Growing and Using Comfrey
Herbalists throughout the ages have placed comfrey high on their list of useful plants. It has been seen to have an effect on cuts, burns, skin ulcers, hemorrhoids, sprains, fractures, and boils. Learn how to grow comfrey and use it in your herbal first aid preparations and as a soil amendment.
I’m not a doctor, nurse or trained herbalist, just someone trying to grow and use herbs as a way to keep a family healthy. For hundreds of years, comfrey has been a great healer and was even used to feed people. Then a study in the late 1990’s indicated that comfrey might be carcinogenic and now it gets a bad rap.
Do your own research, listen to trusted herbalists and decide for yourself. For now, my statement is: Internal use is at your own risk. Read this excellent article – the comfrey controversy as part of your research.
Growing Comfrey is Easy
Comfrey is a vigorously growing plant, often spreading 24-48” wide. If garden space is at a premium, consider placing your comfrey in large tubs to contain them. Once you have established a comfrey patch it will be hard to get rid of it. Even small bits of the root can produce new plants. Your comfrey will grow in full or partial sun and is hardy from zones 4 – 9.
In cool climates the plant will die back in the winter, re-shooting again in the spring. In warmer climates it will rarely flower because it needs a winter chill, but it also won’t die back so the leaves are available all year round.
Divide young plants in the spring as the leaves begin growing. The roots are hardy, no need to be gentle. Dig up and separate the roots with a shovel or sharp knife, divide into smaller pieces and re-pot or give away.
Comfrey is a fast grower and the leaves can be harvested at least 4 times a year, the first cutting is usually are ready by mid-spring. Cut the leaves back to about 2 inches above the soil or take individual leaves as they get hand size. You can count on another cutting every 6 weeks until early autumn when you should leave plants to leaf out and build up winter reserves.
Fine hairs on the leaves can irritate some people so wear gloves when you are harvesting. Dry leaves by spreading them in single layers and use any one of the dehydrating methods found in this post. When the leaves are dry, store them whole, lying flat in boxes or gently crumbled and stored in jars. Roots should be washed with cool water, cut into thin slices and dried. They can then be ground into powder or kept in small chunks until used.
There are many ways to use comfrey
1. As a compost activator – If you want to provide a nutrient boost to your compost, use comfrey leaves. They make an excellent fertilizer. They give your compost added nitrogen, resulting in increased microbial decomposition. Don’t add too much without balancing the carbon ratio or you will slow the decomposition rate. Some people plant a comfrey patch next to their compost heaps to take full advantage of its use as an excellent compost activator. Be careful about containing it!
2. To improve compacted soil – Comfrey’s thick and tuberous roots create an expansive root system, allowing the plant to “mine” compacted soils for minerals and other nutrients which are often difficult for other plants to obtain. This ability to help cycle nutrients through the soil is a great reason to plant comfrey at the base of fruit trees and other perennials. Again, there’s that containment issue.
3. Steep comfrey leaves to make a liquid fertilizer – another kind of compost tea. Chop up some comfrey leaves and place them in water for several weeks. Placing a rock on top helps keep them submerged. Wait until they form a dark, thick (smelly) liquid which can then be diluted 12:1 – 15:1 prior to application on your garden plants.
4. Use comfrey leaves as green manure and mulch – just cut, and spread leaves over planting beds. Left to decompose on site, comfrey will continue helping to condition your soil.
5. Medicinal topical remedies are completely safe and very effective. Make a poultice of comfrey leaves for use on bruises, external wounds, and sores. Take macerated leaf; mix it with hot water or herb tea to make a paste. Place this directly on the affected area and use a warm cloth or bandage to hold it in place. Comfrey has tissue regenerative abilities and is helpful in destroying harmful bacteria. Comfrey should not be placed on deep puncture wounds; it may heal the surface of the wound too fast.
6. Use comfrey as an ingredient in creams and infused oils to help battle dry skin. Make a poultice of comfrey root mixed with calendula petals for blackhead treatment. Rosemary Gladstar, in her book Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, makes an easy and effective Aloe-Comfrey Arthritis Gel to be used topically for sore muscles and arthritic joints (see page 106).
More excellent resources for growing and using comfrey:
I also recommend the following books to further research growing and using herbs. These are all in my prepper reference library:
Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use by Rosemary Gladstar
The Herb Bible by Peter Mchoy and Pamela Westland
Growing & Using the Healing Herbs by Gaea and Shandor Weiss
Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Claire Kowalachik and William Hylton, Editors
You can find comfrey at specialty nurseries in your area or collect some roots from a friend. Consider the addition of this wonderful herb – comfrey in your garden. Is has many medicinal and soil building benefits you don’t want to miss.