Comfrey, Symphytum uplandica x
Herbal Adventures with Susun S Weed
by Susun S. Weed
read other Herbal Adventures part 1, part 2 , part 3 , part 4
Whether astride a horse in Provence, climbing a volcano in Costa Rica, taking a jet plane to New Zealand, or just spending a quiet day in my gardens, I am never without my herbal first-aid kit. For daily health maintenance I rely on nourishing herbal infusions; but when injury or illness strike--on the road or at home--I reach for my first aid kit. That's where I keep the fast-acting remedies, some of which (like poke, last issue) can be dangerous.
My very good friend comfrey is one of my daily infusions, but she is also in my first aid kit. Does that mean she's one of those dangerous ladies? My answer is "No!"
Every time I mention comfrey, someone asks if it isn't "unsafe." When I identify with comfrey, I feel like a persecuted witch wrongly accused of evil-doing. Comfrey has so much to offer as an aid to health and healing. How did such a wonderful green ally come to have such a terrible reputation?
Perhaps it starts with confusion, aided by imprecise language. There are two species of comfrey: wild comfrey, Symphytum officinale, and cultivated comfrey, Symphytum uplandica x. (The "x" means it is a hybrid, a cross.)Wild comfrey (S. off.) is a small plant--up to a meter tall--with yellow flowers. Cultivated comfrey (S. uplandica x.) is a large plant--often surpassing two meters--with blue or purple flowers.
Everyone I know grows uplandica and that is what is sold in stores. But gardeners and herbal sellers alike usually mislabel it, causing no end of confusion.
To complicate the situation even more: the roots and the leaves of comfrey contain different constituents. Comfrey roots, like most perennial roots, contain poisons. Wild comfrey (officinale) leaves have some of the same poisons. But cultivated comfrey (uplandica) leaves don't.
How can I be so sure that cultivated comfrey is safe to consume internally? Three things have convinced me.
• One: An herbal group that I belong to sent three samples of comfrey leaf (one from the west coast, one from the east coast, and one from the Rocky Mountains) to a lab to be tested for the problematic alkaloids; they found none.
• Two: During the second World War, an Englishman named Henry Doubleday devoted himself to hybridizing comfrey and making it safe to eat as a cooked green. His crosses--sterile hybrids that don't produce seeds--are what we grow in our gardens. And several generations of comfrey-eaters at his research station have no comfrey-related health problems.
• Three: I have drunk a quart or more of comfrey infusion once or twice a week for twenty years with no problems.
Drinking comfrey infusion has benefitted me in many ways: It keeps my bones strong and flexible. (An old country name for comfrey is "knit bone.") It strengthens my digestion and elimination. It keeps my lungs and respiratory tract healthy. It keeps my face wrinkle-free and my skin and scalp supple. And, please don't forget, comfrey contains special proteins needed for the formation of short-term memory cells.
Comfrey leaves are not only rich in proteins, they are a great source of folic acid, many vitamins, and every mineral and trace mineral we need for a strong immune system, a calm nervous system, and a happy hormone system. See why I'm so fond of comfrey? What a marvelous ally she is! Not dangerous at all.
When I identify with comfrey, I feel powerful and proud, beautiful and exuberant. When I identify with comfrey, I feel the flexibly that comes from being knit together. When I identify with comfrey, I feel very green.
How I do it: Two or three times a week, I drink a nourishing herbal infusion made by steeping one ounce (by weight!) of dried comfrey (uplandica) leaves and flowering stalks in four cups boiling water in a tightly-lidded quart canning jar for 4-8 hours.
I rarely dig the comfrey root, but when I do, I tincture it in 100-proof vodka for external use only.
There's a small jar of ointment in my first aid kit that smells faintly of lanolin. The thick opaque goo inside is so dark brown as to be nearly black. Comfrey ointment (!) made at the Henry Doubleday Research Station in Bocking, Braintree, Essex, England. The color comes from alantoin, the healing constituent found in all parts of comfrey, especially the hard parts--such as roots, flower stalks, and leaf midribs. Alantoin extracted from comfrey roots is added to the salve made by steeping fresh comfrey roots in lanolin for many weeks. Stunningly effective is all I can say; too bad it isn't sold in the USA.
Comfrey ointment is fussy to make at home; it has a tendency to spoil and to smell quite awful. To counter this, I steep fresh flowering stalks of comfrey cut in one inch pieces in olive, emu, or jojoba oil for only four or five weeks. And I never put it in the sun. After decanting the comfrey oil, I add a little of my black-colored comfrey root tincture and--because I want to thicken it into an ointment--heat it with some grated beeswax.
Comfrey ointment heals wounds, cuts, burns, bruises, itches, and most skin problems. But it is most amazing when used to stop friction blisters from forming when you over use your hands or feet--walking, raking, rowing, hoeing, whatever. Even after the blister has swelled and filled with fluid--though better at the first twinge of pain--frequent applications of comfrey ointment will make it disappear as though it was never there. I apply the salve every five minutes for the first hour if I can, then 2-3 times an hour until I go to sleep.
There is so much more to be said about the healing powers of comfrey. Now you know she isn't a bad witch, so stop worrying. Start being happy that comfrey is easy to grow, easy to use, and filled with abundant green blessings.
(My next installments will cover the remaining remedies in my first aid kit: plain plantain, the big E for emergencies, skullcap the elusive, and that marvelous mint motherwort.)
Susun Weed recommends Catskill Mountain Herbals, dedicated to crafting the highest quality wildcrafted and organic herbal extracts, vinegars, oils, and salves. Woman owned and operated, White feather’s herbs are harvested in the pristine Catskill Mountains, at the optimum time according to each plant, all herbals are hand prepared in small batches using 100-proof vodka, organic apple cider vinegar, organic cold pressed olive oil, and pure beeswax.
I was reading a copy of Sage Woman and came across you! Could you recommend any herbs to help heal a spinal compression fracture? Thanks so much.
Julie in CA
Good question. See my discussion on the bone mending abilities of comfrey leaf infusion (above). When I have injuries to my bones (or ligaments or tendons), I drink a quart or more of comfrey leaf infusion
every day for 3-5 weeks. To speed healing even more, I add a tablespoon of dried horsetail herb in with the comfrey leaf when making the infusion. Gentle exercise such as tai chi and yoga help strengthen the surrounding muscles. Herbs and exercise together can relieve pain from the current fracture as well as help prevent future fractures. Green Blessings.
Susun S. Weed
I saw your article in Sage Woman, Winter 2003. I was recently diagnosed with walking pneumonia. My doctor put me on antibiotics. I was wondering if you could recommend something to help clear the lungs. Also, I'm interested in your thoughts on the use of antibiotics.
Peg from OH
My favorite herbs to nourish and strengthen the lungs are mullein (Verbascum thapsus), elecampane (Inula helenium), and comfrey leaf (Symphytum uplandica x). I make an infusion of mullein leaf (one ounce dry weight of herb in one quart boiling water steeped overnight); when I take it, I dilute it by half with warm milk -- for optimum lung healing.* I use two cups a day for six weeks as a good general dose for lung strengthening; I might double it during an acute or critical episode.
Elecampane root tincture has a unique aromatic smell. A little does a lot, so I start with doses of 2-4 drops several times a day, and increase up to 20 drops three times a day if needed, but not for long periods. Comfrey leaf infusion is a classic for restoring good functioning to mucus surfaces, such as the lungs. It can be mixed with milk like the mullein. I drink a quart several times a week to maintain good health; more in acute situations.
As for my opinion of antibiotics, I put them in Step Five of my Six Steps of Healing. Sometimes drugs, including antibiotics, are called for, but, as we are all aware, they are overused. Instead of starting at Step Five, I suggest you start at Step One.
Set a time limit for each step, then add the next one (with its time limit) as needed, but in order!
Remedies from each step might look like this in your case:
Step 0: Do Nothing: Get some extra sleep; take naps. Being sick is hard work. Rest.
Step 1: Collect information: Ask Susun what herbs help; talk with other wise women at the forum at www.susunweed.com.
Step 2: Engage the energy: Visualize healing green energy touching every cell of your lungs; get a Reiki treatment.
Step 3: Nourish and tonify: Learn how to do one or more types of yoga breathing (pranayama) such as "bellows breath" or "alternate nostril breathing," and practice for at least two minutes a day. Eat at least one quart of yogurt a week; drink two cups or more of mullein or comfrey leaf infusion daily for at least six weeks.
Step 4: Stimulate and sedate: Use elecampane tincture; have a vigorous massage; find someone who knows how to "cup" your lung area from the back.
Step 5: Use drugs: Take supplements; take antibiotics.
Step 6: Break and enter: Use invasive diagnostic tests
Susun S. Weed
*Somehow the mistaken idea that milk creates mucus and worsens lung conditions has become part of the folklore of health and refuses to be routed by information to the contrary. The British medical journal Lancet recently published a study which found an inverse relationship between childhood asthma and milk consumption; the more dairy products in the diet, the less chance of developing asthma a child had.
Copyright 2008 © Susun Weed
with Susun Weed
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It has taken me a while to find your website. And now that I have, I have
been a glutton in reading and devouring all the information there.
I do so appreciate your vast knowledge. I take heart in reaffirming my own
knowledge and beliefs (and suspicions, too) in the herbal treatments my
grandmother taught me.
I do get a lot of pooh-pooh over my unusual health ideas, but as I share my knowledge with others, they no longer marvel, but want more. Ah, the joys of gluttony!
I have every intention of attending your workshops. I'm not certain when
that will be, but soon come. How does that saying go? When the student is
ready, the teacher appears. Or is it when the teacher is ready, the student
appears. Whatever, I am all three - student, teacher and ready.