Herbal Adventures~Comfrey


copyright Susun S Weed

Whether astride a horse in Provence, climbing a volcano in Costa Rica, taking a jet plane to New Zealand, or just spending a quiet day in my gardens, I am never without my herbal first-aid kit. For daily health maintenance I rely on nourishing herbal infusions; but when injury or illness strike - on the road or at home - I reach for my first aid kit. That's where I keep the fast-acting remedies, some of which (like poke) can be dangerous.

My very good friend comfrey is one of my daily infusions, but she is also in my first aid kit. Does that mean she's one of those dangerous ladies? My answer is "No!"

Every time I mention comfrey, someone asks if it isn't "unsafe". When I identify with comfrey, I feel like a persecuted witch wrongly accused of evil-doing. Comfrey has so much to offer as an aid to health and healing. How did such a wonderful green ally come to have such a terrible reputation?

Perhaps it starts with confusion, aided by imprecise language. There are two species of comfrey: wild comfrey - Symphytum officinale - and cultivated comfrey - Symphytum uplandica x. (The "x" means it is a hybrid, a cross.) Wild comfrey (S. off.) is a small plant - up to a meter tall - with yellow flowers. Cultivated comfrey (S. uplandica x.) is a large plant - often surpassing two meters - with blue or purple flowers.

Everyone I know grows uplandica and that is what is sold in stores. But gardeners and herbal sellers alike usually mislabel it, causing no end of confusion.

To complicate the situation even more: the roots and the leaves of comfrey contain different constituents. Comfrey roots, like most perennial roots, contain poisons. Wild comfrey (officinale) leaves have some of the same poisons. But cultivated comfrey (uplandica) leaves don't.

How can I be so sure that cultivated comfrey is safe to consume internally? Three things have convinced me.

„X One: An herbal group that I belong to sent three samples of comfrey leaf (one from the west coast, one from the east coast, and one from the Rocky Mountains) to a lab to be tested for the problematic alkaloids; they found none.

„X Two: During the Second World War, an Englishman named Henry Doubleday devoted himself to hybridizing comfrey and making it safe to eat as a cooked green. His crosses - sterile hybrids that don't produce seeds - are what we grow in our gardens. And several generations of comfrey-eaters at his research station have no comfrey-related health problems.

„X Three: I have drunk a quart or more of comfrey infusion once or twice a week for twenty years with no problems.

Drinking comfrey infusion has benefited me in many ways: It keeps my bones strong and flexible. (An old country name for comfrey is "knit bone".) It strengthens my digestion and elimination. It keeps my lungs and respiratory tract healthy. It keeps my face wrinkle-free and my skin and scalp supple. And please don't forget, comfrey contains special proteins needed for the formation of short-term memory cells.

Comfrey leaves are not only rich in proteins, they are a great source of folic acid, many vitamins, and every mineral and trace mineral we need for a strong immune system, a calm nervous system, and a happy hormone system. See why I'm so fond of comfrey? What a marvelous ally she is! Not dangerous at all.

When I identify with comfrey, I feel powerful and proud, beautiful and exuberant. When I identify with comfrey, I feel the flexibility that comes from being knit together. When I identify with comfrey, I feel very green.

How I do it: Two or three times a week, I drink a nourishing herbal infusion made by steeping one ounce (by weight!) of dried comfrey (uplandica) leaves and flowering stalks in four cups boiling water in a tightly-lidded quart canning jar for 4-8 hours.

I rarely dig the comfrey root, but when I do, I tincture it in 100-proof vodka for external use only.

There's a small jar of ointment in my first aid kit that smells faintly of lanolin. The thick opaque goo inside is so dark brown as to be nearly black. Comfrey ointment (!) made at the Henry Doubleday Research Station in Bocking, Braintree, Essex, England. The color comes from alantoin, the healing constituent found in all parts of comfrey, especially the hard parts - such as roots, flower stalks, and leaf midribs. Alantoin extracted from comfrey roots is added to the salve made by steeping fresh comfrey roots in lanolin for many weeks. Stunningly effective is all I can say; too bad it isn't sold in the USA.

Comfrey ointment is fussy to make at home; it has a tendency to spoil and to smell quite awful. To counter this, I steep fresh flowering stalks of comfrey cut in one inch pieces in olive, emu, or jojoba oil for only four or five weeks. And I never put it in the sun. After decanting the comfrey oil, I add a little of my black-colored comfrey root tincture and - because I want to thicken it into an ointment - heat it with some grated beeswax.

Comfrey ointment heals wounds, cuts, burns, bruises, itches, and most skin problems. But it is most amazing when used to stop friction blisters from forming when you over use your hands or feet - walking, raking, rowing, hoeing, whatever. Even after the blister has swelled and filled with fluid - though better at the first twinge of pain - frequent applications of comfrey ointment will make it disappear as though it was never there. I apply the salve every five minutes for the first hour if I can, then 2-3 times an hour until I go to sleep.

There is so much more to be said about the healing powers of comfrey. Now you know she isn't a bad witch, so stop worrying. Start being happy that comfrey is easy to grow, easy to use, and filled with abundant green blessings.

Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material in this article is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.

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