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Comfrey

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and its uses...

Comfrey has been used for hundreds of years by herbalists to help with various disease conditions in the body. It is also well known as a garden fertilizer.  Please find below some information around this wondrous plant and how we might use it.

Disclaimer:  I am not a herbalist or medical doctor but simply someone who is interested in good health and how we might go about restoring it when it has been lost. The information that follows is based on my own research and is not meant to replace medical advice from a trained practitioner. Always exercise caution when using any wild plants and make sure you have positively identified the plant. Check for drug interactions or side effects if you are on any medications. The information given here is for your general knowledge only. Please consult your health care provider for specific medical conditions and treatments.

Overview

Comfrey is one of the best herbs for healing; sprains; strains; bruises; tears; and broken bones. It contains many healing properties including an anti-inflammatory chemical called allantoin, which stimulates cell proliferation (promoting the granulation and formation of epithelial cells – speeding the process of new tissue growth).  It is a connective tissue tonic.  Its actions are; anodyne (soothing to pain); anti-hemorrhagic (stops bleeding); anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation); astringent (draws together tissues); demulcent (soothes); expectorant (promotes expulsion of phlegm); mucilaginous (moist and sticky); nutritive (nourishing); styptic (contracts tissues or blood vessels); vulnerary (useful in healing wounds).

Identification

Comfrey is a perennial herb with a black root that is white on the inside.  Flowers appear in clusters at the top of the stem. They are delicate and bell-shaped blooms that are white, pink or blue.  The leaves are hairy and rough (like borage) with pronounced veins, and lance shaped, reaching up to 1 1/2 feet in length.








 
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BE AWARE: The plant looks similar to foxglove before flowering (foxglove flowers look quite different) so make sure you have a positive ID, as foxglove is highly toxic!!

History

Comfrey has historically been used for gastrointestinal and respiratory complaints.  The anti-inflammatory activity and astringency has been shown to arrest GI bleeding and protect the gastric mucosa from further damage.  It has been helpful in healing ulceration in the throat, stomach and bowel; haemorrhoids; and ulcerative colitis.  It has beneficial laxative properties as it is high in mucilage and the root has been found to be useful for diarrhoea and dysentery.  It has also been used for bronchial irritation and was used extensively for tuberculosis, coughs and irritating dry lung complaints in general.

Safety

There is some controversy surrounding internal use of comfrey, based on an experiment conducted on rats in the 1970’s.  This showed that comfrey has negative health effects on the liver due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) (specifically echimidine which, along with the other alkaloids, is concentrated in the root).  When this study was evaluated more recently however, it was determined that the amounts fed to the rats during that experiment were unrealistically excessive - humans would need to ingest 4.5kg of comfrey leaves per day  in order to experience liver toxicity assuming that each leaf contained 5mg of PAs. 

This website more thoroughly evaluates this subject:  www.theherbalacademy.com/blog/use-comfrey-internally/

 

This video goes into the uses and safety a little more...

https://www.evolutionaryherbalism.com/2021/05/20/using-comfrey-safely/

How comfrey can be used




COMFREY SALVE
Heat the infused oil with grated beeswax with a ratio of 10: 1 (oil to beeswax) until the wax melts. Allow to cool slightly, then pour into containers.  Try this salve for: Arthritis, rheumatism, bursitis, tendonitis, phlebitis, glandular swellings, pulled muscles, injured joints, back injuries, tendons, ligaments, varicose veins/spider veins.

Wellness Mama has a great recipe with additional herbs from the garden to make a healing salve: https://wellnessmama.com/remedies/homemade-healing-salve/

DECOCTION
Use 1-3 teaspoons of dried comfrey root per 1 cup of water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. Drink this up to three times a day.  If you do not want to ingest the decoction, you can use it as a mouthwash or gargle for infections, dry mouth, sore throat, and bleeding gums.

TEA/INFUSION
For a tea, or hot infusion, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of comfrey and let it steep for around 10 minutes. For cold infusions, pour cold water over the comfrey and let it stand for 6-8 hours. Hot infusions are faster, but cold infusions are better at drawing out the mucilage.


You can also apply the tea topically using a spray bottle to cover a desired area several times a day – this may be useful for hard to poultice areas. Tea can also be used in a sitz bath – useful for hemorrhoids, postpartum tears, inflammations, and other pains in your personal areas.

According to Susan Weed,“Comfrey leaf infusion is a classic for restoring good functioning to mucus surfaces, such as the lungs.”  How she takes it: “Two or three times a week, I drink a nourishing herbal infusion made by steeping one ounce (by weight!) of dried comfrey (uplandica) leaves and flowering stalks in four cups boiling water in a tightly-lidded quart canning jar for 4-8 hours.” http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/June08/wisewoman.htm

LOTION
A lotion can be made using a combination of the comfrey oil and comfrey tea. Take your infused oil and add 1 ounce of beeswax per cup of oil. Heat this with a double boiler and stir until the wax is thoroughly mixed. Remove from heat and add 1 cup of comfrey tea for every cup of oil you used. Blend it with a hand mixer until it is a texture you’re happy with. A lotion will stay fairly soft in the refrigerator compared with a salve which will be solid.

TINCTURE
Place the plant material in a glass jar. You have the option of using crushed fresh leaves, chopped-up fresh roots, but can use powdered comfrey also. Pour alcohol (such as vodka) over the herbs so that they are covered by an inch or two of liquid, then close the lid and shake. Label the jar, then place into a warm, dark place for 2 to 6 weeks (an airing cupboard is good for this). Shake daily and, after two weeks, strain out the herbs and rebottle your new tincture.  This tincture can be used up to 3 times a day in quantities of 2-4ml but if you have concerns about internal exposure to the PA’s, know that you can also use this topically, as a liniment.  See The Nerdy Farm Wife website for some great information about making your own liniments: https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/homemade-liniments-guide/

POULTICES

A comfrey poultice can also be used for pain and inflammation as well as bone fractures, muscle tears or other connective tissue injuries.  To make this: blend either comfrey leaves or roots (or both) with either water or preferred oils (I used olive oil, castor oil and black seed oil).  Smooth the paste onto muslin cloth or gauze, (and fold appropriately so you don’t end up with plant matter falling all over the place), and apply the poultice over the affected body part for several hours or overnight. You can hold it in place with bandages or kinetic sports tape. For convenience, you can make a number of poultices ahead of time by whizzing up the plant matter and pasting onto the cloth you are using, wrapping them up, then placing them into labelled zip-lock bags in the freezer, ready to go whenever they are needed.             
NOTE: for a fresh wound that has bled well, so that no debris is still in the wound, a poultice of yarrow and comfrey can be used and kept in place for 24 hours.  (Yarrow is excellent at stopping bleeding quickly).

COSMETIC USES
Comfrey, in an oil, salve or lotion, has a number of cosmetic uses.  It is moisturizing to skin, as well as astringent; drawing cells together to tighten and tone.  It helps to lighten dark spots and skin blemishes, smoothing out rough and damaged skin and removing dead skin cells.  It supports the healing of skin diseases and conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, primarily due to the allantoin content in the leaves and roots, which repair damaged cells and help build new ones.  It also helps with burns, bites, rashes, ulcers and bed sores.  Comfrey oil helps to condition and detangle hair; you can use it by applying comfrey oil directly onto your scalp.  Along with using the oil on your scalp, taking as a tea can help to reverse hair loss, probably due to the high mineral and vitamin content.

COMFREY OIL

Comfrey oil can be made by packing a dry jar with dry comfrey leaves and pouring over olive oil.  Dry, rather than fresh, leaves are used to minimize the possibility of mould.  Leave this in a warm dark place for a couple of weeks (airing cupboard, or sunny window sill in a paper bag), shaking gently every day.  After two weeks, strain out the herbs and place into a clean jar.  It will store at room temperature but is better in the fridge.  The other, faster, method to make the oil, is using a double boiler on low heat – keep it on until the comfrey has taken on the colour of the herb (around 30minutes to 1 hour).  Then take off heat, strain and bottle the oil.  Remember to label it! Comfrey oil can be used for aches, pains, injuries, rashes and surface abrasions.  NOTE:  it is best not to use comfrey on a deep wound as it can cause the skin to heal before the deeper healing inside has occurred, which can result in an abscess or infection.  

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In the Garden

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Comfrey’s deep roots bring a plethora of nutrients up from the subsoil; these are then made available in the leaves. In addition, the leaves are super rich in nitrogen and potassium and contain a decent amount of phosphorus as well – this makes them a fantastic home grown fertilizer. You can chop and drop the leaves onto the soil (you can regularly take approximately a third of the leaves from a comfrey plant – they will keep growing back throughout the growing season), or bury the leaves as you plant seedlings (i.e. wrap around seed potatoes for a rich source of fertilizer as they grow).  If you plant comfrey around the base of your trees you will have a never ending supply of fertilizer on tap!  Alternatively, you can make a nutritious comfrey tea by letting a bucket full of leaves and water brew (or fester!!) for a month.  Pour this brew, watered down or neat, around your growing plants.  WARNING: it is super stinky!!
 
Researchers in British Columbia analyzed the NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of comfrey and discovered that the leaves have a remarkable NPK ratio of 1.80-0.50-5.30. When we compare these nutrient ratios to that of animal manure we can see how far superior comfrey is.
 
RATIOS OF N – P - K (Nitrogen – Phosphorous - Potassium)
 
Comfrey: 1.80 – 0.50 – 5.30
Dairy Cow:  0.25- 0.15 - 0.25
Horse:  0.70 - 0.30 - 0.60
Sheep:  0.70 - 0.30 - 0.90
Chicken:  1.1 – 0.80 - 0.50
Rabbit:  2.4 - 1.4 - 0.60
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