by a typical ache/pain for another 6 to 24 hours… but then the old ache/pain seems to go away for good. For example, I broke my foot over ten years ago and it has hurt me every single time the weather changed. About a year ago, during one of these weather changes, I decided to try the a comfrey poultice on my foot to see if there was any merit to the medicinal claims so many have made about the plant. After a half hour my foot started hurting even worse. At the 2 hour mark, my foot was in so much pain I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to remove the poultice. We decided that those herbalists were crazy… comfrey made it worse not better. Now, a year later and my foot has not once been in pain since we applied the comfrey poultice. We recently began using comfrey poultices again once we made the connection to my foot pain being absent. I had a similar experience recently with a stomach muscle that has been causing extreme muscle cramps since I had a surgery 3 years ago. We will continue to watch my stomach muscle for further cramping. This is very anecdotal, and only meant to serve as an observation point.

Comfrey is also great at jump starting the composting processing. Adding a handful of comfrey leaves to a new compost pile will kickoff the decomposition process to a quick start. It also has very deep roots (over 10 feet deep by some estimates) which collect nutrients from beneath where many other plants can no longer reach and bring these nutrients up into the leaves… This feature makes comfrey a great companion plant for our fruit trees… Each of our fruit trees has at least one comfrey plant nearby.at least once a year we chop down the comfrey leaves and drop them around the fruit trees’ drip line (a.k.a. “Chop n’ drop”) to help fertilize the trees. This is the primary reason we decided to add comfrey to our garden in the first place. The medicinal properties are really just a bonus.

One thing that many people have discussed is just how hardy comfrey can be… how difficult it can be to get rid of. While we have no desire to kill off our comfrey plants (quite the contrary), we have actually found that it was not as hardy as we expected based on all the warnings. It is not a fan of mostly shaded areas (of which our yard has many) and even if it survives in a shady spot, it does NOT thrive. I have successfully MOVED plants from  shady ares to sunnier areas without the original plant re-sprouting; if you have read anything about the hardiness of comfrey roots you will know how unheard of this is.  Comfrey equally dislikes high traffic areas and if trampled/cut back too frequently (think daily or weekly) can be killed off. This is a double whammie if the high traffic area is shaded. I have also read about comfrey patches being smothered with black plastic and/or hot compost piles. For reference, we have the “True” variety of comfrey (Symphytum officinale), not any of the Bocking varieties.

That being said propagation is quite simple. 1) dig up a plant, 2) chop up the roots, and 3) plant the root pieces. Taking a single shovel full out of a single 1.5 year old plant yielded 52 root sections ~1 inch long, each of which grew into a new plant in our nursery. Someone once told me that you could probably shred a comfrey root and each shred will grow a new plant… it certainly wouldn’t surprise me. I wouldn’t dare run a rototiller through a comfrey plant unless I wanted to grow many more plants in that general area.

So I strongly recommend giving Comfrey a try. Not only is it a great medicinal plant but it is great for the garden as well. If you have any questions about comfrey, we will do out best to answer those questions.

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