The comfrey plant is in the Boraginaceae family and Symphytum genus. A number of varieties are used in herbal medicine, gardening, and organic farming, including common comfrey (Symphytum officinale), Russian comfrey (Symphytum × uplandicum) and rough comfrey (Symphytum asperum) (“Comfrey”, 2017). Comfrey is a vigorous perennial plant that seems to have a lot against it, being accused of a scourge to the garden and a danger in the medicine cabinet. Yet, it’s also a plant that has traditional uses as as a powerful healer that go back for generations. Because of the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (Khoury, 2003) and its voracity in the garden, some tend to see this medicinal plant as a bane, sooner pulled and mowed than tinctured and salved, but I’d like to make sure to tell the whole story as well as I can.
Personally, I can only speak to the intimate relationship I have with the firm and stately, coarsely textured plant. I can only attest specifically to its use in my herbal medicine chest, and I can only go so far to say the things that are considered acceptable to say publicly in the world of herbalism, while leaving other things unsaid. Comfrey certainly has suffered multiple blows from an industry filled with regulations simultaneously attempting to protect us and also leave us disconnected from the herbal remedies of our past. A history of traditional use and the personal experience of a generation of modern herbalists have not saved comfrey root and leaves from becoming a restricted herbal medicine in most countries.
The Comfrey Plant: Vigorous, Productive, and Beautiful
Common comfrey and its many relatives are productive and vigorous plants. Comfrey has a deep taproot that some believe pulls minerals and nutrients from far below the surface, mining deep clay to regenerate a depleted topsoil. The comfrey plant grows quickly, much like Borage to which it is closely related, but the vigour and regrowth never fails to impress me. In fact comfrey can be cut to the ground and regrown multiple times per season, especially in later years. This is much to the dismay of gardeners trying to remove the plant from their garden beds, and much to the pleasure of passionate herbalists using it their healing comfrey salves. I have heard stories from gardeners chopping, poisoning, and hexing the comfrey plant in an attempt to contain its productivity, but many people will attest that once the deep taproot of the comfrey plant is established, it’s incredibly difficult to remove. In my experience cultivating comfrey, I’ve found that cutting a mature plant to the ground only causes a greater number of large, rough, healthy leaves to sprout from the earth.
Comfrey Uses in the Garden: Comfrey Mulch, Compost Activator, and Fertilizer
Luckily the comfrey plant isn’t just useful as a medicinal healing salve, wash, and soak. In fact, I’ve just as often used the comfrey plant in the garden as a compost activator, mulch, and nutritious plant food. Research has found the leaves of the comfrey plant to be a rich source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as containing a number of other trace minerals such as calcium (Nick, 2010). Last year when we found our soil to be especially lacking in potassium, we took it upon ourselves to harvest comfrey from the ditches and waterways near our house that would have fell victim to the city of New Westminster’s riding mowers. We shredded comfrey leaves and cut up banana peels and added them regularly to the soil in our raised beds as mulch, amended the soil in the fall with our compost (containing many a felled comfrey plant and peeled banana), and watered the soil with large batches of herbal tea made from soaking comfrey leaves in buckets of water left alone for a couple of days. This year our soil contains a much richer source of potassium, and has been producing an abundant healthy crop of beans, tomatoes, corn, squash, zucchini, and berries.
Lessons I’ve Learned from the Comfrey Plant
There are few medicinal herbs in the herbalist’s repertoire with as many anecdotal cases of transformative healing as the comfrey plant. Even amidst a climate of regulation, the comfrey plant has maintained its stature. Just like the thick stalk that supports its many heavy leaves, comfrey has been able to keep its reputation as a transformative healer, and I can personally speak to my experiences with it in balms, salves, and healing creams. The leaves, though rough and sturdy, break down, quickly releasing their mucilage. The allantoin that’s present throughout the plant and very concentrated in the plant’s roots is a cell proliferant (“Mountain Rose Herbs: Comfrey Root Powder”) and has been credited for many of the plant’s healing qualities. I teach others to use the plant externally only, for the research revealing toxicity in the plant. Even used externally, comfrey lends itself to the same brute force it shows in the garden, it’s ability to mend skin and bone create even more enticing stories.
Some plants speak quietly, some creep underneath their towering neighbours, some bare tiny leaves and a pack a tremendous flavour, some take their time growing and swing slowly to the sun. Comfrey possesses none of these passive, gentle qualities. It’s here in the speed and productivity of the comfrey plant that I’ve learned an important lesson of abundance.
We speak to the dwindling state of the world’s food supply and the growing reach of the 1%. It’s easy to think that this world of ours can’t contain our exploding population, that we all linger in the less than… that we all deserve more. Comfrey teaches us to dig deep and to share abundantly with each other, and that perhaps we have more than we think we do, if we’re just willing to work a little harder share a little with each other.
There is incredible potential in the plant kingdom, a sentiment that won’t come as a surprise to the visitors here. There has been a creeping away from the soil, our attention spans no longer able to keep up to the silent movement of the slowest growers, but perhaps in the vigorous growth of the comfrey plant, there is just enough speed and abundance to bring our lacking attention spans back to the garden again.
ADDITIONAL NOTES & DISCLOSURES
This information is based on traditional uses as seen in Western Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Traditional Homeopathic Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine, all of which often use natural plants, herbs, and nutrients to support health. None of the statements on this website have been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is not based on scientific evidence. These recommendations & recipes are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The sole basis of any statements on this website are a history of use of a product for a particular purpose and as such are for informational purposes only.
All information on The Ardent Harvest is provided for educational purposes only. Any information provided on the history of traditional use of a product for a particular purpose is provided for informational purposes only. No information on The Ardent Harvest is meant to substitute for medical advice or a diagnosis provided by a physician or medical professional. The Ardent Harvest does not make any medical claims and any information found on this website should not be used to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or health condition. Contact your physician or other appropriate medical professional if you suspect you have a medical problem. External hyperlinks to external websites or sources are for informational purposes only and The Ardent Harvest does not endorse these websites or sources, nor is in any way responsible for their content. Every visitor and reader of The Ardent Harvest is responsible for their own health and safety and must do their own research regarding the safety, dosage and usage of any herbs, botanicals, or supplements.
SUPPORTING RESEARCH & REFERENCES
- Comfrey. (2017, August 10). Retrieved August 17, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfrey
- Khoury, R. (2003). RESEARCH IN HERBAL MEDICINES. Journal Of The Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, 9(3), 143.
- Mountain Rose Herbs: Comfrey Root Powder. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2017, from https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/comfrey-root-powder/profile
- Nick, J. (2017, July 07). Comfrey Power. Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/comfrey-power