Comfrey, a borage plant, has its name from the legs. It does good to the legs and helps its bones to grow together. There are about 20 different species. Comfrey or knitbone grows in almost any soil condition, but prefers loamy, deep, moist soil.
Comfrey is a shrub with rough-haired, heavily veined, alternate leaves that grow to be 10 to 20 cm wide and 50 cm long. Its flowers are white to yellowish depending on the species, initially reddish later light blue to blue-violet, narrowly bell-shaped and nodding downwards. The comfrey plant grows over 1 m high and can be cut 5 – 6 times a year because of its rapid growth. The mostly finger-thick turnip-like roots are dark brown to black on the outside and fleshy, slimy and white on the inside. In spring rough hairy shoots grow out of the ground. After a few weeks stems grow which soon bear the first flowers.
The perennial comfrey flowers bloom from May to September. The rootstock is collected in March and from September to November. It is dug up with a spade. When washing, make sure that the outer brown bark is not scrubbed off! These roots are freshly cut and laid out in the sun to dry; dried they are almost impossible to cut. The cut of a comfrey plant is an excellent, protein-rich addition to pig feed, also for compost or it can be used for mulching. Especially the even bigger growing comfrey, a comfrey species from the Caucasus, which came to England and America via Petersburg in the 18th century, is a valuable fodder plant. The story of its toxicity due to its alkaloid content is based on long-term feeding to rats that were fed exclusively with comfrey. Thus the toxicity is low. Here the statement of Paracelsus also applies:” The quantity makes the poison (dose facit venenum)”.
It is a high-yielding fodder plant with a high protein and silica content. Animals should not be fed mainly with comfrey because of its pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Comfrey (comfrey species), on the other hand, is free from these substances. Dogs and cats get a beautiful coat, if 1 knife tip to 1 teaspoon is added to their food for 3 weeks.
The main effect of comfrey is based on the allantoin contained in all plant parts. Allantoin is a metabolic product with wound-healing and cell-regenerating effects. Although allantoin is also produced synthetically, true ‘herbal witches’ are convinced that the effect of naturally contained allantoin in comfrey, in combination with natural plant substances, is superior to any single synthetic product.
Among all medicinal herbs, comfrey has the most allantoin, which is needed for cell formation of healing wounds, especially when they are difficult to heal or are purulent.
Comfrey is one of the best remedies for healing external and internal wounds (stomach ulcer), cuts, scratches, bruises, fractures and bleeding as well as for sprains and dislocations, strains of muscles and tendons.
The areas of comfrey application are many and varied. In traditional herbal medicine, comfrey is administered internally as a cough medicine, for diarrhoea, stomach ulcers, colitis, rheumatism and arthrosis. For this purpose, the comfrey leaf and/or root is used as tea, tincture and as an infusion for mouthwash or gargling.
The first known report about the healing effects comes from Dioscorides from the 1st century.
Root and leaves
In comfrey, the root contains the most active ingredients. It is best to have fresh roots available. Dry roots can also be used, they are officially accepted. One can also use the leaves, but they have a less strong effect.
Broken bones and blunt injuries
In case of bone fractures, comfrey is used to promote bone fusion and to relieve pain. The active ingredients promote callus formation during the bone healing process. It is recommended to eat a slice of a 2-3 mm thick root daily, or take 3 times daily 10 drops of symphytum D3. Of course, comfrey cannot replace a splint or a plaster cast.
In the area of the locomotor system, comfrey is used to treat sprains, bruises, tensions and arthrosis. Weleda sells an ingenious remedy for all these ailments: Symphytum compositum 50 ml, which contains 7 medicinal plants.
A poultice is very useful; depending on the size of the wound, we mix some root powder with some hot water to make a pulp. We spread it on a cloth and put it on the wound for four hours. Then we make a new poultice. Especially because of the ingredient allantoin, Comfrey has distinct wound-healing, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. It supports the formation of new tissue. It is also effective in scurvy ulcers, varicose veins, rheumatic and gout swelling, phantom pain after amputation, inflammation of bones and pleura, as well in the case of bruises, sprains, mastitis, skin rashes, skin ulcers, muscle tension, conjunctivitis and gingivitis.
Due to traces of pyrrolizidine alkaloids contained in comfrey, it is officially recommended not to use it on injured skin. To be on the safe side, the pure active ingredient allantoin can be used.
The best known way of comfrey preparing is the ointment. One can rub the affected areas. For centuries a simple ointment has been cooked from comfrey roots. In the meantime, manufacturers of natural medicines have also discovered comfrey root and offer numerous forms of comfrey ointments and creams (e.g. Traumaplant®, Kytta Ointment® and Kytta Balm® with heat function).
An ointment can be made from fresh roots. They can also be dried and then ground into powder. The fresh roots must be dried quickly. It is best to cut them up lengthwise and hang them on a line in an airy place or dry them at 40°C. Slow drying would make them mouldy, and the allantoin, the most precious active ingredient, would get lost.
Instead of a poultice one can also use an ointment. The fresh roots have to be cleaned well, then they are chopped and warmed up with lard for 10 minutes. The hot fat is filtered through a cloth into a glass or enamel pot and stored in it.
A recipe without lard: 500 g roots, 70 g lanolin, 500 ml olive oil, 25 g beeswax grated. Heat oil and lanolin in a water bath and cook the cut roots for 20 minutes, sieve and add the separately heated beeswax. The ointment can be enhanced by adding the oily extracts of arnica, daisy, calendula, St. John’s wort, propolis. If alcoholic extracts are used, an emulsifier is needed, e.g. double the amount of lanolin and about 5 g of lanette.
Comfrey massage oil
Take 100 ml of calendula oil, 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed comfrey leaf juice, 5 drops of rosemary essential oil and 5 drops of lemon essential oil. Mix all ingredients, shake them well until everything has been blended. It keeps fresh for about 2 weeks without preservatives. It is also a very good massage oil for flabby, poorly circulated skin and cellulite.
Use in the kitchen
Especially young leaves of the comfrey (comfrey species) make a good vegetable. It is cut into small pieces and cooked in some vegetable broth like any other vegetable. One can refine it with butter, cream, lemon and spices. Also suitable for spinach with nettles. Dip into pancake batter and bake it. It tastes delicious.
Haus-Apotheke, Heilpflanzen und Rezepte aus Natur und Klostergarten, Pater Simons, Kosmos-Verlag (Home pharmacy, medicinal plants and recipes from nature and monastery garden)Kölbl‘s Kräuterfibel, Konrad Kölbl, Reprint-Verlag Konrad Kölb
Medizin der Erde, Heilanwendung, Rezepte und Mythen unserer Heilpflanzen, (Medicine of the earth, healing applications, recipes and myths of our medicinal plants)
Susanne Fischer –Rizzi, AT-Verlag
Comphrey was ist das, Abtei Fulda (Comphrey what is it)
http://www.heilpflanzen-welt.de/2005-11-Beinwell-hilft-bei-Muskel-und-Gelenkbeschwerden/ (comfrey helps with muscle and joint complaints)