Comfrey is an herbaceous perennial. The large, hairy, lance-shaped leaves grow in clusters about 12 inches high. It sends up a central stem, which can reach three feet in height. The bell-shaped flowers appear in clusters on this stem shortly before midsummer.
The flowers of wild comfrey vary in color, but are most often yellow. Prickly comfrey may have blue or pink flowers, and Quaker comfrey has purplish flowers. The root is black on the outside, white on the inside and tuberous, shaped like a turnip.
Other Names Knitbone, knitback, consound, blackwort, bruisewort, slippery root, boneset, yalluc, gum plant, consolida, ass’s ear.
- Wild or common comfrey Symphytum officinale L
- Prickly or rough comfrey S. asperum Lepechin (Do not use this internally)
- Quaker, Russian or Blue Comfrey S. peregrinum Lebed (hybrid of the above) (Do not use this internally)
History and Folklore
Comfrey has been cultivated for healing since 400 BCE. Such notable Greek physicians used it as Herodotus, Nicander, Galen, and Dioscorides. It continued to be used throughout history and its use spread throughout Europe.
The name Symphytum comes from the Greek meaning “Grow together” + “plant”. And comfrey comes from the Latin meaning to grow together.
Comfrey prefers a cooler climate and is hardy down to -40 degrees, so it is a nice addition to northern herb gardens. It prefers full sun but might need some shade if you live in a very hot place. Soil should be rich, but it’s not picky. It appreciates a bit of fertilizer once in a while.
Root cuttings most often propagate it. Plant in spring, as soon as you can work the soil. 2-4 inches deep in rich soil. Give it about two feet of space to grow. Comfrey likes it moist, so water regularly if it does not rain.
Flowering stems should be removed in the first year so that the plant’s energy is focused on a sturdy root and leaf system. After that, you can let the plant flower. Growth continues while the plant is in flower. Most comfrey plants will re-seed readily and can quickly become a nuisance. Cutting the flowers before they go to seed will help keep them in check.
Note: You can get comfrey root cuttings at StrictlyMedicinalSeeds.com
Harvesting & Storage
The more you harvest this plant, the more it will grow. It should be harvested for the greatest potency in early May, just before it blooms. Collect the leaves as needed and spread out to dry. They break down easily, don’t dry well and are very delicate when dry. So it’s best to use comfrey fresh.
Comfrey is associated with Saturn and water and is sacred to Hecate.
Comfrey is used in protective magic for the traveler and to protect against theft. Try placing a comfrey leaf in your luggage to make sure it isn’t lost or stolen. Use comfrey root in sachets for protection while traveling, and to keep your lover faithful while you are gone. Also, use it in sachets to protect vehicles. Hang from your rearview mirror or hide it under a seat.
Wrap your money in a comfrey leaf for several days before going to a casino or poker game. It will help keep your bets coming back to you.
Comfrey flowers, especially blue ones, can be substituted in any spell calling for borage.
Use comfrey in a bath after ritual to relax and cleanse you, especially for healing or love spells.
It can be burned in combination with mugwort to aid in divination and concentration and by itself or in combination for spells associated with letting go of unhealthy relationships.
Because comfrey roots dig so deep in search of nutrients, these nutrients are then stored in their leaves, which lack fiber and break down quickly. Thus, comfrey is an excellent compost plant and can be laid in the beds of other plants to act as a fertilizer.
It is a great addition to compost in moderation. Make sure you balance it with firmer plant matter, or you’ll get gooey compost.
Rot the leaves down in water for several weeks to produce a concentrated liquid fertilizer. Or make comfrey tea.
Boiling the root in water yields a sticky paste that you may or may not find some use for.
Wild comfrey contains allantoin, which is found in the milk of nursing mothers. It encourages cell-reproduction and thus stimulates the healing of wounds. It also has a high mucilage content, which smooths the skin. This makes comfrey a valuable addition to salves and lotions and a soothing addition to baths.
Try adding comfrey to salves for burns, acne, bruising, abrasions and other topical complaints. It can also be used in poultices for breaks and strains and to reduce swelling from any cause.
Comfrey should not be used for very deep or puncture wounds, because it can actually make the surface heal faster than the lower part of the wound, causing abscesses. Make sure a wound has been thoroughly cleaned before applying comfrey, so as not to seal dirt inside the wound.
The boiled roots yield a sticky paste that dries hard and has been used to set bandages. Simply spread it on the bandage, and then wrap the wound.
Taken internally, as a tea, the leaves are said to help speed the healing of broken bones and other internal injuries. The root is used for persistent, painful coughs as well as hemorrhage and ulcers.
However, one should be aware that comfrey can cause liver damage and is potentially carcinogenic. Interestingly, the toxic components are similar to those founds in acetaminophen, or Tylenol. But you wouldn’t want to eat a lot of that either.
So keep your internal consumption of comfrey to a minimum and don’t use it for long periods. Russian and prickly comfrey have the highest concentrations of toxic alkaloids, and the roots of any variety have higher concentrations than the leaves. These alkaloids are separate from the active healing constituents.
Comfrey should not be used internally or externally for longer than four to six consecutive weeks.
Pregnant or lactating women should not use comfrey.
Although comfrey has been used for food, recent evidence suggests that it contains carcinogenic compounds and can cause liver damage. Therefore, it is not advisable to use comfrey as a major food product. Russian and Prickly comfrey have the highest levels of toxic alkaloids. In all varieties, the roots have higher concentrations than the leaves.
Comfrey provides protein and a little vitamin B12, which is rare in a plant source. The young leaves can be eaten like any leafy vegetable, but the mature leaves are unpleasant.
Comfrey roots, combined with dandelion roots and chicory roots are said to make a good coffee substitute.
2 thoughts on “Comfrey: Folklore, Healing & Magickal Uses”
Another Australian, who valued the HDRA research, was Foster Savage, who I mentioned earlier. I had the opportunity to know him, personally, when he settled in Nambour to farm (and later Cooroy); and, I knew you would guess, he grew lots of comfrey! Wilted comfrey was fed to his animals in large amounts. Why did he allow it to wilt? He told me that animals could eat much more, each day, when it was wilted! He often had groups and private people visit and he would, freely, share his knowledge of comfrey and how it benefited his land, animals and his family (note, he had 13 children). When legislation placed comfrey on the poisons schedule in Australia, and newspapers highlighted the ban, he wrote a letter to the Sunshine Coast Daily, in defense of comfrey, saying:
“I was perhaps responsible for 95% of the comfrey in Australia, having introduced the plant to this country in 1954, and having used the plant in great quantities, since then; I am, perhaps, competent to speak about it and to make a few comments on the …remarks about comfrey made by the CSIRO scientist …”To say that two leaves, eaten daily – over a couple of years – will cause serious disease, is simply not true. In our house, we have eaten 70 leaves, or thereabouts, daily, for 24 years: in the form of comfrey tea, liquidised in a vitamiser as a green drink, and in salads. I also fed comfrey to my farm animals. Knowing the power of comfrey to restore a worn out animal quickly, and make her milk again, I once bought an old cow at the Dandenong Market, when farming in Victoria. It had been discarded by some farmer, as worn out. I put her on comfrey, giving her 90 lbs of wilted comfrey (wilted to increase the cow’s intake of comfrey’s extraordinary nutrients), and 90 lbs made a pretty big heap, about 4 feet high. This poor, old, creature took to the comfrey, without hesitation … she was starving for minerals and her instincts gave her a craving for comfrey. When she began to eat, she would eat off the heap of leaves for a couple of hours, then sit down for an hour or so. Later, she would continue eating, until every leaf was gone. If Dr. Culvenor’s words were true, imagine the poison she would be taking into her body, with this quantity of comfrey daily. If comfrey attacked the liver, then this cow would have died, because she was in a worn out condition. Instead, she doubled her milk output, within a week, and in a fortnight, trebled it. The remarkable thing, was that the cream that settled overnight, was some 3/4 inch thick and the separation of cream from the milk was so perfect, that the cream could be lifted off, with none remaining. I fed comfrey to calves, as much as they could eat, again with only gratifying results. I fed pigs, entirely on comfrey and grain, as much comfrey as they could eat, and the quality of those pigs was legendary, in the district. The fame of comfrey spread far and wide, for my farm was visited by 6,000 farmers from around Australia and from overseas. Finally, I well remember the enthusiastic remarks of the butcher who regularly killed our comfrey-fed calves. He told us that he had never before, seen such healthy livers … that, mind you, after being reared on a herb that was supposed to cause liver diseases!”
Or it could be COME FREY! the god of regeneration and fecundity…..