The Wonderful Multi-Purpose Comfrey Plant
Comfrey (Symphytum spp.) has been cultivated and valued by many cultures for almost 2500 years. A native to Europe and Asia, the comfrey plant with which most are familiar, Symphytum officinale, has been used as a blood coagulant, a treatment for maladies of the lung, and as a poultice to aid in the healing of wounds and broken bones. Consumed as a tea, comfrey is said to treat a variety of internal ailments by various folk medicine traditions.
The word comfrey is Latin in origin and means "to grow together”. Though research has recently linked the consumption of comfrey with liver damage in mice, thus halting the development of comfrey as a modern food crop, the plant was once widely grown for its medicinal, food and forage value. Today it is still valued for its use in salves and other topical skin preparations and for its use as animal fodder and fertilizer.
A fast-growing, herbaceous, perennial plant of the borage family, comfrey’s thick and tuberous roots create an expansive root system, allowing the plant to “mine” compacted soils for minerals and other nutrients which are often difficult for other plants to obtain. It is this ability to help cycle nutrients through the soil that has given comfrey its designation as a dynamic accumulator plant. Like daikon, stinging nettles, and other plants that function as dynamic accumulators, comfrey leaves make an excellent fertilizer, and provide a nutrient boost to compost mixes. Additionally, comfrey leaves are used as a green manure and mulch, being cut, then spread over planting beds and left to decompose on site, further helping to condition soils. Cutting and placing the first flush of comfrey leaves in trenches where potatoes are to be planted is thought to provide the tubers with nutrients that will result in an increased yield. It is important to use only the leaves of the plant when mulching, as any cut stems have the potential to take root.
A liquid fertilizer can also be made from the comfrey plant by “steeping” chopped comfrey leaves in water for several weeks (placing a rock or other heavy item on the leaves to keep them submerged) until they form a dark, thick liquid. The liquid should be diluted 12:1 – 15:1 prior to application.
Mature comfrey plants can be cut several times each season, prompting some to plant comfrey patches in proximity to compost heaps to take full advantage of comfrey’s use as an excellent compost activator. Adding leaves of the comfrey plant to a compost heap gives the compost added nitrogen, resulting in increased microbial decomposition of the compost. The addition of too much comfrey will result in an imbalance in the carbon: nitrogen of the compost, and can actually slow the decomposition rate.
A potting mixture can be made from leaf mold derived from chopped comfrey leaves and dolomite mixed together and left to sit in a lidded container for several months. Though not suitable for seeds, once well rotted the comfrey leaf mold mixture is suitable for use as a general potting soil.
Comfrey is hardy from zones 4 – 9, and will grow in full or partial sun. The ease of growth, tall stature and the small, yet attractive, bell-shaped flowers of the comfrey plant lend to its use as an ornamental in the landscape, but comfrey is not well suited to small garden patches where planting space is at a premium as the plants themselves can often grow to 24 – 48" wide.
Because comfrey will self-sow and is tolerant of most soil conditions, the plant can proliferate, potentially becoming a nuisance. The “Bocking 14” cultivar of Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) has gained popularity in recent years, as this strain of the plant is sterile, and is thus unable spread by seed, vastly reducing the risk for this comfrey to spread out of control once planted. Developed in the 1950s by Lawrence Hills, of the Henry Doubleday Research Association (known today as Garden Organic), at that organization’s Bocking, UK research farm site, the Bocking 14 cultivar is propagated from root cuttings called “offsets” which can, initially, be purchased from nurseries and through on-line sources. Once the plants have become mature and established in the landscape, gardeners can obtain root cuttings from their own plants, giving them an almost unlimited supply of the hardy, fast growing and multipurpose comfrey plant.
A bit frightening.
According to the autopsy, my brother died of kidney-failure, at 67.
The cause was his daily cup of comfrey tea, for about 7 months.
Comfrey tea is not a good idea.
I FIND THAT HARD TO BELIEVE, BLAMING COMFREY. NEED TO KNOW HE HAD HIS PROBLEM TO START WITH.
You and CSIRO’s patsy, Dr Culvener who did a hatchet job on comphrey belong together.
It would be worth knowing who funded the CSIRO research done by Dr Culvener.
CSIRO also hounded the guy who had racehorses and resuscitated badly damaged land (his property)..so much so the Mr Harvey of HarveyNorman retail fame got him to restitute his own property. cSIRO denied the brilliance of Peter (forget his last name Anderson or similar)’s work and refused to work with him.
CSIRO, like most bought-and-paid for scientists, is suspect in my books.
Science is NOT what you think any more.
It is resting on past laurels for independent and untainted research. Today it is a (corrupt) business used by the corporations eg Big Pharma to further their agendas, and abuse the trust in the scientific institutions that was built up in the past. People don’t go back and check how “science” is operating today, they just go with the flow of what they were told.
Science has gone to the dogs. Faucet and his cronies have been shown to get massive payouts over the years to the tune of millions and can’t or won’t show where the money came from.
If you think ‘the science’ is pure, unadulterated reporting, why did the UK head of a science journal resign because science papers could not be trusted any more. Hmm, food for thought, eh?
Deano, was there a particular reason why your brother daily drank the tea for such a long time?
I’ve read that people drink it after they break a bone for a couple weeks, but not regularly for no particular reason. It is a “medicinal” plant and personally, I’d drink the tea if I had a problem with bones, but definitely not for longer than a couple weeks.
Most medicines have side effects and shouldn’t be taken any longer than necessary.
I’ve been reading so many good things about comfrey and we can’t wait to get started with the spreading kind. It’s not going to take over the desert and I’m intrigued by the possibility of making comfrey potting soil.
Really wish that there were more studies on potential health risks. We’ll probably just add it to our potting soil, it’s better to have multiple ingredients.
Melissa, thanks for the article! Would like to read more about multi use plants like comfrey.
I would suggest reading this site’s page about Comfrey:
Despite the painful lack of paragraphs (I actually copied and pasted it onto a word doc and split it up into paragraphs just so I could read it), it’s worth reading every word, particularly as it demonstrates blatantly ‘dodgy’ research and 2,000 years worth of evidence to the contrary.
If his brother died from Comfrey tea, then it’s more than likely the Comfrey he’d used was covered in insecticide – or something else had been dumped on it. Or he hadn’t been drinking Comfrey tea at all, but something he picked himself and assumed was Comfrey.
Comfrey does NOT kill beast or human.
There are many lies being fabricated and spread about Comfrey ‘poisoning’, mostly by the Big Pharma and the medical profession – particularly in Australia.
So sorry to hear of your brother’s experience, it must be terrible to know that his death was caused by the ingestion of a seemingly harmless tea that’s been enjoyed by people for generations – your comment serves as a good reminder: as with any herbal/natural remedies (and medications, in general), one should seek the advice of a qualified physician to determine the safety for YOU (particularly if any underlying conditions or allergies are present or suspected). The concerns some have with human ingestion of comfrey stems from the presence of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the plant (which are toxic to the liver and have been shown to cause damage to the livers of lab animals, when taken in larger quantities). It is often thought to be the AMOUNT consumed that makes the difference between whether this (or any) herbal remedy is safe to use, as excessive use of most medications (herbal or otherwise) can be dangerous. I have known several people, myself included, who have enjoyed the occasional cup of comfrey tea and have suffered no ill effects, but again, it is always a good idea to check with a physician prior to trying a new herbal remedy… a little due diligence can go a long way :) Thanks for your comment.
I frequently see the comment to consult your doctor. I go to the Veterans Administration Health Care and the doctors say they have not been trained in nutrition so can’t answer these questions. I suspect that this is the same with civilian doctors.
Physicians have heavy liability issues. They will always tell you that they cannot recommend “something” if they are not trained in it. My mother took her multi-vitamin supplement, and calcium supplement, to her doctor. He told her he would not recommend she take it! This is what his liability insurance has told him to say. It’s a legal issue. Lots of good things to do with comfrey. Do your research and choose what is best for your application.
I learned about another forgotten plant this morning https://www.nofima.no/mat/nyhet/2010/09/gamle-vekster-gir-god-olje (in Norwegian), camelina https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camelina_sativa (in English), that in contrary to comfrey thrives in nitrogen poor soil.
What is really interesting about this plant is the high percentage of omega-3, 35-45 % of its oil is omega-3, and also the yield of oil is about 45 %.
This should be an ideal plant for people who don’t like fish, and a splendid plant to feed our chickens. Today’s eggs and chicken contains too much of dangerous, inflammations omega-6, due to too much soya in the chicken food.
If you feed your hens with camelina, maybe one camelina egg for breakfast could replace your daily spoon of fish oil? And what a good name for marketing, “camelina eggs”!
Nb! Camelina, even native to Eastern Europe and Asia, even thrives as far north as Norway.
Wow – amazing to hear about this plant- have you had success growing it? I grow a lot of comfrey and am looking at all science based medicinal herbs to grow
I’m currently writing a dissertation on the use of comfrey for mild domestic scald healing. Do you have some information relating to its actions and affinity to wound healing that I can use.
Kind regards Suzie
Comfrey is my favorite medicinal herb. Here are the ways I use it the success stories! In the garden, I use it as a mulch and compost tea. I take a large 5 gallon or 30-gallon bucket and fill it with chopped up Comfrey and water, set it in the sun close to where I would like to use it, and stir it daily until it breaks down. It is super smelly! Wonderful compost starter and fertilizer. To make an herbal oil infusion, which can be used as a massage oil or turned into a balm. Take a pint, quart, or gallon jar and fill it with chopped up Comfrey. Fill to the top with olive oil and put on lid. Shake daily. Remove lid daily to let it breathe for a moment or you will have rotten stinky oil. Let infuse for a week or two. Strain and add more comfrey for double and again for triple infused oil for increased healing benefits. I use a single infused comfrey oil to make balms and a triple infused for a medicinal massage oil. I have seen the triple infused oil work miracles. I had a chiropractor use it in his practice to reduce the swelling in his patients, seen it take out swelling in an ankle in 48 hrs that had been swollen for a month, heal a goats knee in a day that could barely walk, we squirted it in the hoof of a goat that could not put down his foot and next day he was walking. The balm with comfrey has healed necrosis or even stopped brown recluse bites in its tracks! Heals bruises and burns 50% faster than using nothing. Reduces scarring, swelling, sprains, strains, regenerates skin, heals sunburns. I use it as a face cream, body lotions. Obviously, it is amazing! I have not experimented with internal use, but one of my fave herbalists, Susan Weed, recommends it as an herbal infusion. With the results I have witnessed from use on the skin I imagine internal use would be beneficial for short-term.
Hi, that sounds like an amazing plant. It would be great if I can grow it in the Middle of PA. USA. I would think so, I’ll find out. Thanks for the link !
I grow it very successfully in zone 6b, central Jersey, right next door.
You can access Lawrence Hill’s 1953 book – Russian Comfrey: A Hundred Tons an Acre of Stock or Compost for Farm, Garden or Smallholding – here:
It’s well worth a read, but make sure you do your research on toxicity before using comfrey as a significant part of your animal fodder. Some studies say it’s fine, others warn against it – read the information yourself and make your own mind up.
Thanks for the great comments and information!
I’m sorry to tell the omega-3 from plants is different than the omega-3 from fish; they are shorter than the marine omega-3 fat acids. Plants omega-3 has not documented the same benefits for health as marine omega-3. Sorry to tell you can’t replace your daily spoon of fish oil with a camelina egg, which surely should taste much better.
I didn’t find any information in English about the differences between plant and fish omega-3, so I have to post the Norwegian link: https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfalinolensyre
I was experiencing inflammation and some toothache pain at the site of a root canal dental operation I had 6 days ago. Antibiotics are only good as control medicine if there is continuing infection. Disappointed that it had cost so much and I had another toothache coming on I went for a stroll in the garden. My comfrey patch showed an abundance of growth after a whole week of rain so I picked 6 large unblemished leaves and within two minutes It was stewing slowly in a pot in the kitchen. After 25 or so minutes, I removed from heat and strained off about two cups of tea. I couldn’t wait so I added some cold water and drank and found the tea to be remarkably satisfying.
The toothache was no more. So I may still have to have the troubling tooth pulled but the appointment is 2 weeks away and in the meantime I have the comfrey.
A bit of information about what Oyvind is talking about (why plant source of omega 3 is inferior to one found in fish or pasture raised animals:
It’s also interesting to note that ALA to DHA concersion is very poor in Scandinavian population (because they used to eat so much fish, so that mechanism seams to disapear).
Anyway it’s interesting to notice that eating food that we were designed to eat decrease inflammatory disease. Basically it’s what aspirin or paracetamol is doing, except it doesn’t damage your liver. And it’s natural.
Hei Wojciech Majda!
Thank you for a very useful link! If you feed hens with seeds from the camelina flower, do you think the eggs will transform the shorter chains from omega-3 to pre-formed DHA and AA? If this is possible, maybe my idea about camelina eggs is not so bad after all, and can replace the daily spoon of fish oil?
Do you know about any sort of hens which are especially clever in pre-forming DHA and AA to long omega-3 chains, like found in seafood? Maybe hens from South Eastern Europe are better in this transformation, as I understand camelina flowers are more common there? I wonder if there is done any research in different sorts of hens ability to pre-form DHA and AA? I think it’s important to learn more about this as seafood becomes increasingly more expensive.
From what I know land omnivore animals are not super efficient when it goes to converting ALA to DHA. You can’t create egg super rich in omega 3, because if you feed hens diet rich in flax or rapeseed (above 5-15% of diet) it will taint eggs and/or meat. It can give fishy or “paint” like flavor. The same happens if you feed chicken or pigs too much fish meal.
I don’t know much about AA into DHA conversion, but i think that if AA is from omega 6 group it cannot be converted into omega 3 DHA.
Good link into that topic:
Usually the warmer the climate is the more saturated fats plants and animals produce and (store) (coconut, pal oil). It’s because unsaturated fats are liquid in cold water (or weather) for example fish oil, seal oil, rapeseed oil. Saturated fats would freeze in cold water so fish will be to stiff. The same for seeds – it would be difficult for plant to use “solid” saturated fat.
Place where there is lot of DHA in animal is brain. So eating pasture raised cattle or lamb brain is healthy :) I’m planing to do things like that when I will buy a farm.
I think that we shouldn’t worry about getting as humanity in future if we just cut using unhealthy industrial vegetable oils (canola, sunflower, cotton seed, corn, soy..). Anyway most healthy cultures (hunter-gatherers)get about 2-5% of they calories as polyunsaturated fats. We can get enough if we eat animals that were raised in permaculture way :)
You can create also milk rich in omega 3 if cows are raised on pasture. Giving cows/goats/sheep sea buckthorn (Hippophaë rhamnoides) (also elagnace family) or Eleagnus spp. (gumi, russian olive, autum olive…) leaves is also great for cows and omega 3 content. Latin name of sea bucthor is greek word shiny horse – that’s because it got good fats. I don’t know are they converted to DHA unfortunately.
Interesting resources about fats and pasture raised animals:
And this one is good – experiment on rats fed different fats but the same amount calories. Rats gain weight diffrently:
Weston A. Price website have some relay good articles on farming. Few of them are quiet permi-like:
Thank you Wojciech for all this information! Surely industrialized eggs and chicken is a hazardous thing to eat, as I saw a program on TV recently showing a study they are full of omega-6. Surely, the best is eggs from hens fed on a variety of herbs, and I think camelina should be just one of many. Variety, like always, is the key here.
Another source of information is https://www.cloverleaffarmherbs.com/comfrey/. They have a lot of interesting facts and historical trivia about Comfrey and other herbs.
Have used Comfrey since 1980 for all types of ailments from bone fractures to sprains and muscle pain, I mainly use the root and infuse grape seed oil or make a poultice of the ground up root. My first experience with Comfrey was on 1980 after back surgery. I would bath in a hot water bath with ground up leaves and roots on a regular basis. my recovery was speedy and I have NO back problems 30 yrs later.
Is it true that black olives have the same toxic properties said to be in Comfrey, if so should the authorities ban black olives?
As in all things… MODERATION is key… The French paradox.. a little of everything …
Yes the root is best kept for external use – its a super powerful healer – external used with hot compresses. The leaf is ok for occasional consumption but not regular. Drink or eat the leaves for 2 or 3 days is best then stop for 3 – 4 days … small quantities are all that is needed to gain healing effects. Comfrey’s power is in wound healing and deep tissue repair such as deep muscle or bone repair when applied externally. Use a hot moist compress to activate or use comfrey oil (root soaked in vegetable oil for 2 or 3 weeks).
Some excellent comfrey links from Dr Christophers Herbal Legacy site where they are currently refuting some of the findings and methodologies used by the FDA. There are 4 separate links on the site, the first is the most technical one, the others are more anecdotal and written by their schools graduates & Master Herbalists.
Nice article. Just a correction. The scientific name of the confrey it is not Latin. Its Greek. Symfyto. Sym means together, fyto is the word for plant in ancient and modern Greek.
Hello, my question is “is Borage like Comfrey” can it be used as a garden fertilizer and can you make “tea” with it for your plants??? Thank you!
Just read about your brother now, sorry to hear, but most probably his time was just up in this world. I’m drinking comfrey tea for the past 17 years now, not continuously but about 2 weeks at a time then have a few weeks break in between. Even my 5 kids has been drinking it from about 4 years of age and all are strong and healthy. However the one I purchase is a PA free comfrey tea. Looking forward to planting my own comfrey and using that.
Thanks for all the info on comfrey. I have it growing, but wasn’t sure what to use it for, except for broken bones. However, I recently dropped a heavy board on my foot, which swelled immediately. After putting ice packs on it I made a comfrey poultice, which reduced the swelling enormously and my foot didn’t bruise, which everyone who saw the incident said it would. Mind you I also have a daily cup of turmeric tea, which I’m sure also helped!
My wife is suffering from fybro and my daughter has an entire row of comfrey to use for something. I’m trying to add two and two and see what that equals. You see, if comfrey is good for healing bones, wounds, etc., how about the effects of fybro if applied as a poultice? Any thoughts? The comfrey looks so good, we’ll also use some in her composttumbler to get that going.
I have been growing Russian Comfrey and adding it to our large compost heap two or three times a year for nearly 40 years. I have not done any controlled tests on the results but have no reason to suppose it’s not beneficial. I don’t use any artificial fertilisers or pesticides. I have noticed however that when potatoes are grown next to comfrey the potatoes show consistent signs of turning yellow prematurely and dying down before the rest of the crop further away.
Comfrey is a great plant, but it’s a heavy feeder for sure. I mean look at the size of the thing, it’s obviously feeding heavily.
A lot of people say that it only takes nutrients from the deep tap root, but anyone who has pulled it up can attest that while there IS a deep taproot, there are ALSO a myriad of horizontal surface level roots as well.
Basically all I’m saying is that comfrey is great, but it will deplete the soil near it if the gardeners plan is to consistently chop it and drop it remotely. To account for this, I think it’s super important to chop/drop some of the comfrey for itself and the soil near it. This helps rejuvenate the soil, not only with nitrogen rich material, but all the other minerals contained in comfrey (15 of the 15 essential plant materials are contained in it).
So yes, use comfrey to chop drop elsewhere, but don’t forget about the comfrey itself. It needs food also. Similarly, the areas around the comfrey (i.e. your potatoes) may need a little extra, because not only is that soil being drained by the potato, but also by the comfrey itself.
Maybe try chop/dropping a little extra in and around that area, do so for a few years and post your results back to us!
Wonderful article! Thank you.
Herbs are sometimes vilified, maybe framed, these days but we must remember they are living plants, they are our friends and neighbors! When we get excited about “using” them, likening nature to a pharmacy and taking plant substance like a drug… that’s where the trouble begins.
Opium and tobacco are a couple of obvious plants with which people have “crossed the line”. Sugar, alcohol and countless other lethal poisons are also refined plant products.
Ingesting anything to “fix” or “change” ourselves is not likely the best first choice, ever.
Always good to remember the availability of the plant kingdom to help us back to balance – the balance our being is designed to maintain. Success is greatly aided by noticing before we get way out on a limb of extreme imbalance. We have shown, in this century at least, a tendency to let things go way too far before we request help. Thus our “need” for drugs and thus the industry that feeds the need… and it’s “need” to protect the income stream that results. Oh dear!
As we re-“discover” natural medicine it’s very easy to shift our gaze but keep the same focus – we often view plant substance merely as a replacement for drugs. My first purchase of a medicinal herb was disappointing. But I immediately recognized, inexpensive as it was, I could pick this plant, free. That brought me to an experience of a quantum difference, meeting the plant growing spontaneously in it’s ideal habitat and picking, especially myself, for my specific purpose. Mind-blowing for a materialist, even a part-time one.
Invite the comfrey, or any plant, into your consciousness while picking, cleaning, steeping and enjoying, and open to a richer, more connected existence. It’s likely you won’t over harvest, or over consume. Full disclosure: I admit, I’m a nut-case. I eat apple seeds, sometimes even peach seeds.
I knew an old farm couple in their 90s who made a pot of fresh comfrey leaf tea every day, in season. They died of course, but not from poisoning or organ failure. I always grow comfrey, though I might go a year without “using” it.
We’ve grown comfrey since 1978 when we used it on my daughter’s arm that had blood poisoning going from a scrap on her wrist to a sack under her arm; it drew out all the poison overnight. After that my mother (who had really bad arthritis all through her body) made a tea of it, drinking one cup per day until she died in 2008 from breast cancer (so about 40 years). She said it was the only thing she found that controlled the pain from the arthritis and if she missed a day or two she could really tell it. She had tried all sorts of things for her arthritis, she was also one of those people who had adverse effects from just about any man-made medicine (i.e. drunk as a skunk from Alka Seltzer Plus, Aspirin knocked her out for several hours, had bunion surgery with a local anesthetic which stopped her heart-doctor had to work like crazy to bring her back, the list goes on). So we looked for a lot of different ‘natural’ things to try.
Great science! https://herbsarespecial.com.au/plant-information/herb-information/comfrey/
Greetings and good wishes in this time of Covid.
Do you have any experience or insight about plnating potatoes between comfrey plants.? I’m on a Gulf Island on the British Columbia west coast.
thanks for any advice!
from an enthusiastic old Permie
“Dean O. Hoppersays:
October 1, 2010 at 5:05 am
A bit frightening.
According to the autopsy, my brother died of kidney-failure, at 67.
The cause was his daily cup of comfrey tea, for about 7 months.
Comfrey tea is not a good idea.
Comfrey is well known to cause kidney cancer. There are many references to this on the Internet. Here is one of them:
“Historically, some people have eaten comfrey leaves as a vegetable. Traditional healers have also used oral preparations of comfrey to treat stomach issues, such as ulcers, colitis, and diarrhea. You can also drink dried comfrey root and leaves as tea. Today, eating or taking any form of comfrey by mouth isn’t recommended. It’s considered unsafe, due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that comfrey contains. These are dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer, severe liver damage, and even death when you consume them. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration and European countries have banned oral comfrey products.”
Here is another reference:
“Modern scientific studies have found some evidence to support comfrey’s use in treating minor wounds and joint pain, but oral preparations of the plant have also been linked to liver damage and cancer. You should never take comfrey by mouth. You should also avoid using it on open wounds. ”
In 1968, I was recommend to take Comfrey leaves, either as a tea drink, or to chew the leaves to get the juice out of it as it turns scar tissue into healthy flesh. This apparently came form Salomon’s book Man’s Presumptuous Brain, but I have not been able to obtain a copy, so I can’t verify this statement. However, I lost the paper that this was written on until this last week, so I never ended up following this advice. Now, I think I am glad that I didn’t follow this advice.
The comment by BacktoNature “However the one I purchase is a PA free comfrey tea. ” is interesting, and I must follow this lead up.