Around our house, we have nicknamed comfrey, specifically the Symphytum x uplandicum Bocking 14, that grows prominently in my flower bed “The Magic Plant.” I have 6 plants which I purchased as root crowns online from Strictly Medicinal Seeds which are wonderfully full and healthy and provide so very much. The Bocking 14 strand of symphytum uplandicum is sterile. While new plants will come up if the roots are disturbed, broken, or spread, it doesn’t produce seeds, and it’s very hardy. What I mean is, if I leave it be, I’ll always have my six plants, no more, no less.
While I maintain there is no magic pill out there for anything…comfrey comes pretty darn close, at least for some things.
Comfrey has been historically known as knitbone due to it’s incredible ability to speed healing, even of broken bones. But it’s not just bones, it’s skin, ligaments, bruises, sprains, swelling…pretty much anything externally that needs some healing love can be helped by comfrey. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it.
Belief in the incredible, all-healing powers of plants isn’t a universal thing. In my personal circle, it’s pretty much me and the kids (because that’s what I teach them). I’ve gotten my (retired nurses) mother and stepfather on board over the last year…mostly. And while my sweetheart prefers a plant remedy over a pill remedy, he believes much more strongly in his mind and body’s ability to get through it and heal itself, so it’s not often he’ll take anything for any therapeutic length of time.
But even he believes in our “magic plant” comfrey.
My sweetheart is the hard worker around our place. Not that we don’t all work hard on our “chores,” but he does the hard stuff: weed eating, building, chopping, carrying, dumping, maintaining…all the muscly, banged-up-hands, sore back, sweaty stuff. Almost daily, he gets some part of his hands banged up, cut up, or scraped up. Usually, he washes it (eventually), maybe pours some alcohol over it, and calls it good. (It’ll heal eventually.) This past spring, he had a callous where his middle finger joins his hand that blistered and split open. Spring = lots of heavy yard work around here, so the thing would close up overnight, just to split and bleed again the next day. This went on for about a week, and of course the continued daily work made it sore and uncomfortable, so finally I challenged him to let me help.
Our comfrey had just come up and had only a few leaves per plant. I went and picked one small leaf, crushed it a bit in my hand, and told him to simply hold it on the cut. He balled it up in his fist and left it there for about 15 minutes…until it started to itch just a bit. Not like rash or bug bite itch, but like that itch you get when something rough is pressed up against your skin for a bit too long. He dropped it, wiped his hands on his pants, and the itch went away. And so did the redness surrounding the cut on his hand. By morning, the cut had sealed back shut, and never opened again. Work continued day after day, but the cut never reopened and within a couple days, you’d never know there was a cut there.
My sweetheart also had a fall down the stairs one night. He hit his back on the stairs on the way down and landed heavily on one arm which swelled up and started to bruise almost immediately. He also had several scrapes on his shoulder and back. I used some fresh leaves to make a decoction, in which I soaked washcloths and applied them (warm) to his back, shoulder, and arm…anywhere I could see scrapes, bruises, or swelling, and anywhere he said hurt. Whenever the washcloth would cool off, I’d re-soak it in the warm liquid and reapply. I estimate we did this for about 30-40 minutes total, and the next morning the swelling in his arm was gone, the bruising was gone, the scrapes were barely visible, and his sore spots just weren’t.
At my sweethearts’ suggestion, we also tried the comfrey out on his brother (a total non-herbal, non-natural medicine guy) when he came to visit this summer. He had a nasty fall on the dirt bike the first night he was here and woke up the next morning in excruciating pain. His knee was swollen at least twice the size and he could barely put weight on it. For the next two days, I used the same treatment on him that I did for my sweetheart’s fall. 30 minutes took down the swelling visibly and reduced his pain to an ignorable level for a few hours. We repeated this as often as he was sitting still (not often…my sweetheart and his brother don’t stop moving….ever), and then he headed back home where he had his knee x-rayed. Turns out, he tore his ACL and was in a brace for a couple of weeks after, but no surgery was needed in the end. I personally believe if 1) we had done the comfrey compress the night he got hurt, and 2) continued regularly for a little longer, he would have healed much faster. But that said, he is now a believer in at least our “magic plant” and has asked for some root cuttings so he can grow his own at his place for future use. 🙂
Besides healing, comfrey has lots of other uses. It’s great fodder for animals…we feed cuttings to the chickens regularly. It’s great mulch for plants, which quickly breaks down into very potent fertilizer that my roses seem to love. It also breaks down quickly and adds vital nutrients to our compost. It is also incredibly hardy and fast growing. We’ve cut it down to the ground (literally…just dirt left) twice this year, and within days it’s poking up new growth.
So if you have a spot you don’t mind giving up to a plant that won’t die, and you have anyone around your house that might get bumps or bruises, cuts or scrapes, or that prefers non-invasive, fast healing, give a comfrey plant a home and a try.
How to: comfrey decoction
- Gather 2-4 comfrey leaves
- Tear the leaves into desired sized pieces*
- Put them in a pot with cold water
- Bring the water up to a boil
- Reduce the heat slightly and let boil lightly for about 10-15 minutes
- Remove from heat and let cool to preferred temperature**
*For a poultice, leave the pieces as big as you can.
Once the decoction has cooled to the preferred temp, pull out the leaves, squeezing out only enough liquid to make it manageable (aka, not too messy) and apply to area.
*For a compress, tear the leaves up into smallish pieces.
Soak an old cloth (something you don’t mind getting stained an unappealing shade of brown) in the liquid, and apply to the area.
**Icy, cold, or warm is a personal preference. Whatever seems more soothing is best. If you want icy, you can either put the liquid in the fridge/freezer until just before freezing, or put the cloth in the freezer to chill before applying.
Comfrey does have little prickly hairs on the leaves and stems. They may be irritating to some with tender skin. Just FYI.