If I had to choose one plant to encourage you to add to your garden, I’d have to go with comfrey.
Comfrey is a multi-use medicinal plant known in traditional herbalism for its healing properties. It’s an easy-to-grow perennial plant that doesn’t need much care once it’s established. Plus, it benefits other plants in your garden in many ways.
I’ve broken down everything you need to know about growing and using comfrey below so that you can start reaping its benefits, too.
The use of comfrey as a medicinal plant dates back to ancient Roman times. Nicknamed “knitbone,” it was traditionally thought to heal broken bones and similar injuries.
There’s no evidence to suggest that comfrey actually promotes bone growth. However, there’s plenty of research supporting the plant’s soothing anti-inflammatory properties.
Comfrey Benefits for Skin Health
A 2020 study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology showed that a comfrey cream applied to surface-level wounds sped up the skin’s healing process.
Additionally, the International Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine published a study in 2018 looking at the risk-to-benefit ratio of using a comfrey cream on sports wounds and injuries in children.
In this case, they studied the effects of comfrey cream on both open and closed wounds and concluded that the benefits far outweighed any risk of using comfrey for such injuries.
Comfrey has even been scientifically tested for sunburn relief. In this 2012 overview of comfrey’s medicinal properties published in Phytotherapy Research, scientists concluded that using comfrey to soothe inflamed skin due to a mild sunburn was similar to and (maybe even better than) using diclofenac, a common anti-inflammatory, over-the-counter medication.
These research findings support the traditional use of comfrey as a topical remedy for skin health and wound healing.
Comfrey Benefits for Pain Management
Comfrey has also been researched as a medicinal plant with the potential to relieve joint and muscle pain.
A 2012 review of comfrey published in a German medical journal looked at several chronic pain conditions, including back pain and osteoarthritis and found that comfrey was effective when used topically to relieve pain and stiffness associated with these conditions.
Homesteading and gardening often come with strenuous labor. Luckily, comfrey has been scientifically shown to effectively relieve bruises, muscle pain, and sprains due to activity-related injuries.
And lastly, this 2021 study in Scientific Reports looked at one of comfrey’s primary components soothing inflammation and swelling in rats due to arthritis. They found that the anti-inflammatory properties helped reduce pain and swelling in the rats’ paws.
All of this research looks promising for the future use of comfrey as an effective natural resource for skin health and pain relief!
Comfrey Medicinal Uses
Before you dive into learning how to grow and use comfrey on the homestead, there are a few precautions you should know about, too.
For centuries, comfrey leaves and roots were also used internally to soothe upset stomachs and respiratory issues.
However, in 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned supplements containing comfrey and suggested it not be taken internally due to the effect of one of its compounds on the liver. Many herbalists argue that isolating one compound from the plant is much different than using the whole plant.
My approach is this: I have never used it internally out of excessive caution, but using comfrey externally is both safe and effective.
I do not use comfrey internally or apply it to any deep, open wounds. But I’ve been using comfrey for years as a herbal home remedy without any problems.
So what are some ways you can use comfrey on the homestead? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- A common way to use comfrey is to make a poultice or compress to soothe minor injuries like scrapes and sores. To do this, place fresh comfrey leaves in a pot of hot water, letting the leaves soften. Once the water has cooled just a little, gently squeeze any excess water out of the leaves and lay several of them on a clean cloth. While the leaves are still quite warm (but not burning!), apply the towel to the wound with the leaves pressing against the skin. Wrap a second towel around the dressing to help hold in the warmth and moisture.
- A comfrey tea or infusion is also excellent for soothing skin irritation and swelling. The amount of tea you’ll need will vary greatly depending on the type of injury. A good rule of thumb is to use one tablespoon of dried plant material for every cup of water. Heat the water to just under boiling. Add the comfrey leaves and let the infusion sit for 20 minutes before soaking the wound in the tea. You might also use a cloth or towel to apply the tea to the skin.
- A homemade salve using comfrey-infused oil is convenient to have around to alleviate those everyday bumps, knicks, and scrapes. You can follow this recipe using beeswax, calendula (another skin-soothing medicinal plant) and comfrey plant oil, coconut oil and essential oils to make your own. I make sure to have some of this on hand year-round. It’s excellent for relieving itchy bug bites and sunburns, too.
If you’re wondering how to use comfrey for broken bones or sprains, I recommend the poultice or tea method. These provide a more potent home remedy for such a painful injury.
The salve is a much better option for minor burns, cuts, and bruises. And of course, always talk with your doctor!
Comfrey Uses in the Permaculture Garden
Beyond making effective homemade herbal remedies, comfrey is beneficial to grow and use in the garden, too. You can use comfrey as companion plants, natural fertilizer, green mulch, and more.
Comfrey Uses in the Garden
After you take a look at this list of ways to use comfrey in the garden, you’ll understand why this plant is considered a rockstar in the permaculture world!
- Comfrey makes an excellent “green mulch.” The comfrey plant has a long taproot that draws valuable nutrients from deep within the soil, storing them in its leaves. The leaves can be cut off and added to mulch around other plants in the garden, eventually returning those nutrients to the soil. Read more about this type of mulch and how to use it in the garden.
- Comfrey can also be considered a “living mulch” in the permaculture garden. Planting it alongside fruit trees will keep weeds from competing for resources with the trees. And comfrey adds nitrogen to the soil, providing vital nutrients for healthy trees.
- Another way you can use comfrey to improve your garden soil is to dry the leaves in a dehydrator and then crush them into a fine powder. Sprinkle a dusting of this natural fertilizer around your garden plot a few weeks before planting your spring crops.
- Adding fresh cut comfrey leaves to your compost pile activates the decomposition process.
- You could also plant comfrey in future garden plots to condition the soil. This is an excellent idea if you live in an area with really poor or cakey, clay-filled soil. The comfrey roots will help to bring nutrients up to the surface and break apart thick clay deposits.
- When you transplant tree, shrub, and vegetable seedlings, place a comfrey leaf in the holes. This will promote healthy plant growth starting at the root.
- Making a compost tea using comfrey is another ideal way of transferring the nutrients from this plant to places in the garden needing a boost throughout the growing season. Place fresh clipped comfrey leaves in a container and fill to half. Add water, filling the container. Cover this and let it steep for 3-6 weeks before straining the liquid and diluting it by half with more water. Water established plants with this tea once every other week or so.
As you can see, the list of reasons to grow comfrey on the homestead just keeps getting longer. It’s one of those invaluable plants that everyone should know and grow!
Comfrey’s Companion Plants
Comfrey has beautiful purple blooms that are excellent at attracting pollinators to the garden, while the plant’s large leaves and tall, sturdy stalks provide shelter for other beneficial insects.
Although comfrey gets along with most plants, here are some of the most popular companion plant combinations using comfrey:
- Fruit trees
- Berry bushes
- Strawberry patches
The one thing to consider when using comfrey as a companion plant is its size. It can grow quite tall and block sunlight from other sun-loving plants.
How to Grow Comfrey
The best part about comfrey is that this valuable plant is very easy to grow and care for once it’s become established in the garden. In fact, like many medicinal plants, most people view comfrey as a weed that is difficult to remove from the garden.
Just one more reason to learn to work with nature instead of against it, in my opinion!
How to Plant Comfrey
You can grow comfrey at home from seed, root division, or cutting. Plant seeds directly in the garden roughly three weeks before the last frost in your area.
Place seeds about half an inch below the surface and cover them with soil. Keep the ground moist, and in about two to three weeks, you should have seedlings popping up.
To save time, opt for starting with a root division or cutting. Place these in the ground in early spring or fall and keep the earth around the plants moist—adding a thin layer of mulch will help.
The one thing to remember about planting comfrey is that it needs space to branch out. Leave about two to three feet between each plant to give it plenty of room.
How to Care for Comfrey
Comfrey isn’t picky, but it does prefer full to partial sun and a good watering during drought periods or if you live in a particularly dry climate.
During the first year of new growth, don’t harvest much from your plants. Allow them to use that time to put down solid root systems. I can assure you it’s well worth the wait for healthy comfrey plants you’ll be able to cut from again and again!
How to Harvest Comfrey
Once your plants are established, harvesting comfrey is simple. When the leaves are several feet tall, you can grab them in a bunch and cut them off near the base of the plant.
They will regrow to the same size in just a few weeks when you’ll be able to harvest the leaves again.
If you would like to harvest comfrey roots, you would do so like dandelion roots in the fall. Dig around the deep roots going down as far as possible. Any root that is cut and left behind will likely regrow a new plant the following year.
You Can’t Go Wrong with Comfrey
If you’ve been thinking about new plants to add to your garden, comfrey is a must! It’s amazingly easy to grow and attractive in the garden. But it also offers countless benefits for the health of your homestead and garden.
Once you start growing and using comfrey you’ll quickly be wondering why you hadn’t started sooner!
Out of all of the comfrey uses and benefits, why are you looking forward to growing this medicinal plant?
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D’Anchise, Roberto, et al. “Comfrey Extract Ointment in Comparison to Diclofenac Gel in the Treatment of Acute Unilateral Ankle Sprains (Distortions).” Arzneimittelforschung, vol. 57, no. 11, 2011, pp. 712–716., https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0031-1296672.
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