While it’s not always on top ten lists of common healing herbs, comfrey deserves a spot up there with the rest of them. Although it may not be as popular today, comfrey has been used for millenia, and rightfully so. This is a versatile plant that is often grown not just for its healing properties, but for its ability to help your other plants grow.
How to Grow It
Comfrey is a hardy perennial that should grow almost anywhere. It has large (12-18 inches), narrow, hairy leaves, and the plant is topped by small bell-shaped flowers, most often purple, but also white, pink, or blue. When fully mature, it can be several feet both wide and tall. Like most plants, it would prefer rich soil and good light, but it will survive (and thrive) in just about any conditions.
The plants are most often started from root cuttings (although I started mine from seed, so it is possible, just not particularly reliable). Simple bury a 2-4 inch section of root from an existing plant a couple inches down and water. The plant should emerge within a couple weeks and by its second year, should be pretty robust. Comfrey boasts a very deep taproot, so note that once it’s established, it can be hard to get rid of, so make sure you put it in a spot that you’ll want it for the long haul.
What Is Comfrey Good For?
For thousands of years, comfrey has been a common healing herb in many cultures around the world. One of its common names is ‘knitbone,’ which gives you an idea of how it was used. The plant contains high levels of allantoin, a compound that aids cell generation, and quicker cell replication means quicker healing. It’s most commonly used as a remedy for strains, sprains, skin irritations or inflammation like poison ivy, and yes, even broken bones (note: I would still recommend going to see a medical doctor if you break a bone).
That deep taproot and vigor that I mentioned before also makes comfrey a great option for compost as well. Those large leaves can be cut multiple times each year without adversely affecting the plant. And because it delves deep into the mineral-rich subsoil, the leaves contain a wide variety of nutrients that your tomatoes (and other plants) need to grow.
How To Use It
One of the most common methods of use is in a poultice. To create a basic poultice, roughly chop or tear several of the leaves, then add a little water or oil to make a paste-like consistency. Apply the paste to the sore joint (or wherever), and wrap with a clean cloth, then let it sit for at least half an hour.
I’ve also used it in an infused oil and added it to a salve (along with other herbal oils). Again, chop the leaves (make sure they’re fully dry though, as excess water can cause spoilage). Put in a jar and cover with oil for several weeks, then strain out the leaves and use the oil.
For composting, you can simply add the leaves to a compost pile, bury leaves next to your garden plants, or make a powerful “tea” by steeping the leaves in water for a week or two. Many people even plant a comfrey or two around their fruit trees. The plants grow deep and break up tough clay. Then, by letting the leaves lay where they fall, the soil is continuously built up with nutrient-rich organic matter.
A couple notes: Comfrey contains alkaloid compounds that can be toxic if consumed in high amounts, so internal use is not recommended.
For more healing plants, check out the rest of the Backyard Medicine Cabinet series:
- Lemon Balm
- St. John’s Wort
- Red Clover
- Self Heal
- Stinging Nettles
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one. I don’t think any of my statements have been evaluated by the FDA, which is probably a good thing considering some of the stuff they approve… Do your own research before trusting the word of a random blogger. While I certainly encourage you to try some herbal remedies, I’m not suggesting you ditch all your prescriptions. I think modern medicine is awesome; I also think the natural world is pretty awesome too, and can offer a lot for minor ailments.