Monday, August 1, 2016

Comfrey... Miraculous Medicine




 

An often overlooked plant that thrives in partial shade is Comfrey. Besides sporting delicate cascading pink blooms, the delightfully prickly deep green foliage make this addition striking beyond compare. Easily grown if root stock is taken from a Mother plant, this steadfast garden guest will last twenty years or more, faithfully providing a lovely focal point. Growing to the size of a large bushel basket and ever-blooming if cut back during the season, it is a welcome addition to the garden party.


Comfrey has been cultivated in the East since 400 BC as a healing herb. The word ‘comfrey’ is derived from the Latin meaning ‘grow together’ which reflects the early use of this lovely plant to aid in knitting broken bones. Both Greeks and Romans used it to stop heavy bleeding, treat bronchial problems, and heal wounds. Poultices were made for external wounds and a tea was consumed for internal ailments.

This handsome member of the Borge family, has also been used medicinally throughout the British Isles for centuries with the common name of Knit-bone or Boneset. A tea made from boiling the root in water or wine was used for all pulmonary complaints and could stop bleeding of the lungs. Taken every two hours the concoction was said to relieve hemorrhoids as well. The pounded roots applied to fresh wounds promoted healing almost instantly making Comfrey a necessary addition to every garden.

Often when reading about plants, it is difficult to imagine exactly how they were made into medicine. Coldpepper, the famed 18th century botanist, wrote that Comfrey was “so powerful to consolidate and knit together that if the roots be boiled together with dissevered pieces of flesh in a pot, they will join them together”. Further, he gave the recipe for making a poultice as follows, “The fresh roots of Comfrey beaten small and spread upon leather laid on any place troubled by gout presently gives ease. Applied in the same manner eases pain to joints, heals running ulcers, gangrenes, mortifications, for which hath often (through) experience been found helpful”. Although I am unsure what mortification is, it sounds quite serious and this little plant took care of it.
The concoction will last for months if refrigerated.  


I have used it medicinally for years and last fall made a series of poultices for my son's big toe that had broken in two places. I picked fresh leaves, stems, and roots and packed them in a food processor with a bit peanut oil to keep them tight. Once blended, I wrapped the concoction in small pieces of sheeting, making about thirty small poultices. He put the Comfrey on his toe for several hours twice a day and X-Rays before and after (to the doctor's amazement) showed it had healed within two weeks.

With the emergence of ‘green’ as the way of the future perhaps traditional use of some of these valuable plants may reemerge… a trip to the garden seems far more pleasant than a trip to the doctor.