Comfrey, Symphytum officinale, and I go back a loooong time. We have had many adventures together. Like the time, way, way back, when we dug out a beautiful specimen in the middle of the night and we’d apparently had such a tousle that the next morning a large part of the house turned out to be covered in mud. Yes, I have many fond memories of this plant.
Comfrey is a plant with many useful medicinal properties. One that it’s good to have at your side with small (and big) children around. You can treat just about any wound and bruise, from mild to severe, with it. This plant also works well against a sore throat. In the past, comfrey root was also used internally for a few things. However, animal studies have shown that in high doses liver damage can occur. Although there’s much to be said about the methodology of the studies and opinions still differ, internal use is now discouraged for the sake of caution.
In terms of magical properties, comfrey root is best known for its protective effect during travel, for both traveller and luggage. It is also regularly used in magical work to attract money. And if you’ve broken a bone, you can speed up the healing process by asking comfrey for help.
Comfrey grows on a succulent, black taproot that can grow to a length of about 50 cm. The root is white on the inside. The plant itself is usually around a metre high, but can reach a height of 1.5 metres. The stem is square, hollow and branched, the leaves are deep green, ovate to lanceolate. Both are hirsute, so much so that they can feel spinose. The leaves are petiolate at the bottom of the plant – these are the radical rosette leaves – and more upwards they are sessile. They are large, pinnate and coarsely veined on the underside.
From May to September, the plants bear bell-shaped flowers in nodding racemes. The flowers can show white, pink and various shades of purple. They are 2 to 4 centimetres in size. After flowering, the quadrilocular ovary appears, in which 4 black seeds will develop.
The healing power of comfrey was already known in ancient times. She already appears in written sources from that time.
Comfrey compresses were used in setting and healing bone fractures before we had casts.
Comfrey is famous for its soil-improving properties. Anyone who has taken a thorough permaculture course will be familiar with comfrey fertiliser and the horrific stench that can emanate from it.
Unfortunately, common comfrey—the plant we are discussing in this monograph—is becoming rarer these days. Russian comfrey seems to be taking over, partly to due to the hype that has been created over its fertilising and growth promoting properties in organic and permaculture circles. Since this plant contains much of the liver damaging toxins that I discuss further on in the Medicinal properties area, this is not a good development for the medicinal use of comfrey in these parts.
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