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.
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.
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:
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 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.