Comfrey is an inconspicuous looking herb that is one of the most useful plants to have in your back yard. It originally came from Europe and Asia, but has spread to North America. It can thrive in land that gardeners rather condescendingly call “wasteland”, although it does best in moist soil near water sources. It grows from about late April to whenever the frost sets in about October or November.
There are natural species of comfrey about as well as hybrids. Unless you have a really good color herb guide or a botanist to identify comfrey for you, DON’T just harvest any green leaves that look similar. It can be very hard to distinguish comfrey from other wild green plants.
Versatile And Helpful
Comfrey can be boiled and eaten like cabbage, which it faintly tastes like. The juice from the cooking water can even be drunk as a nutritious, if grassy-tasting, tea. The tea can help ease minor digestive embarrassments like indigestion and bloating from indigestion.
It shouldn’t be the main source of your diet, because comfrey has been known to be harmful if taken in large doses, which is why some Western doctors frown on it today. Some people are more sensitive to comfrey than others. The medical jury is still out on whether taking comfrey in capsule form might hurt your liver, so comfrey capsules are not recommended.
One old English folk name for comfrey gives you a good idea of what its main medicinal value is considered to be – “boneknit”. Yes – comfrey was used to help mend broken bones as a sort of natural cast. Comfrey root pulp can turn quite sticky, but hardens when it cools.
Comfrey does contain chemicals like allantonin that do help aid the skin’s natural healing abilities, and is thought to act as a very mild painkiller, although this may be due to a placebo effect. There are also many comfrey-based creams and tinctures on the market. You can also add boiled and chopped leaves to unscented baby lotions in order to make your own ointment. Add the leaves while they are still warm. Do a test patch on the underside of your arms first before slathering it all over you.
I have never used comfrey for fractures, but I have used it to treat tennis elbow, bruises and minor sprains. I boiled fresh, crushed leaves for ten minutes, let it cool, put the strained leaves in cheesecloth or plastic wrap, and applied it to the sore area, using a washcloth or bandage if the comfrey was still too hot to touch the skin. The comfrey can be kept on as long as you like. Minor burns can also be soothed with such an application.
I also ate boiled or steamed comfrey leaves regularly during its growing season when I lived in England for five years and nothing adverse happened to my health as a direct result of eating it. However, eating it continually is not adviseable. Also, eating any new plant can cause embarassing gastrointestinal reactions like sudden diarrhea.
Comfrey pulp is difficult to make. Quite frankly, I never managed it nor had I seen anyone else in England manage it. Perhaps making comfrey pulp is a lost art. Even if you manage it, please do not eat comfrey pulp – even as a joke. It’s like glue and hardens quickly.
“Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible.” Earl Mindell, R.Ph.D. Fireside Books; 1992.
Alternative Field Crops Manual. “Comfrey.” http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/comfrey.html
Tufts Medical Center. “Comfrey.” http://www.tufts-nemc.org/apps/HealthGate/Article.aspx?chunkiid=104671