Cultivating Comfrey: Bone-Set Plant
A little background on comfrey
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a fabulous herb that has been in use for several thousand years. Records indicate that it has been in use since at least 400bc. Notorious herbalists who have found interest in this plant include Herodotus, Galen and Dioscorides.
Comfrey has been used as food, medicine, fodder, fertilizer, and companion planting. It is most notorious for its bone healing qualities and is referred to as knitback or boneset.
It is said that only the bees know the secret to opening comfrey flowers. As soon as its in flower the honeybees are all over it. Their fat furry bodies pushing their way into the flower.
Comfrey has had its place in folklore as well and is considered a Magickal plant...with an association to Saturn and water. I have learned that many of these "associations" carry their magick in planting times and location of the desired plant.
For me, though, the magick of comfrey is in the habitat...
Comfrey in various situClick thumbnail to view full-size
Zone MapsClick thumbnail to view full-size
There are 34 species of Symphytum commonly referred to as Comfrey. It is native to Europe and was introduced to North America by pioneers. A common question I am asked is where one can wild harvest comfrey, There is no "wild comfrey"...unless you live in Europe...
Here in Montana, comfrey is typically found growing where old homesteads once were, along irrigation ditches that water the fields. Comfrey was also allowed to grow at the edge of fields and fed to livestock. A friend of mine contacted me one afternoon, she was looking for comfrey. She needed it for her cows. Turns out, it makes a great fodder crop for horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens and many others. Explains why we find it where we do.
Comfrey is a herbacious perennial, native to Europe and zoned 4-9. Comfrey is easily propagated with a chunk of root, much like rhubarb. Once you have located and properly identified your plant, find a small seedling and dig him up. You can dig up a large one, but the larger the root you choose the longer it will take for your specimen to recover. Keep this in mind whenever collecting specimens. Some plants recover better than others but the general rule of thumb is to take the smallest, not the biggest.
Take the time and dig deeper than you believe the root to be long. Comfrey has a large root mass and it can get deep. For the absolute best transplant success you want as much of the root intact as possibly and all the dirt protecting that root.
Have a plan. Your seedling cannot dry out. As soon as you can, put him back in the ground and water well. Make sure all the soil surrounding your new acquisition is also deeply watered. You want your plant to be able to recover and gain strength quickly with minimal stress.
Comfrey's native habitat
Upland Comfrey, Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) is the most commonly found comfrey growing in the United States. Russian comfrey is a cross between (S. Officinale) and (S asperum). It is sterile but will get larger each year, spreading through it's rootstock as opposed to seed.
Comfrey is very difficult to eradicate once established. The roots run deep and it can recover easily from damaged roots. It can also get quite large so choosing a permanent position before planting is advised.
Comfrey likes full sun and prefers a fair amount of water. If happy it will spread and take over. Controlling comfrey is easily done by limiting its water. With adequate water, comfrey can handle the brutal heat of summer without any shade.
I have a lone comfrey up near the house. I chose poorly and have not been able to eradicate it. I planted him in front of the house near the foundation. I advise against this. Really take the time to plan a permanant position even if that means walking across your yard to do so.
The position I chose for the habitat was in full sun at the edge of a small fresh water pond. The comfrey thrives without any care from me. The plants grow large and protect the pond from evaporation as well as provide shelter for frogs, birds, and beneficial insects.
In the garden
Comfrey leaves make an excellent fertilizer for the garden. Once established you will never be without comfrey. One plant can easily supply an entire family with tea for a year. It can be harvested several times per season. Dont be shy about cutting it back, it will recover quickly. Use the extra leaves in the garden. You can add them to your compost pile, throw them in the lasagna gardens, steep them to make "garden tea", or chop them up and just scatter them around.
Comfrey is an old companion plant for orchards and can be found growing where old homesteads once were. Besides its nutrient rich foliage, Comfrey attracts bees and bees are necessary for a bountiful harvest.
Comfrey is an impressive plant. Its stalk can get quite tall and thick. Pruning shears wont cut it. The stalks are also very fiberous, you cant just break it off or pull it up. You need to break out the big guns. I dont even mess around anymore. I use the loppers. The same ones I use to trim tree branches. They are that thick...and that strong.
Comfrey, is kinda hairy. Almost prickly. Its foliage has texture. It doesn't hurt or sting, but it definitely has texture. It will feel funny, but not in a bad way. And it doesn't sting, but some individuals may experience an uncomfortable sensation where they touch the plant.
Once you've chosen your specimen, strip the leaves. The leaves are large. You may have to cut or tear them to get them in your dehydrator. They dont dry well and disintegrate easily. Comfrey is usually used fresh.
When drying roots, wash well and chop. Dry at 125* until completely dry. This can take several days. Store in a cool dark place and don't forget to label and date.
Comfrey leaves are edible, albeit hairy. They can be consumed fresh in salads or dried for teas. In Japan, comfrey leaves are used to make fritters and are considered a delicacy. I have yet to try the recipe I have for these but that's the plan this Summer. The leaves are dipped in tempura batter and fried similar to the way we Americans fry mushrooms and zucchini.
Comfrey roots are dried and used in soups, stews, teas or added to chickory and dandelion root for a coffee substitute. I do use comfrey roots in my everyday cooking. My family isn't always up for some of my kitchen experiments so I have to come up with creative ways to include these plants without raising suspicions. I have discovered that throwing a tablespoon of dried, chopped roots into soups and stews provide my family with the healing virtues of the plant without alterating the flavor of the meal.
Comfrey was referred to as 'bone-set plant' for its ability to help mend broken bones and torn liniments. The leaves are chopped and prepared into a poultice to be applied to broken bones, torn ligaments, strains and bruises. The leaves are also dried and prepared into a tea.
Comfrey capsules can be purchased at natural grocery stores and are reported to aid the healing of broken bones, torn ligaments, sprains, and bruises. When I broke my arm a few years ago, I broke it. Titanium plate, surgery, physical therapy....fun times. After surgery I started taking comfrey. I started after surgery because I didnt want the bone healing before the surgeon put it back where it belonged. My arm healed beautifully and I have 100% mobility.
Comfrey is included in The Complete German Commission E Monographs. A book I highly recommend for anyone doing research on herbs and their uses in folklore and practical healing.
Practical cautions and warnings.
Despite what my oldtimers say, it would be irresponsible of me to not include these cautions and warnings....
Comfrey contains carcinogens which are believed by some authorities to increase the risk of cancer.
There are some authorities that believe excessive consumption of comfrey tea can cause liver damage.
Thanks for stopping by! I love my comfrey and I hope you do too. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.
As always, thank you.
From our garden to yours......
© 2018 Kim French