What better way to enter Autumn and approach Halloween than with some herbal magic that is known for its bone healing properties?
Comfrey (boraginaceae), also “true comfrey,” is the common name of more than 30 species and hybrids of the Symphytum, a perennial genus of flowering plants in the borage family. It is commonly referred to as knitbone and its spiritual and energetic properties are known as the “Grand Protector” and “Soul Retriever.”
I was properly introduced to comfrey in its organic natural state in an organic farm garden, Camp Joy Farms. I still remember the puzzled face I made when my mentor, Jim Nelson, offered it to me to eat, I was puzzled, not because of the much debated caution about its toxicity but because of its texture and the feel of it.
I’m the first one to combine “interesting” plants that I know are “are good for me,” even if they don’t necessarily taste good. If eating raw horseradish, lemon juice, and an aloe leaf first thing in the morning is going to heal my gallbladder, I go for it without flinching.
Comfrey has a prickly feel to it and if you wild harvest it you can literally attach it to your clothes like Velcro. It’s fascinating. I quickly fell in love with this plant because of its quirkiness. I love sharing beneficial plants that don’t necessarily receive the full praise I think they’re worthy of or haven’t been recognized for their full potential.
Comfrey has been on the planet and healing us as far back as 400 B.C., possibly longer. These flowering plants produce flowers in different colors, most commonly white, purple, blue, and yellow, that bumble bees are known to love. It’s a hardy plant that requires no special care and grows in partial shade to sun. It is “an introduced species” in North America but is a native shrub in Asia and Europe.
Common cautions around comfrey developed due to the small amount of a toxic compound, pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Apparently, the caution developed because of a study where three cases of a rare liver disease were found among comfrey users worldwide and attributed to the compound. Yet, in the UK, a survey of 600 comfrey users was conducted and in that survey were individuals who used and consumed comfrey and products of comfrey for more than 35 years. There was zero liver damage indicated or other negative symptoms or attributes of comfrey.
There are suggestions that the three liver damage cases may have been due to accidental contamination of the comfrey they consumed rather than toxicity of comfrey itself. There are other studies done on rats that seem contradictory.
I consider comfrey a versatile plant, unlike “hard hitters,” potent plants that mainly address one particular thing really well but also have bonus attributes that ripple into positive side effects. It’s traditionally known for its miraculous ability to heal bones, sprains, and bruises and is still used as a poultice of its leaves and roots for such purposes. Its bone-strengthening qualities are due to its high content of calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin C, which also encourage collagen production.
It’s not as well known for its other medicinal properties of helping ulcers, gastro-intestinal disorders, hormonal balance, menopause symptoms, cancer, as an anti-inflammatory, arthritis, gout, diarrhea, and so much more.
There are two chemical substances, allantoin and rosmarinic acid, found in the roots and leaves of comfrey. Allantoin boosts the growth of new skin cells and rosmarinic acid helps alleviate pain and inflammation.
In addition to those two fascinating substances, comfrey is high in protein (22-33 percent), contains vitamin A, C, and B-12, and is rich in silicone, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, iodine, and trace minerals.
Comfrey is super supportive to collagen production thanks to all these nutrients and the combination of them at these levels. This combination of chemical substances and nutrient panel is a big part of why comfrey is so potent. Not to mention its ability and the only land plant to derive B-12 from the soil and retain it.
Even though collagen benefits both men and women, I know women will be extra psyched to be reading this. Collagen from plants? Yes, please! And you thought it couldn’t get any better.
IN THE GARDEN
Comfrey mulch is a key player for use as fertilizer because it contains the three major macronutrients plants need: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as calcium, which is a micronutrient for plants.
You can make a comfrey tea to water, feed, and spray your garden plants to help them reach their maximum growth and flower. Using comfrey tea with plants also helps reduce insect pests. For flowering and fruit production, it’s recommended to use composted comfrey leaves as fertilizer and in mulch, due to the high potassium levels. The leaves release a deep greenish-brown liquid and the nitrogen content encourages “green leafy growth;” phosphorus is what helps ward off pests, fight disease, and keep the plants healthy and vigorous.
It’s also an amazing feed for cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and other herbivores. Actually, it’s the greatest producer of vegetable protein, said to yield 20 times the protein soybeans do acre-to-acre. Earthworms also love comfrey which again helps the soil and encourages healthy plant growth in the Circle of Life.
Topically, comfrey is a pain killer and is used in ointments, lotions, gels, and salves with solutions of 5-20 percent content and deemed “safe” according to many studies. There are tinctures available to add it to a morning tonic or a warm morning beverage (for hormonal or cell renewal benefit) or if working with a specific condition. With the low content of comfrey in tinctures and in some collagen supplements, again, it is deemed effective and safe.
Another herb close to my heart, comfrey is a versatile healer, a hidden gem of medicinal properties and is good for the ground on which we walk. Can I get an Amen?
I hope you can wild harvest Comfrey and try making some of these on your own tinctures, salves, ointments, gels, and teas:
Remember: Always check with your medical professional first.