Records of medicinal uses for the comfrey plant dates back centuries. Early uses were recorded in Greece in 400 BC. They used comfrey roots to stop bleeding and heal bronchial ailments. Early American settlers brought comfrey from the old world to the new world to use its healing properties. Connecting with history through the plants and herbs we grow in the garden can be such fun.
The medicinal and permaculture benefits of comfrey are available to us still today. You can grow the comfrey plant to use in a cream or salve to heal sprains and broken bones or make compost tea for your potted plants or garden! It benefits both your garden and the health of your family.
Why I Love the Comfrey Plant
When a family member gets sick or injured, we use medicinal herbs to heal and comfort our loved ones.
We love the freedom we gained from going off-grid with our healthcare. From healing a cough to treating a wound with homemade antibiotic ointment, or boosting our immune systems with homemade elderberry syrup to making homemade herb capsules with this home remedy for allergies. There’s something for everyone!
We find joy in healing ourselves and our family with herbs we grew and cultivated with our own hands! And, we even use medicinal herbs on farm animals to help keep the animals we raise in optimal health.
Over the years, we have cultivated our old-fashioned cottage garden to grow culinary and medicinal herbs. We also use herbs for companion planting in the vegetable garden. Growing our medicinal herbs means that we have them on hand when we need them.
The comfrey plant is one such herb that we grow for multiple purposes. It offers incredible health benefits and truly improves our gardens by supporting the health of the other plants around them.
Comfrey is a biodynamic accumulator, meaning it pulls minerals from deep in the soil and releases them as its leaves die, making the minerals available to other plants.
We also love its healing abilities and stock our freezer with comfrey poultices every summer for quick and easy healing remedies in the winter. We hope you feel inspired to add comfrey to your garden plans this year.
It’s important to note that I am not a certified medical practitioner or an accredited veterinarian. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat but is for informational purposes only. Please contact your medical doctor or animal care professional before introducing new herbal remedies into your wellness routine.
What Is Comfrey
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a medicinal herb that grows well in certain parts of North America, Asia, and Europe. This fast-growing perennial thrives in sun or partial shade and likes moist soil. It prefers healthy soil but can adapt to grow in various soil types.
Comfrey plants grow dainty, bell-shaped flowers ranging from white or creamy yellow to pale blue or purple. You can identify comfrey by the long, fuzzy oval-shaped leaves and its tall stature of 3 to 5 feet tall.
Comfrey plants grow deep roots that make it challenging to take out once you plant them. If you do want to move a comfrey plant, make sure you pull up all the roots.
Comfrey can easily propagate from small pieces of the roots and from seed and pop up the following spring, which is why it is considered invasive, especially in the Eastern United States. Do not till up an area with comfrey in it, or you will grow thousands of little comfrey plants. To reduce the spreading nature of comfrey, it is recommended that you grow the Russian Bocking 14 variety, which does not set fertile seeds.
Comfrey plants attract pollinators to your garden, pull minerals up from deep within the soil for other plants to use, and offer many health benefits.
Comfrey leaves and roots help heal bruises, sprains, and breaks more quickly due to their powerful cell-regenerative and anti-inflammatory properties. It also aids in cell repair and even creates new bone or tissue.
Comfrey contains many vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, and B-12, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and more. It even includes a little protein and iron. Many people drink the leaves as a tea for their anti-inflammatory properties and a boost to the immune system.
Various face creams include comfrey in the ingredients list. It soothes skin while smoothing and nourishing it.
It’s important to understand that comfrey also contains potentially toxic alkaloids. These have been shown to cause liver damage or even death in very large quantities, which is why many health websites claim that comfrey is not edible and should not be used internally.
These harmful alkaloids gather in higher concentrations in the plant’s roots, although all parts of the comfrey plant contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Use caution if you choose to use comfrey internally.
Ways to Prepare
The widespread use of the comfrey plant lies in topical use. For centuries, people used comfrey in compresses (like this bone-healing comfrey compress) or poultices, salves, creams, and tinctures to heal bruises, sprains, breaks, joint pain, swelling, and burns.
Homesteading Hack: If you’d like to get started using comfrey before your harvest is ready, I recommend supporting trustworthy homesteaders that provide quality products. Farmhouse Teas is a family-owned and operated farm that fits these criteria and is my go-to for all my medicinal and culinary herbs that I haven’t put up yet. They offer dried organic comfrey leaves that are conveniently ready to prepare your herbal remedies.
- Poultices or Compresses – Make a bone healing comfrey compress to wrap around your injured flesh, muscles, or bones. You can also make a fresh poultice to store in the freezer by mixing comfrey with water in a blender. Smooth the mixture onto a paper towel or gauze and fold it into small packets. Stack them together, separated by wax paper. Store them in the freezer in a large ziplock bag, then you have a compress ready to use in case of an injury.
- Herbal Spray – Learn how to make your own herbal tincture. After you make the tincture, which typically means soaking dried or fresh herbs in alcohol for at least three weeks, you can put comfrey in a spray bottle to spray on bruises and burns.
- Salves or Creams- You can make a healing salve or cream with comfrey and arnica for external use only. Rub the salve on your injury. We love adding comfrey to our homemade antibiotic ointment.
- Fertilizing Tea – This “tea” refers to gardening. Since the minerals that comfrey pulls up deep from the earth stay in the leaves of the plant, you can make “tea” out of the leaves to pour on your fruit trees to help amend the soil of your orchard. Comfrey also makes a great addition to compost piles.
- Seeds – Read this guide for choosing the best vegetable seeds for your garden and how to read seed packets before purchasing your comfrey seeds. We suggest buying common comfrey seeds (Symphytum officinale).
- Started Plants – If you want to grow Russian bocking 14 comfrey, look for the already started plants, as you cannot seed this variety.
- Direct Sow – Learn how to start seeds indoors and when to start seeds indoors to see if it’s necessary to start comfrey indoors. Our experience is that comfrey does well with the direct sow method.
- Full Sun– Comfrey grows well in direct sun or partial shade.
- Soil – Comfrey can adapt to many types of soil, even clay soils, but given rich compost, it will grow to its full potential. You can also use mulch around the base of the plant for added benefits.
- Companion Planting – Plant comfrey in your orchard. We recommend planting one comfrey plant at the base of each fruit tree in your orchard. As the plant dies back each year it will amend the soil around your fruit trees.
- Space – Comfrey plants can grow 3-5 feet tall and wide. Give your comfrey plants plenty of room. Plant two feet apart. Comfrey grows well in zones 3-9.
- Water – Keep the plant well watered. A deep watering once per week will likely be sufficient since comfrey’s roots grow so deep.
- Cutting – You can cut leaves from the plant for use as soon as the leaves appear. If it’s a new plant, you’ll do better to allow the plant to get established before harvesting.
- Flowering – The bell-shaped flowers on the comfrey plant are great at attracting pollinators to your garden. You want your comfrey to flower and grow through its whole life cycle. An established comfrey plant can be cut back multiple times throughout the growing season and will continue to come back, putting on new flowers.
- Harvesting – Once the comfrey plant finishes flowering and begins to fall over, you can cut it down and use the leaves for medicinal purposes. Or, you can lay the leaves around the plant or other plants as mulch. The leaves release nutrients like nitrogen and potassium back into the soil as they decompose.
Comfrey preserves well when dried. Read this tutorial on how to dry fresh herbs in the oven, dehydrator, or by hanging. If using the dehydrator or oven, dry comfrey leaves on the lowest possible setting.
Homesteading Hack: You can even turn on your oven’s lightbulb or pilot light, which will give off a consistent low heat sufficient for drying herbs.
After thoroughly drying your comfrey leaves, store them in a sealed jar in a cool, dark location. Moisture and sunlight are the enemies of dried herbs.
Using Herbal Medicine
What an amazing, multipurpose plant to grow in the home garden! Comfrey champions as a great garden companion and a heavyweight in herbal medicine.
We hope you add this herb and more to your homestead. We invite you to take our Herbal Medicine Cabinet: Colds and Flu Class to learn more about herbalism and the uses of medicinal herbs.
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