Follow by Email

Meadow Muffin Gardens logo

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Comfrey, A Living Medicine Chest

Comfrey or Symphytum officinale is a must have for the garden, whether you want it for medicinal healing purposes or for vegetable and flower growing, it is an invaluable plant. A European native and member of the borage family, comfrey acts as a soil conditioner, weed barrier, compost booster and fertilizer.

A hardy perennial to Zone 4, comfrey thrives in just about any type of soil (though moist and fertile is best), is drought tolerant and grows fine in full sun to partly shaded locations. Seldom bothered by disease or insect pests it really is a low maintenance herb. It does need its space, as it can grow to a height and width of about five feet.

The large dark green fuzzy leaves are full of potassium, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium and iron.  A reason for this is it has a long taproot which takes up nutrients from the soil. The deep roots make this plant great for preparing a new vegetable or flower bed. The taproot acts as a clay breaker to penetrate compacted soil. 

The leaves can be spread around garden plants to keep down the weeds or they can be shredded first to form a mulch. To make a liquid fertilizer, steep the leaves in a bucket of water to form a compost tea. Do this outside, since the resulting "tea" can be described as none other than "it stinks". Anyone who infuses comfrey in olive oil to make an herbal oil for salves learns quickly that if they want to use the fresh leaves the resulting salve will have an odor. Taking the time to dry out the leaves a bit before infusing greatly reduces the risk of not only the smell but against spoilage. The fuzzy leaves of comfrey can be irritating to some people and cause contact dermatitis, so it is advised to wear gloves when handling them. 

Add comfrey leaves to the compost bin or pile as an accelerator, and be sure to turn the pile to thoroughly mix and combine everything.

Also, comfrey makes a great trap crop to lure slugs and snails away from other garden plants or flowers. Just remember its size so it doesn't choke out other plants.

The fact that comfrey is also called Knit-bone and Bruisewort makes it easy to remember the medicinal purposes of this herb. Broken bones, pulled muscles, sprained ankles, wound care and bruises can all use this plant to aid and speed up healing. Difficult to heal pressure sores or slow to heal wounds often respond amazingly well to the use of comfrey salves. Just remember to be sure there is no risk of infection and to let the would heal a bit for a day or two before applying. The allantoin in comfrey may cause the skin to close over too quickly, causing the outer skin to heal before the inner wound is ready. Wounds need to heal from the inside out. Don't use it internally because there is controversy about its effects on the liver.

Lastly, bees and pollinating insects love it! A win win all around!