Sunday, June 3, 2012

Common Comfrey {Symphytum officinale}

photo by Rhisiart Hincks
Nodding gaily as Fine Folks nest
Just a leaf or two please
To bring my poor bones rest
Take over my fields
To nourish my fold
I harbour my Blackwort
More than I do gold.
~ Blackwort
, dated around the late 1800's.

{The above is a rhyme I had found in one of my Ancestor's writings; I am not sure if she had wrote it or if it was passed down to her.}

Other Names: Knitbone, Ass Ear, Blackwort, Yalluc, Church Bells, Bruisewort, Consound

Description: Common Comfrey is a prolific perennial that is a member of the borage family. It is native to Europe and can now be found growing wild in many parts of North America.

It grows to about 4 feet in height and has large black roots that can go quite deep and spread, which has helped earned its reputation as a 'weed'. The leaves are oval to lance shaped that get large and hairy as it matures. The flowers are quite lovely and come in the colours purple, pink or white.

Warnings: As with all herbs, one should make sure to be thoroughly informed before ingesting them, and is best to do so under the guidance of a qualified healer.

Comfrey has apparently been found to cause liver damage when ingested in large enough amounts, and can possibly be linked to cancer when ingested as well. Several governments have banned products with comfrey in it.
The highest amount of the problematic alkaloid in comfrey is in the roots, and the leaves have more as they mature. If you choose to ingest it, it might be a good idea to only consume the young leaves, as they have almost none of this alkaloid.

When the plant is mature enough its leaves can be quite prickly, so wearing gloves to handle it might be necessary, especially on broken skin.

Cultivating: The natural habitat for comfrey are river banks, hedgerows, meadows, woodland edges, ditches, and other moist areas. It can also make itself at home with very little help in cultivated beds and yards. It does well in hardiness zones 3b to to 9 and is frost resistant.

Other types of comfrey {such as Bocking 14} are propagated by root cuttings, but common comfrey can be grown from seed or plants that can be easily found online or at nurseries.

Plant in full sun to part shade, once the soil is easy enough to work, in an area that holds enough moisture. Once its taproots develop, it can be quite drought resistant. It can grow in just about any soil type {it is great to grow in clay if you want to break it up!}, but for best results, plant in rich and well-drained soil.

One important thing to keep in mind is that comfrey spreads and grows quickly, so if you want to avoid it taking over your garden then plant in a well contained area! Depending on location, comfrey flowers anytime between May to September.

Medicinal/Remedial Properties and Lore: Anodyne, astringent, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, haemostatic, homeopathic, nutrient, pectoral, pulmonary, refrigerant, tonic, vulnerary.

Comfrey is one of those herbs that has been used for so many different ailments throughout history, and still today.

Brother Aloysius recommended a cup of comfrey tea a day for those who were prone to obesity. He also suggested its use for coughs, acne, diarrhea, cancer , cholera, excessive menstrual bleeding, and dysentery {Comfort to the Sick}.

Nicholas Culpeper held it in pretty high esteem; he said of comfrey, 'This is a very common but a very neglected plant. It contains very great virtues.' He thought it was good for gout, hemorrhoids, gangrene, fevers, and {Complete Herbal}.

One of its most popular uses earned it the nick 'knitbone' as an aid for broken bones. Pliny noted that when he boiled the roots in with meat, a gluey substance held two pieces of meat together.

The allantoin in comfrey may be at the root of this healing property. It is also a pain reliever and can be placed over a sore area when prepared as a poultice. These two properties also make comfrey suitable to help treat sprains, bruises, sores, and cuts.

Another historical and modern use of comfrey is to help combat internal bleeding. Old Saxon texts recommended it for this use, as well as John Gerard who said it was good for 'those who spit blood and have inward wounds and burstings'. Today it is sometimes taken internally for ulcers.

Wisewoman Susun Weed sings the praises of comfrey to help keep memory, and nourish the body. Below is a video of her showing how to make a comfrey infusion:

Magical/Spiritual Properties and Lore: From the Blackroot rhyme at the top of this post, I gather that at least some folks believe that comfrey is connected with Faeries.

I have heard that it is both associated with the elements of water and earth, as well as the planet Saturn. I have also seen several mentions that it is a beloved herb of the Goddess Hecate, and is an appropriate offering planted in a garden for Her, or a bouquet placed at on an altar for Her.

A few cultures thought that  comfrey would protect travellers, including Saxons. In England, sprigs were sometimes given to bards as well as pilgrims travelling to sacred sites; in other parts of Europe, travellers would place leaves in their shoes, wear it as a charm around the neck, or weave it into the manes of horses to protect them and their charge.

Photo by Evelyn Simak
Another potential use for comfrey is for prosperity and protection magic for the home and for land. It can be used in a ritual, or hung about the home, or planted on the land for this purpose.

I especially like honing its 'binding' properties in my workings whether for protection, to help me to 'stick' to the right path, or to heal old 'wounds'. If you are going this route, make sure you mean it, as comfrey is quite effective!

Other Uses: Comfrey is an excellent fertilizer for the garden! You can make a liquid fertilizer out of it (it is stinky but so worth it!), mulch your garden beds with it, and use it as a compost activator. To see the fertilizer recipe, as well as get more info on its uses in the garden, click here.

Comfrey is also a great fodder for livestock, especially backyard chickens. ;)



1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this wonderful information! I am writing a historical fantasy for kids ages 9-12 and had read about comfrey protecting horses. Armed with your
    information, I can add this lovely detail to my book!