Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a resilient fast growing and nutrient accumulating perennial herb (importantly used in organic gardening and natural medicine) with thick fuzzy leaves and a blue bell-shaped bloom. It can be easily grown from seed, root cutting, or division. The uses and benefits of this wonderful herb go on and on from healing the body to healing the soil. Because it is such a fast growing plant, you can begin to use it very quickly.
(For the sake of keeping up with passion of the title, “oh how I love the, let me count the ways.”)
- A natural healer (speeds healing process)
- An anti-inflammatory perfect for the swelling of breaks and sprains
- Soothing to poison ivy rashes
- Natural fertilizer: add leaves when you plant, mulch with it to improve soil, or make ‘comfrey tea’ (like compost tea)
- An amendment to speed up your compost
- A companion plant that adds nitrogen to the plants and soil around it
- Made into an herbal tea that controls disease and some pests
- A plant that can break up and enrich tough soils with its deep roots
The first time I was introduced to comfrey was in Knoxville when we first began to plant our hugelkultur bed. After hearing so many sing comfrey’s praises, Ryan ordered some seeds, got them started in some pots, and planted the seedlings at both ends of the garden to help boost the nitrogen for its neighbors (the plants surrounding it). Starting with just a couple of plants only made a small difference, so we set out to get as many going as possible. It goes without saying that when we moved to Atlanta we were sure to bring our comfrey friends with us. We divided the plants up and transplanted them in our new gardens.
We ended last year with three healthy plants. Now, we have at least five planted around our house in various beds, most of them being in our mini hugelkultur bed with a few babies in our new bed in the back. (Some companion planting going on.)
It is so easy to get this natural goodness growing at your place. Comfrey can be easily grown from seed, root cutting, or crown division. You can plant comfrey spring, summer, or fall (even winter in more southern climates). Keep it watered well as it establishes. After that, it can grow without any irrigation or fertilizer in nearly any environment. Comfrey adapts well to nearly anything; certainly everything we have thrown at it. Almost immediately after planting, comfrey begins to send out its vast root system ultimately extending 8-10 feet underground. This makes it nearly bulletproof when it comes to drought conditions while also tapping into soil nutrients other plants can’t reach. These nutrients are pulled up by the plants and accumulate in the leaves. This is what makes them so valuable to a gardener.
For a gardener, growing comfrey is equivalent to getting free fertilizer and mulch for life. Mature plants can provide many harvests throughout the year. What’s even better is that you can actually pluck leaves off any time for medicinal use but they are best before it starts to bloom. Comfrey is ready to harvest for fertilizer or mulch use when it is around 2 feet tall or is just about to bloom. To harvest, take a knife or sharp scissors and cut the plants 2-3 inches above the ground. The plants will flush back out over a couple of weeks.
When we went to cut another one, Ryan noticed a new comfrey plant popping up (pointed out via knife). We got excited about this, rightly so I think.
Comfrey for the garden
Comfrey can be used in so many ways to provide endless benefits to the garden. You can add cut leaves as mulch that both retains moisture and adds nutrients. They can be added to the holes when you are transplanting to help provide immediate nutrients and an easy recovery from transplant shock. It can be added to a new compost pile to ‘activate’ it or to help heat up an older pile by providing a charge of nutrients that help decomposition. If you want to get the best fertilizer potential out of comfrey, you can brew it into a comfrey tea. Using this tea has also been shown to help make plants more resistant to disease. What can’t this do?
While Ryan dove in to cutting and prepping the cut plants, I took pictures of the pretty bloom… this is relevant, right?
Healing with Comfrey
Comfrey leaves and roots contain a substance called allantoin which aids in cell growth and many other substances that reduce inflammation. Because of this, comfrey has been used for thousands of years to treat cuts, scrapes, and bruises. It even helps speed the healing of muscle and ligament strains, fractures, sprains, and even osteoarthritis. All you need to do is chop up or put a comfrey leaf or root through a food processor and heat it up the mash to create a poultice. We use a bandage to apply it to the area its needed leaving it on for a couple of hours for a cut. For a broken bone or sprain, you can make poultice and leave it on all day or make a comfrey tea and soak in it. If you have poison ivy, comfrey really helps. You can rub comfrey straight on it, soak in comfrey tea, or put a poultice on it to calm the itch and heal the blisters at the same time.
With comfrey coming to our rescue time and time again, we are just patiently waiting to multiply these sweet thangs (again…keeping with the title). In my head, there is that trumpet announcement sound before proclaiming, “Comfrey to save the day!” With that somewhat embarrassing thought out of the way, here are some of our medical experience with comfrey healing.
Ryan aided a cut of mine… more than once. The first time being a tiny irritating cut. (We forgot to take a picture of after it healed super-fast.)
Then most recently a glass pitcher broke in the kitchen and managed to slice my foot with its shattered pieces. (The worst part is it was part of a set we got for our wedding.)
We got everything we needed together and grabbed the processor to fine shred the leaves.
Then we placed it on my cut and bandaged it like shown above.
I left it on for a few hours and the next day the pain and red irritation was gone. You can see there was a cut but all the annoyances that come with such things are gone.
Ryan himself has used it for poison ivy relief, making a tea of sorts. He cut the leaves and let them stew before soaking his hand for sweet itch relief at last! After a couple of soaks, he was no longer in ivy hell. Something to note though, one time he used it to heal a gash on his hand only to find out later that there was a splinter in it. The comfrey healed it so quickly that it healed over the splinter.
Bonus comfrey loving picture here.
Major, major points:
- DO NOT INGEST, It can cause liver damage
- Do not use if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have cancer
- Children and elderly should not use comfrey aid
Some things are a bit controversial with the medical uses of comfrey. It contains toxic substances that when ingested in large quantities can have harmful effects. Keep it on the outside of your body and everywhere in your garden and you too will be singing its praises.