Comfrey and Broken Bones.

Notes from a Lancashire Country Man.

Walking around the countryside of West Lancashire one cannot go very far without coming upon the common comfrey. This joins the floral exhibition provided by mother Nature to enhance a diversity of habitat and to ensure the cycle of plants and animals continues as it has done since time immemorial.

As a young boy my grandfather could not walk past this plant without exalting its virtues to me. How times have changed!. Back then the importance of the plant as an herbal Allie, and even  more so in the more archaic past. Its medicinal virtues and other beneficial uses will be detailed later in this hub.

In common with many other species of wild flora the comfrey as acquired many country titles which include knitbone {this is the still the plants alternative common name } bone set bruise herb, and knitback. It is erect, clump forming, rough and hairy all over. It is a plant of riverside banks, ditches, shady and damp places.

Large foliage

The large foliage of comfrey make this an impressive plant. Photogaraph by D.A.L.
The large foliage of comfrey make this an impressive plant. Photogaraph by D.A.L.

Components of Comfrey

COMPONENTS OF COMMON COMFREY-COURTESY OF KURT STUEBER
COMPONENTS OF COMMON COMFREY-COURTESY OF KURT STUEBER

Basic Biology of the Common Comfrey

This handsome plant is a member of the borage group of plants belonging to the family Boraginaceae. we recognise this plant by its large leaves which are up to 25-30 cms long {up to one foot}. They are ovate to lanceolate in shape and covered with rough hairs. This latter feature is a good diagnostic aid to distinguish it from the superficially similar looking foliage of the poisonous foxglove which lack these rough hairs. These rough hairs have been known to cause itching to occur when coming into contact with sensitive skin. The lower basal leaves  another diagnostic feature is the way the leaves as they narrow at the base run down the stem , beyond the point where the leaf and stem meet until they meet the next leaf. The leaves diminish in size as they appear higher up the stem. The leafy stem is hollow and like the leaves covered in rough hairs.It is much branched near the summit .

 The branches are terminated by one sided clusters of flowers, which tend to appear pendulous. These flowers are usually grouped in pairs. Before they open they are termed as being scorpoid, ie rolled up like a scorpions tail, this is also a feature of the smaller member of the family the forget-me-not.  The flowers are bell shaped of a purplish colour but a yellow- cream coloured variety is not uncommon. They are in bloom fro May and persist for the greater part of the summer when they are much visited by bees and other insects. All these distinguishing features are above the ground yet the root of this plant has played an important part in our medicinal heritage.

The root is a branched rootstcok, with fibrous roots. They are spindle shaped, about 20-30cm long, dark coloured on the outside but white and fleshy within.

Medicinal Virtues and of Uses of Comrey.

The active ingredients of the common comfrey include Allantoin,tannins, mucilage,calcium,potassium and phosphorrus.

In days gone by the plant was employed as a cure for many afflictions including diarrhoea, dysentery, lung disorders,internal bleeding, and eczema. However, its main contribution was in aiding the knitting together of broken bones hence many of its country titles, knitbone and boneset. The roots were dug up cleaned, and mashed into a pulp which was then plastered around the affected limb. This pulp set hard just like modern day plasters used for the same afflictions. This use is well documented and known to most people, however, it is a less well known fact that the foliage was once utilised in the same way. they were blanched in hot water before several layers were applied to the affected limb. These were applied as hot as possible. The layers were then covered with a bandage. As the leaves dried out they too, hardened to facilitate the healing process. The presence of Allantoin is a chemical that lessens swellings and inflammation around wounds of this nature.

When I worked in the dispensary of a well known manufacturer of herbal products I often made an ointment of comfrey extract that was applied with good affect to varicose veins. It is also an ingredient of oinments and creams applied to eczema.

It is still employed in homeopathy for fractures ,bruises,painful joints and circulatory problems.

Comfrey has also been employed for culinary purposes when young leaves were cooked as a vegetable which is spinach like to taste. However, modern day use is not recommended by herbalist for internal use  for it is thought to have some carcinogenic effect.

Forget-me-nots

For-get-me nots, seen here growing along the banks of a stream are related to the comfrey.Photograph by D.A.L.
For-get-me nots, seen here growing along the banks of a stream are related to the comfrey.Photograph by D.A.L.

Comfrey in the Garden--

Comfrey make impressive displays in the garden. However, they can become invasive. Even digging them out can be a long term venture for the least fragment of root will procure new life. The leaves are comfrey are well utilised if placed on the compost heap for they make a nutritious addition to the resulting compost. 

I find it amazing that a plant that was so important to people in the past , in common with many others, has now all but  been forgotten as regards its medicinal virtues. 

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Comments 8 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

LongTimeMother,

It is good to know that people still use natures medicine on a regular basis. Thank you for your visit and your comments they are appreciated. Best wishes to you.


LongTimeMother profile image

LongTimeMother 2 years ago from Australia

Hello, D.A.L. What an interesting hub. We use comfrey and many other herbs in nature's medicine chest on a daily basis in our home.

Voted up ++.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

thevoice, thank your words are appreciated. Glad you enjoyed.


thevoice profile image

thevoice 6 years ago from carthage ill

great beautiful worked hub read thanks


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

wrenfrost56,thank you for your visit and for enjoying this hub. And for taking the time to leave a comment.


wrenfrost56 profile image

wrenfrost56 6 years ago from U.K.

Great informative hub D.A.L I like the fact you called it a 'Handsom plant' because I think the comfrey is a handsom plant too. I had no idea it was a cured so much though, thanks for the info. :)


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

DARLENE, most of the plants have the appropriate parts, already prepared for use in health shops. They occur in many forms such as in herbal tea bags, or in tablet and ointment form. My aim is to draw attention to the plants so that people may recognise them when out and about. Thank you my friend for your visit and your encouragement.There are two more hubs of mine about plants you may be interested in -hogweed and cow parsley


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Your last comment was exactly what I was thinking and what I planned on asking you about your last sentence. I think you should start to collect this healing herbs and package them, dried and crushed. With directions and what each plant was once know for. I would buy from you, a wonderful product line for all natural healing. You should create a website for this.. I enjoy your hubs, and your writing style is unique in nature. The best hub, thumbs up, your friend first, fan second....

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