Comfrey, also known by the descriptive name “knit bone”, is an excellent plant with a long history of use in treating cuts, abrasions, bruises, torn ligaments, tendons, and broken bones. Comfrey has so many practical uses and benefits, I want everyone to know how to use comfrey!
Studying herbal medicine, it is one thing to read about the healing power of the plants, but another to personally experience it. The more I work hands on with the plants – growing, harvesting, making medicine, sharing and using the plants, the greater my trust in their healing properties.
I had the chance to observe some powerful healing, using this easy-to-grow plant with a long history of use, and I want to share this experience with you.
Comfrey – Symphytum officinale
Comfrey, also known by the descriptive name “knit bone”, has been used since ancient times, and was described by Dioscorides, an ancient Greek physician and botanist. The genus name Symphytum comes from the Greek word ‘sympho’, which means to “unite”, as in closing a wound or bone fracture.
My herbal teachers have personal stories to share of their experiences working with comfrey, either for themselves or their clients, and I understand comfrey is excellent at promoting the growth of new tissue and speeding the healing process. But until recently, I never had the opportunity to experience the healing power of comfrey for myself.
Healing with Comfrey – Our Experience
The opportunity to observe comfrey’s excellent ability to “knit a wound” presented itself when my husband sliced open his thumb. The cut was long and deep, and wild yarrow was the first plant applied to stop the rapid bleeding. Yarrow is an excellent styptic – its ability to stop bleeding has been known since ancient times, and legend has it that Achilles and his warriors carried yarrow into battle to treat their wounds.
Once we had the bleeding stopped, and the wound cleansed, a poultice of comfrey was applied. Ideally this poultice would have been reapplied for several days, but the busyness of modern life limited the comfrey applications. However, even with just a few applications of the poultice, the rapid closing and healing of this wound was remarkable.
Had we sought medical care at the local urgent care center, stitches would have been applied to close the wound (and likely a scolding for packing it with the yarrow!). Instead, comfrey sped the healing process.
Comfrey is a perennial plant that produces large leaves and bell-shaped flowers. I purchased my four plants from a local organic herb farm, and enjoy the many benefits of the plants all summer long. Late last summer I harvested the leaves and dried them, storing them in a glass jar. It was the dried leaves we used to make the poultice. You can purchase organic dried comfrey or you can try growing your own.
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase by clicking on these links, I receive a small compensation, at no additional cost to you. I participate in the Amazon Services Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
How to Grow Comfrey
Not only is comfrey good for you, it’s also good for your garden. Comfrey leaves are nutrient-rich and are beneficial in the garden. The Permaculture Research Center has this to say about comfrey in the garden
A fast-growing, herbaceous, perennial plant of the borage family, 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. It is this ability to help cycle nutrients through the soil that has given comfrey its designation as a dynamic accumulator plant. Like daikon, stinging nettles, and other plants that function as dynamic accumulators, comfrey leaves make an excellent fertilizer, and provide a nutrient boost to compost mixes. Additionally, comfrey leaves are used as a green manure and mulch, being cut, then spread over planting beds and left to decompose on site, further helping to condition soils. Cutting and placing the first flush of comfrey leaves in trenches where potatoes are to be planted is thought to provide the tubers with nutrients that will result in an increased yield. It is important to use only the leaves of the plant when mulching, as any cut stems have the potential to take root.
Comfrey is hardy from zones 4 – 9, and will grow in full or partial sun. Comfrey would make a lovely addition to a perennial flower bed, however, I wouldn’t recommend comfrey for a small garden where planting space is at a premium as the plants themselves can often grow to 24 – 48″ wide. Because of the penetrating roots, I am not sure how well comfrey would do contained in a pot. Perhaps a large, deep pot would work.
Comfrey is a permanent part of my expanding perennial herb garden. The plants put out blooms all summer and I enjoy the abundant bees and pollinators that visit daily. New growth replaces the cuttings which are dried and saved for a winter supply.
If you want to learn more about how to grow comfrey, and the many uses of comfrey in the garden, Amy at Tenth Acre Farm has a great post about growing comfrey.
How to Use Comfrey for Healing
There are numerous ways to enjoy the healing qualities of comfrey, including:
- comfrey poultice
- comfrey compress
- comfrey-infused oil
- comfrey salve
The simplest way to use comfrey for a wound is as a poultice. Using fresh or dried leaves, combine with warm water and place over the wound, covering with a bandage. The poultice should be damp but not drippy. Sometimes herbs are mixed with other ingredients to make a paste, which clings better to the area being treated. Comfrey leaves tend to be quite large, so we simply used the moistened leaves.
Another simple method is to apply a compress. With a compress, you make a strong “tea” by steeping the leaves (fresh or dried) in boiled water. A clean cloth is then soaked in the tea and applied (once cooled to prevent burns) to the injured area. Repeat this application, replacing with a warm compress cloth.
Comfrey-infused oils can be made by infusing an oil with the fresh or dried leaves. Dried plant material works best to reduce the chance of the oil becoming moldy. Simply fill a jar 2/3 full with the leaves, cover completely with oil, tamping down to eliminate air bubbles. Place the lid and allow to infuse for 4 to 6 weeks, checking periodically to make sure the leaves remain completely covered in oil. After 4-6 weeks, strain off the leaves and store the infused oil.
This comfrey oil can be applied to the skin, or used to make a healing salve.
Once you create your comfrey-infused oil, you can then create an excellent healing salve. The salve can be applied to cuts, scrapes, bruises, sunburn, insect bites and more.
Mountain Rose Herbs Blog has instructions for making a basic salve using herb-infused oils.
Not for Internal Use
Although some herbalists continue the tradition of using comfrey internally, mainly through teas and infusions, my use of comfrey is strictly for external applications. Comfrey leaf and root contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PLAs), a group of toxic compounds that can cause damage to the liver. (Source)
Comfrey is best used for treating broken bones, damaged ligaments, and tendons, and healing small wounds. The high levels of allantoin and rosmarinic acid found in comfrey cause rapid growth of new skin cells, which can cause a deeper wound to heal from the outside first, sealing in an infection.
Comfrey in the First Aid Kit
Comfrey is an excellent addition to our first aid kit to help with healing all kinds of cuts, abrasions, bruises, strained tendons, ligaments, and bone fractures. Dried leaves are easily stored for use when needed in making poultices or compresses, or in creating a healing oil, or comfrey salve. Even greater benefits can be enjoyed by combining comfrey with other healing herbs such as calendula, plantain, and yarrow.
If you would like to learn about the best herbs for creating an herbal first aid kit, I share simple instructions for a DIY Herbal First Aid Kit.
Even if you receive treatment from a medical center or physician, comfrey can be a powerful part of your healing process.
If you enjoy learning about herbal medicine, the Herbal Academy offers in-depth courses for all levels.