COMFREY: Friend or Foe, A Herbalists Friend.
Include in Every First Aid Kit, Human or Animal
One of Nature's Wonders and Free
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), the herbalist friend. Also more commonly known as knitbone, is a plant belonging to the Borage family. Comfrey has also been known as gum plant, slippery root and blackwort. It can be found growing in rich, deep soil in moist, marshy places in Europe and other countries like the United States of America where there is a temperate climate. This plant is easy to recognise, it stands approximately 4' tall with pale green/grey leaves of a prickly nature, due to the amount of hairs growing on them. The plant also displays small bell like flowers of white, pink and mauve, although less common colours are pale yellow and red. The roots are very thick and deep seated, they are oblong and fleshy, of a dark colour on the outside, resembling bark, and white on the inside, and more commonly used for liquid compresses, whilst the leaves can be used for cosmetic purposes.
For thousands of years, herbalists have used this perennial herb to help heal bruises, sprains and broken bones. But it also has many more uses, and is a good addition to all first aid boxes, human and animal. For over 2,000 years this plant has been harvested in Asia where it has been used in folk medicine to heal wounds, rashes, burns, and trauma induced swellings. Comfrey begins to grow in April with the flowers starting to appear in late May. The leaves can grow as long as 12" and the flowers come in a profusion of colour. Both the root and the leaves are suitable to harvest and can be made into several lotions and potions containing store cupboard oils.
Comfrey roots contain allantoin which helps to break down red blood cells and increases the white blood cells in an aid to healing wounds by accelerating new tissue growth. They also contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, making comfrey unsuitable for ingestion as the action of the properties have been linked to liver cancer. Neither should comfrey be used on open, deep or dirty wounds, as like ingestion, this too has been linked to liver cancer.
In the cosmetic industry, comfrey is now widely used as a skin moisturiser and wrinkle deterrent, and to diminish scarring and stretch marks. It is also used as a bath oil to soothe eczema and other itchy skin conditions.It has also been proven effective when applied to an itchy scalp and added to shampoo for dull and lifeless hair. If added to warmed beeswax, comfrey makes a brilliant cream for nappy rash, and sore hands due to hard work. Comfrey has analgesic properties and has been used successfully as a rub for sore joints and degenerative diseases like arthritis and rheumatismn.
How to make Comfrey Oil.
Harvest the roots and leaves before the plant flowers, the best time is early morning when the due is starting to disappear. Wash carefully to remove the loose hairs and dirt and gently pat dry with kitchen towel. Chop the root and leaves roughly into small pieces, or for a finer mixture use a pestle and mortar to grind the components with a small amount of olive oil into a paste. Place this mixture into a warm jar, cover with warm olive oil. Seal the jar and place in a cool dark place overnight. Every few days shake the jar to remove any air bubbles, continue to leave in a cool dark place for 6 weeks, strain the oil and then it is ready for use. This solution can be added directly to a bath or applied to the skin and minor cuts. To make a salve, mix 3/4 cup of oil with 1/2 ounce of beeswax. Heat them both in a bowl over a simmering pan, being careful not to let any of the steam mix with the oil. Once mixed together, place the warmed mixture in a jar and allow to cool. At this stage you can mix with an infusion of lavender or calendula oil.
Comfrey leaves can be used be used like a bandage, dampened and applied directly to the skin to help reduce the swelling associated with sprains, small cuts and burns. Making a poultice is easy. Using a casserole bowl place a handful of chopped roots and leaves in approximately 1 1/2 pints of water. Cover with tin foil and place in the oven 180 degrees for 45 mins. Allow to cool and strain into a bottle for use later. This is a great method for helping horses with sprained tendons and muscles, by soaking bandages in the solution and bandaging the swollen limb leaving the soaked bandages on overnight.
Personal Experience with Comfrey Oil.
I have always been a great advocate of using alternative therapies with my animals, especially my horses. My mare Rowan many years ago severed her sesamoid ligament from the sesamoid bone causing her to be extremely lame. My vet advised box rest for a minimum of 6 weeks. I decided to use comfrey root as a poultice described above intermittently with cold water compresses. The mare could hardly move and was resting her foot on the shavings bank around her stable. Over the first week I noticed that Rowan was becoming more inclined to put a little weight on the affected foot and gradually started to walk around her stable. The 2nd week, against all advise from my vet, I started to put her outside for an hour a day in the small paddock on her own. I continued to use the comfrey poultice in exactly the same way. The healing process was extremely fast and within the 6 week box rest period, Rowan was fully recovered and ready to bring back into work. We entered a major jumping competition 3 months later to take home 3rd place. My vet was amazed and on x -raying Rowans leg again, could not believe how fast the injury had healed. I have also found this method of using comfrey poultice to be of good use for taking down splint bones.
As an active 7 year old farmers daughter, bumps and bruises were very common and taken forgranted. I remember very badly spraining my ankle. My mother who had been a nurse before her illness, decided to make a cold comfrey compress and bandaged my ankle each day with bandages soaked in the comfrey solution. The smell was horrific and I remember viewing this horrible dark brown mixture with some concern. As the bandages began to dry out, they did not tighten on my ankle like you would have thought they would. Instead, the bandages remained slack and comfortable and the pain soon passed. Each new compress relieved the pain more and more although my ankle was a dirty shade of brown for a few weeks, it worked.