Useful Plant: Comfrey (and making comfrey salve)

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a new plant to our small farm, but I think it is a fantastic addition.

Comfrey is a dynamic nutrient accumulator. It’s ten-foot tap roots will bring up nutrients and minerals that are deep in the earth and missing from the top soil. It’s huge leaves can be cut back several times a season and just laid around to fertilize the area. They add a huge volume of biomass with those big leaves.

I planted a ring of comfrey around a sickly apple tree to help nourish it. I want to propagate more to put throughout my small orchard.

Massive leaves picked to make a comfrey oil.

Another use for comfrey is to make a “tea”. Put cut leaves in a bucket with water and ferment for a few weeks, stirring periodically. They say it really stinks but the black liquid makes a powerful nitrogen and mineral drench for plants and can also be used for direct foliar feeding.
Not only is comfrey good for the garden, but it is purported to be a wonder plant for people too. It contains a specific ingredient (allantoin) that promotes faster cell division, creating a wonderful healing plant. Another name for it is “knitbone”. It is supposed to speed healing of sprains and breaks, bruises and scrapes when applied directly. (Note: it should not be used for deep cuts because it may cause the surface skin to heal over before the inside is healed, leading to infection.) Anecdotally it is said to help with osteoarthritis and headaches.

Comfrey has also been used for centuries as an internal medicine. The safety of consuming it is very controversial, so I won’t cover it here.

So I decided to make a salve to experiment with its wound-healing abilities. First I made a comfrey oil:

Cut fresh dry leaves and let them wilt in a warm place for a day (excess water may make the oil go rancid). Chop it up and submerge it in extra virgin olive oil for up to six weeks. I drained the oil a few times and added fresh leaves to the same oil throughout the process.

Olive oil with comfrey leaves/stems.

You can use the oil as is. I did a few times for headaches. It relieves superficial headache pain instantly. The deeper throbbing takes longer. It also leaves the skin very soft. But it is oily of course and messy to work with. So I took it another step and converted it to a salve:

Organic beeswax in 1 oz. bars

Put a cup of a comfrey oil and an ounce of beeswax in a double boiler. Stir till the beeswax has completely melted. I also added 3 capsules worth of vitamin E as a preservative. Remove from heat and let sit just a bit. Then pour still hot into the final containers. It hardens to a semi-solid within an hour.

The final product. A comfrey salve with beeswax and vitamin E.

The consistency now is much nicer to work with, plus the benefits of beeswax (moisturizer, anti-bacterial) have been added in.

Propagation: Regular comfrey is a very invasive plant. For this reason sterile varieties have been created. That’s what I have. The seeds are sterile but it can still be easily propagated through root division. This spring I planted 12 little, one-inch chunks of root that I purchased and got 11 beautiful plants. When they go dormant this fall, I can dig one up and make many new plants from its roots.

(Photo credit: blooming comfrey plant)

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15 Responses to Useful Plant: Comfrey (and making comfrey salve)

  1. danrshaw says:

    chickens will eat it also. I’ve read that is good and bad for chickens so not sure which is right. Personally I don’t think chickens would keep eating it if it was truly bad for them. They are pretty smart creatures.

  2. Cylly says:

    How interesting. Thank you for explaining it. I had heard of comfrey but couldn’t tell you what it’s good for. Know I now! I love how you transformed it with beeswax. It looks like you made quite a lot of product – does it get used up quickly? (I know, I know, it depends on the user!) Does the comfrey have any particular smell?

    • Julie Helms says:

      This is my first time making it, so I’ll let you know how it lasts. It does have a smell that isn’t great. With the beeswax it has a hint of honey, but the overwhelming smell is more of fermented greens. Not terrible but not perfume either. Dave likes it and Sarah thought it was gross. I was somewhere in between.

      • MnM says:

        What about adding an essential oil to cover the smell?

        I just started reading your blog again. There is a lot to catch up on. You have been a busy beaveress my friend. :)
        Did you start taking herbal classes?
        You are doing some Coolio stuff. :D

      • Julie Helms says:

        Hey Mandy, welcome back! (I couldn’t “reply” to your comment, so I am replying to mine–hope it shows up in the right order). I have not taken classes–just internet research. I have been searching for alternatives to medication for some of my chronic issues (and the comfrey is performing admirably) plus looking to make my garden healthier, also a job for comfrey. So it seemed like a good thing to try.

        I thought about adding some rosemary branches to help the smell. I don’t know much about essential oils, but that is probably exactly what they are for!

  3. Cylly says:

    I’m imagining it in little baby food jars for travel!

    • Julie Helms says:

      I took your advice on this and got some. I looked into purchasing some new small jars, but compared to 50c for a jar of baby food, there was no comparison! Hoping to send some up your way soon.

  4. Trish says:

    Love it!!! If we ever see you in Maine this year, you must bring some as a sample. Please. Pretty please.

  5. Excllent, Julie. It’s a beautiful and prolific plant–and you did a great writeup!

  6. Of course that would be ‘excellent’. “:)

  7. Our new farm is just full of comfrey (clearly the invasive kind – sigh). I knew about the gardening applications, but didn’t have a recipe for salve – thanks!

    • Julie Helms says:

      I have read that if you want to get rid of it, you need to lay down cardboard to completely block growth of the plant for a year, then the root will die. I don’t know how you would do that on a wide-spread basis though! Whatever you do, don’t rototill it. Each bit of root will become a new plant.The good news is the soil on your farm must be amazing! All those comfrey plants like fountains bringing up the rich nutrients from the depths below!

      • Good reminder! I think the soil is pretty fertile – its clay and there is a lot of dandelions which I’ve heard also indicate fertility. The land hasn’t been worked in over 10 years though, so it is compacted and seriously lacking organic matter.

        I wonder if pigs would root out comfrey?

        I’m going to leave it in a few places, but I have a good-sized patch in the veggie garden . . . Solarizing works for most stuff but has been hit and miss for me with other invasive plants like morning glory. . .

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