Symphytum officinale

Comfrey – Consoude

Comfrey is a herb that grows close to water or on boggy soil.  In the Latin name, ‘Symphytum‘,  the Greek word ‘symphuein’ is hidden, which means to ‘grow together’.  The name indicates what the plant was used for:  to heal wounds, fractures and sprains and other problems with joints and ligaments.  Plinius (23-79 A.D.) as well as Dioscorides (40-90 A.D.) boiled the roots of comfrey in water, resulting in a sticky paste in which compresses were soaked and then wrapped around the fracture.   When the cloth dried it became as hard as a cast.  Galenus used it in addition to the above for bronchial problems and diarrhoea.  The word, ‘officinale’, indicates that it was a plant that was grown in the cloister gardens and dispensed by monks.  In the herbal books of the Middle Ages it was a much-mentioned herb and used in the same way as 1000 years previously.
comfrey - consoudeThe leaves (20-30 cm) are pointed, velvety, hairy, and soft to touch. In Provence the flowers are yellow because our soil is limestone, but in northern Europe, depending on the soil, the flowers are mostly pink or purple in colour.  The plant can reach a height of 80 cm.   Comfrey encourages the healing of wounds, because it contains allantoin;  allantoin makes sure that the transport of food, as well as waste products to and from the wound, is continuous and encourages new tissue to be formed.  In fact, allantoine is an important factor in the healing process.  In the case of a fracture it encourages the regeneration of bone.  Recent studies have confirmed that the herb has properties that treat diarrhoea, bronchial and skin problems.  There is just one problem, it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (more in the roots than in the foliage), which have been shown to cause liver damage and tumours in the laboratory animal.  It is used internally in homeopathy, in tinctures, greatly diluted.  It can be used externally in creams.

Home-made Symphytum tincture

This is a tincture to be used in creams for wounds, sprains, bruises, knee problems, tennis elbow and other similar problems.
Ingredients:  100 grams fresh Comfrey roots;  handful of Comfrey leaves; 500 ml alcohol 45º. 
Dig up the roots in spring or autumn, clean with a brush.  Chop up the root finely, bruise the leaves.  Pour the alcohol in a container, add the Comfrey (roots and leaves).  Leave it to macerate for 3 weeks.  Sieve the tincture and store it in a dark place.  When needed mix the tincture into the cream, the mixture should be 95% cream to 5% Comfrey tincture.

Symphytum fertilizer

Comfrey leaves are rich in nitrogen and potassium, essential elements for a plant to grow, to flower, set seeds or fruits.  It is very easy to make.  It might smell a bit, but so do most fertilisers:
Put Comfrey leaves in a bucket, place a stone over the leaves, cover with water and leave it to soak between 3 – 5 weeks.  To use:  dilute mixture 1 part fertilizer to 3 parts water.
Before the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids were discovered, Comfrey leaves were eaten regularly by gatherers each spring.  They are too rough to eat fresh, but in soups (they thicken the soup at the same time), stir fries or in beignets are very tasty.
Bibliography:  Sauvages et comestibles – Marie-Claude Paume; Fytotherapie en Homeopathie – Biohorma; Kruidenreceptenboek – Mariette Clijsters; Herbal Medicines – Carol A. Newall, Linda A. Anderson, J. David Phillipson; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses – Deni Bown; History of Comfrey – Daniel Hoover 

About seasonalforaging

We are a group of friends who enjoy walking in the countryside in Provence searching for plants and herbs to identify and use.
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