Latin Name: Symphytum officinale
Common Name: Comfrey, Knit Bone
Cultivation: Grow this hearty and beautiful herb down to zone 3. Comfrey is found wild in full sun to partial shade. Comfrey likes moist conditions, and this has been made clear during these past few months of serious drought in Nebraska. Before this year, my experience has been that comfrey can survive almost anything, but even with watering, my patch of comfrey succumbed to prolong, intense heat, with no rain.
I believe it may have to do with being such a different environment from the previous 3 years, even with adequate watering.
Harvesting: Comfrey is harvested for its roots and leaves. They are both harvested at different times. The plant energy is in the roots during the late fall and winter months, so this is the best time for harvest.
The leaves of the plant can be harvested anytime during their growth, the spring being the optimal time for gathering. This makes sense because the energy of the plant is vigorously making new growth.
Storage: When storing roots or leaves, it is important to prepare the herbal parts accordingly. The roots are scrubbed vigorously and then chopped into manageable sizes for drying. Once the roots are dry, they are like rock and you will literally be unable to chop or cut them.
Small pieces that have been cut and dried can be ground in a coffee grinder.
Leaves must be dried with care.
They are fleshy and fuzzy, making them a little harder to dry. Keep them in a single layer and flip them often, to be sure that there is no mold present. Once the leaves are completely dry, store them in an airtight container, out of direct sunlight.
A Word Of Caution About Internal Use: Historically, comfrey has had a rich history, especially for internal healing.
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs even mentions that back in the day, it was believed that comfrey was a plant source of vitamin B12, a real boon for vegetarians. According to Rodale, in 1983, an Australian study confirmed that this was true, but that a person would have to eat more than 4 pounds a day to get just the minimum daily requirement of B12-making this both impractical and possibly dangerous.
There have been studies done that show the possibility of comfrey being a carcinogen. One study showed rats fed 8% of their diet in comfrey, developed liver cancers and others showed liver problems.
It is common for many herbalists (especially the family herbalist) to recommend NOT using comfrey internally because it is still unclear about the overall safety of comfrey being ingested. This is sound advice.
Although the jury is still out about comfrey use internally, it is unparalleled for external use.
All About Comfrey: Comfrey contains allantoin, which promotes the growth of new cells. Knowing this, comfrey is a go-to herb for skin issues.
Useful for skin healing, and as a poultice for bruises and sprains and sores. Add comfrey to your skin healing salves, remembering that it truly is a powerful skin regenerator, and caution needs to be used that the wound is already healing before applying a salve that may trap infection under the new skin.
Use a wash of comfrey to help kill bacteria and speed healing of infected wounds, the difference being that a wash is simply a water based application and not a waxy or grease based herbal. This means that there will be nothing to trap and hold infected cells in the wound.
Use comfrey for eczema and insect bites, athlete's foot and dry cracked feet or hands.
Finally, never discount comfrey as a stunning ornamental herb! It is somewhat large, so allow it to sprawl and display it's beautiful flowers all season long. It also spreads aggressively, so plant it in sunken pots, or somewhere that you can enjoy the natural beauty, but not need to dig it up completely. I hope you grow and enjoy comfrey. It is an often maligned herb that is actually invaluable in the home medicine chest.