Comfrey's Burning Secret
by Kimberly Gallagher
Meet Comfrey, Symphytum officinale,
one of my most favorite herbal allies. Comfrey's genus name,
symphytum, means to bring together, and comfrey is an amazing
wound healer, being high in allantoin, a constituent that
encourages cell regeneration.
Wow! Cell regeneration, pause a moment and take
that in. Does it sound like something worth having as part
of your family's medicine chest?
take a moment to meet comfrey. She has a thick stalk with
a mucilaginous inside (much like aloe), with broad, lance-shaped
leaves. The stalks grow to about three feet and produce
bell-shaped flowers with a color range from creamy white
to purple or red. The leaves and stalk are covered with
coarse, prickly hairs.
The whole comfrey plant is good medicine, but right now I want to focus on her beautiful black, tuberous roots that form a deep, expansive system beneath her. This time of year, sinking our hands into the soil to uncover roots is medicine in itself, immersing us in the smell and feel of our deep rich mother earth. The green, leafy parts of many plants are dying back now, and their energy is returning to the roots. This vital plant energy infuses our herbal medicine with life, so this is the time to gather roots.
Last year I tried to dig down with my hands to the very
bottom of a comfrey root, but found that the roots kept
breaking and the network was so expansive it was difficult
to find an end. Luckily, there's no need to dig out a whole
plant to gather the roots. Rather, simply dig down around
the plant and take a section of root from the soil. Cover
the roots again to allow the plant to return the following
year. (Comfrey actually propagates through her roots, so
each small piece left in the soil will become a new plant.)
our family, we use comfrey root to make poultices, which
means blending the plant with water to make a sort of herbal
bandage that is used externally to promote healing. Comfrey
is a cooling herb, and we've had great success using comfrey
poultices for healing burns. It draws out the heat, and
then that allantoin goes to work, regenerating damaged cells.
(Please do read up on burn first aid to find out how to
treat burns of differing degrees before applying your poultice.
Just Googling "burns" leads to a wealth of information.)
I remember one night we were celebrating the winter solstice
around a bonfire, and my friend's two-year-old picked up
a hot ember. We took her into the house and pulled our comfrey
poultice from the freezer, cut off a section and placed
it directly on the burn, with some gauze over the top. Within
ten minutes the frozen comfrey was hot and drying out, and
our little friend had stopped crying. The comfrey was pulling
the heat from the burn. We continued to change the poultice
every ten to fifteen minutes while she stayed with us, and
then bandaged the burn with a comfrey poultice and gauze
before sending her home for the night. We sent some frozen
poultice with her mother, but by morning the burn was healed.
To make your own comfrey burn medicine, clean your harvested root thoroughly with water, chop it coarsely and blend it in the blender with enough water for the blender to do its job (try water to cover half the root and add more as needed). Pour the blended mixture into an empty cardboard juice concentrate container, seal in a freezer bag and place it in the freezer. To use it, cut off a small portion and return the rest to the freezer.
Perhaps this season you will begin building your relationship
with comfrey by adding this poultice to your medicine chest.
Then you can continue to add to your knowledge, discovering
even more uses for your root poultice and the powerful healing
capacity of comfrey infused oil as a salve ingredient and
of poultices made from comfrey's flowering tops (I have
a free ebook on comfrey leaf poultices available with the
purchase of the Herbal Medicine Making Kit). Truly, she
is an amazing herbal ally and I wish you a full and rich
relationship with her.
Kimberly Gallagher, M.Ed. and her husband John run
Learning Herbs a family business that helps people learn
about herbs. They created the Herbal
Medicine Making Kit to start people on the path of making
herbal remedies, and have created Wildcraft!
An Herbal Adventure Game, a cooperative board game that
teaches edible and medicinal plants. Kimberly is a priestess
in the Wise Woman Goddess tradition, a homeschooling mom,
and an herbal apprentice at RavenCroft Garden in Monroe,