Other Names Knitbone, knitback, consound, blackwort, bruisewort, slippery root, boneset, yalluc, gum plant, consolida, ass's ear
Comfrey is an herbaceous perennial. The large, hairy, lance-shaped leaves grow in clusters about 12 inches high. It sends up a central stem, which can reach three feet in height. The bell shaped flowers appear in clusters on this stem shortly before midsummer. The flowers of wild comfrey vary in color, but are most often yellow. Prickly comfrey may have blue or pink flowers, and Quaker comfrey has purplish flowers. The root is black on the outside, white on the inside and tuberous, shaped like a turnip.
- Wild or common comfrey Symphytum officinale L
- Prickly or rough comfrey S. asperum Lepechin (Do not use this internally)
- Quaker, Russian or Blue Comfrey S. peregrinum Lebed (hybrid of the above) (Do not use this internally)
History and Folklore
Comfrey has been cultivated for healing since 400 BCE. It was used by such notable Greek physicians as Herodotus, Nicander, Galen and Dioscorides. It continued to be used throughout history and its use spread throughout Europe.
The name Symphytum comes from the Greek meaning "Grow together" + "plant". And comfrey comes from the Latin meaning to grow together.
Comfrey prefers a cooler climate and is hardy down to -40 degrees, so it is a nice addition to northern herb gardens. It prefers full sun, but might need some shade if you live in a very hot place. Soil should be rich, but it's not picky. It appreciates a bit of fertilizer once in awhile.
It is most often propagated by root cuttings. Plant in spring, as soon as you can work the soil. 2-4 inches deep in rich soil. Give it about two feet of space to grow. Comfrey likes it moist, so water regularly if it does not rain.
Flowering stems should be removed in the first year, so that the plant's energy is focused on a sturdy root and leaf system. After that, you can let the plant flower. Growth continues while the plant is in flower.
Harvesting & Storage
The more you harvest this plant, the more it will grow. It should be harvested in early May, just before it blooms, for the greatest potency. Collect the leaves as needed and spread out to dry. They break down easily, don't dry well and are very delicate when dry. So it's best to use comfrey fresh.
Comfrey is used in protective magic for the traveler and to protect against theft. Try placing a comfrey leaf in your luggage to make sure it isn't lost or stolen. Use comfrey root in sachets for protection while traveling, and to keep your lover faithful while you are gone. Also use it in sachets to protect vehicles. Hang from your rear view mirror or hide it under a seat.
Wrap your money in a comfrey leaf for several days before going to a casino or poker game. It will help keep your bets coming back to you.
Comfrey flowers, especially blue ones, can be substituted in any spell calling for borage.
Use comfrey in a bath after ritual to relax and cleanse you, especially for healing or love spells.
Because comfrey roots dig so deep in search of nutrients, these nutrients are then stored in their leaves, which lack fiber and break down quickly. Thus, comfrey is an excellent compost plant and can be laid in the beds of other plants to act as fertilizer.
It is a great addition to compost in moderation. Make sure you balance it with firmer plant matter, or you'll get gooey compost.
Rot the leaves down in water for several weeks to produce a concentrated liquid fertilizer. Or make comfrey tea.
Boiling the root in water yields a sticky paste which you may or may not find some use for.
Wild comfrey contains allantoin, which is found in the milk of nursing mothers. It encourages cell reproduction and thus stimulates the healing of wounds. It also has a high mucilage content, which smooths the skin. This makes comfrey a valuable addition to salves and lotions and a soothing addition to baths.
Try adding comfrey to salves for burns, acne, bruising, abrasions and other topical complaints. It can also be used in poultices for breaks and strains and to reduce swelling from any cause.
Comfrey should not, however, be used for very deep or puncture wounds, because it can actually make the surface heal faster than the lower part of the wound, causing abscesses. Make sure a wound has been thoroughly cleaned before applying comfrey, so as not to seal dirt inside the wound.
The boiled roots yield a sticky paste which dries hard, and it has been used to set bandages. Simply spread it on the bandage, and then wrap the wound.
Taken internally, as a tea, the leaves are said to help speed the healing of broken bones and other internal injuries. The root is used for persistent, painful coughs as well as hemorrhage and ulcers.
However, one should be aware that comfrey can cause liver damage and is potentially carcinogenic. Interestingly, the toxic components are similar to those founds in acetaminophen, or Tylenol. But you wouldn't want to eat alot of that either. So keep your internal consumption of comfrey to a minimum and don't use it for long periods of time. Russian and prickly comfrey have the highest concentrations of toxic alkaloids, and the roots of any variety have higher concentrations than the leaves. These alkaloids are separate from the active healing constituents.
Comfrey should not be used internally or externally for longer than four to six consecutive weeks.
Pregnant or lactating women should not use comfrey.
Although comfrey has been used for food in the past, recent evidence suggests that it contains carcinogenic compounds and can cause liver damage. Therefore, it is not advisable to use comfrey as a major food product. Russian and Prickly comfrey have the highest levels
of toxic alkaloids. In all varieties, the roots have higher concentrations than the leaves.
Comfrey does provide protein and a little bit of vitamin B12, which is rare in a plant source. The young leaves can be eaten like any leafy vegetable, but the mature leaves are unpleasant.
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