I have a large beautiful comfrey plant in my garden. It is one of the plants that makes me sad that we are selling this homestead! But I’m taking a small piece of root to grow a beautiful comfrey on the new homestead as well.
Comfrey is an amazing plant. Of all the herbal remedies that I’ve been learning, this one is my favorite.
It’s versatile in so many different ways. Not only is it an incredible compost activator, but it also is a healing plant that can be used topically (and internally, but with controversy).
It can be used as livestock food, organic fertilizer, and mulch for your garden. The benefits of comfrey are many.
Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic to the liver in high amounts.
Because of this, comfrey is not recommended for internal use. Remember, this is not medical advice. Use at your own risk, and do your own research.
However, I also want to put this out here. Chamomile, peppermint and roobios teas also contained high PA levels in almost all samples analyzed.
Even honey has been found to contain these naturally occurring plant toxins. Humans are exposed to many different sources of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
Use at your own risk internally. I’m not a doctor. What I do know is that comfrey has been used internally for centuries.
Used responsibly, it can be an incredibly healing herb.
Due to the high nitrogen content, comfrey helps to activate a compost pile. It also makes the compost that much richer and more nutritious for plants.
Compost is a high-yielding perennial herb. It grows easily, but if you plant the wrong variety, can also be invasive.
Russian Bocking 14 Comfrey, Symphytum uplandicum, is the type of comfrey you want. This type is sterile, meaning it does not spread through the seed.
However, once you have comfrey in your garden, it is hard to get rid of. A small piece of root will grow profusely.
A dynamic accumulator, comfrey mines nutrients from the ground by using its deep root system. Comfrey draws minerals out of the soil and into the roots, stems, and leaves.
This makes comfrey very rich in the basic N-P-K elements which is what makes it such a powerful fertilizer. These elements are crucial for plant health and growth.
Lawrence Hill was the one to discover these things about the comfrey plant, and he went on to develop the Blocking 14 type Russian comfrey.
How To Grow Comfrey
Comfrey will grow in almost all conditions, but it prefers a rich, organic soil. It is a fast-growing plant and needs a lot of nitrogen (when we overloaded our garden with manure, comfrey thrived).
Because of its deep tap root, comfrey is very drought tolerant. Regular watering will help to keep it green and growing.
With the right growing conditions, comfrey can grow to five feet tall. It looks like a shrub, but it is a herb.
To grow comfrey, all you need is a root cutting.
These cuttings can be purchased at some nurseries, although I’ve had a hard time finding some. I got my root from a generous neighbor.
Larger roots will grow faster than small root cuttings. Plant 2″-6″ pieces of root horizontally 2-8 inches deep. Plant deeper in sandy soils, and more shallow in heavy soils.
Harvest sparingly the first year. It’s best to wait until the second year before harvesting.
Once established, a comfrey plant can live for several decades before it starts to decline. Dividing the plant every couple of years will help keep the comfrey plant strong.
How To Harvest Comfrey Leaves
Comfrey can be harvested several times a year. In our zone 2 garden, I harvested comfrey three times. Each time I cut off almost all the leaves completely to the ground.
Even when doing this, they still bloomed profusely in August. Beautiful purple flowers that draw in beneficial pollinators for your garden.
Planting comfrey as a border in your garden will ensure a lot of beneficial bugs, while also stopping invasive weeds.
To harvest fresh leaves, cut the hairy leaves down to 2 inches above the crown.
Using a scissor or sharp knife, cut diagonally across the bottom of the large leaves. Comfrey leaves are thick and soft, so they cut easily.
How To Dry Comfrey Leaves
There are several different ways to dry comfrey leaves. They can be dehydrated as any other herb. Wilt the leaves on the counter for 12-24 hours.
Place them in the dehydrator at the lowest setting. Place in a single layer on dryer sheets. Because of the high moisture content, the drying process can take a while.
These are some of the best dehydrators for herbs.
No dehydrator? No problem. In a dry area, lay out the leaves on cookie sheets.
Leave them to dry for several days. Adding some kind of airflow like a fan will help them dry faster. Also, using a herb drying rack like this one is also very helpful.
Comfrey leaves take anywhere from 3-7 days to dry, depending on the humidity in your area.
How To Store Dried Comfrey Leaves
Store dried comfrey leaves in glass mason jars, or in a paper bag. As long as they have been sufficiently dehydrated, they will keep well for many months.
Store them out of direct sunlight, in a dry area.
How To Use Comfrey Leaves
Comfrey’s medicinal benefits make it a versatile herb that can be used in many places. Drying comfrey leaves ensures you have access to this amazing herb outside of the growing season.
Once you have the dried comfrey leaves, you can make a medicinal salve at any time. I prefer fresh, wilted comfrey leaves for comfrey oil, but dried leaves work as well.
As with all fresh herbs, comfrey is not available throughout all four seasons. For that reason, it is beneficial to have some dried comfrey leaves on hand.
An infused oil is made by soaking dried comfrey herbs in olive oil. A quick way to make comfrey oil is by using a double boiler.
A slower method is by infusing herbs in oil at room temperature for 4-6 weeks, making sure all herbs are fully submersed in oil to prevent mold growth.
Comfrey is also great for the skin and can help with wrinkles and scarring. It is a powerful medicinal herb, and should not be used daily.
Instead, use it as you would a healing treatment.
Dried comfrey leaf can be used as a wrap for sprains, bruises, or sore ligaments. Rehydrate the dried leaf in hot water for several minutes.
Cool, then squeeze out excess water and place it over the area of concern. Another option is to blend it in a blender along with comfrey root and apply this over your sore.
Wrap in gauze and leave on for 4-6 hours.
Making an ointment of comfrey salve is also good for insect and mosquito bites.
One thing to remember is that because of comfreys amazing healing abilities, you should never use this on open wounds. It can heal over an infection and then you have serious problems.
How To Use Comfrey As A Mulch In The Garden
Comfrey is a much-needed herb in the garden. Using fresh, cut-up comfrey leaves, make a comfrey tea by steeping them in rainwater for several days.
Strain, and use as a topical foliar feeding for plants.
Wilted leaves of the comfrey make a wonderful mulch for plants in the garden. The whole leaves can be cut off and left to wilt.
Wilting ensures that they won’t take root. Place around the base of the plants. This is a great way to add nutrients to your soil for healthier soil, while also preventing weed growth.
When buying a comfrey root, make sure you get the right kind. Crown cuttings will take root and grow more quickly, but they are usually more expensive and harder to find.
Comfrey cuttings are also an option if you already have an existing plant. Take a cutting, and root it in a small amount of water. Plant as normal.
In the study done that caused everyone to believe that comfrey was dangerous, pyrrolizidine alkaloids were isolated in comfrey and injected in rats.
As with many herbs, the whole plant contains elements and nutrients that can neutralize the toxic elements in the plant being eaten.
So by isolating and injecting a toxic chemical from the comfrey plant and eating the leaf of the plant, you would get different results in any study. So do some research yourself and make your own choice.
Some claim that common comfrey causes liver damage, and yet when fed to animals for years, their livers are all incredibly healthy. It doesn’t make sense to me.
Herbal medicine is an almost lost art, and yet it’s a skill that is badly needed.
Always do your own research when using medicinal plants. Knowing how to harvest and dry comfrey leaves will give you the confidence to use this beneficial plant.