Friday, May 21, 2010

All about Comfrey

Comfrey is a Comfort

The following is an article written in 1972 by my mother Bertha Reppert (1919-1999). Founder of The Rosemary House, herb educator and prolific writer, she loved to share her knowledge and enthusiasm of these wonderful plants!

I’ve mentioned comfrey (Symphytum officinale) time and time again so I think it’s time for a few words about this favorite, second only to Rosemary in my heart. No garden, herb or otherwise, should be without comfrey. It’s amazing!

One of the first herbs to appear in the Spring, the bright green spears of the comfrey erupt before anything else in the garden. These first early greens are crisp and succulent. Pick them to toss in your salads or cook like spinach*. It’s delicious!

Hardy beyond belief, comfrey survives the sub-zero temperatures of Siberia, so our climate is no cause for worry on this account. There are many herbs known to succumb to the rigors of our winters but not comfrey. It’s indomitable!

Best grown from root cuttings every little piece of the roots that go many feet down into the earth will sprout. Dig them, cut into two inch pieces and lay them on moist soil, lightly covered, to achieve dozens of comfrey plants where before you had one. Plant them in full sun. It’s prolific!

The leaves are the main crop, reaching four or five feet in a few weeks when they are no longer tender eating. At this point cut them back to within four inches of the ground, all the way back. Dry the leaves to tea, poultice or add the fresh leaves to your compost pile. On mature plant yields four to five bushels of rich fluffy compost each year. It’s organic!

Rich in minerals, nitrogen and iron, comfrey packs a real wallop whether you eat it*, drink it or compost it to feed other plants, enriching their lives. Keep it harvested to use. It’s miraculous!

Being “official” comfrey has been and still is used medicinally. It’s ancient name of “knitbone” gives a clue as to one of its special uses but it is also employed as a poultice for open wounds, a soothing ointment for poison ivy, a healer for damaged lungs and ‘tis said is effective for ulcers inside or out. It’s incredible!

Fodder for animals is vastly enriched by adding comfrey leaves it is fed to goats, sheep, horses, chickens, rabbits, cows as well as many domestic animals who enjoy the nutritious greenery. Keeping farm animals healthy, frisky and productive is a farmer’s main concern and there’s plenty of room to grow comfrey on a farm. It’s invaluable!

We like to drink* our our comfrey as the easiest method of utilizing the most leaves the fastest and best way. A not unpalatable hot drink, we enjoy it best as a ‘green drink”. Six large comfrey leaves tossed into the blender with a can of pineapple grapefruit juice are quickly whirred into a delicious start for the day. Strain it before serving. It’s healthy!

*Since this article was written, science has shown us that Comfrey is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Even the scientists can’t spell that and just abbreviate it as PA’s. PA’s are known to be harsh on the liver. The PA’s concentrations measure about ten times higher in the root then in the leaf. Additionally the PA’s measure highest in the oft called Russian Comfrey ( Symphytum asperium and cultivers), NOT in the Symphytum officinale. So while I was raised on the kool aid colored “green drink” and drank many a pitcher full, my children have not had the pleasure as it is not recommended as a daily beverage any more. However, if I had a broken bone, strain, sprain or bruise, I would certainly use it externally as a poultice and I would probably drink lots and lots of comfrey, (for no more than four weeks) while taking milk thistle to support my liver function.

I grew up in the herb gardens behind The Rosemary House, quietly absorbing herbal facts and lore as my mother answered endless questions from customers. One year as I was packing to go away for church camp, I packed my swim suit, tee shirts, shorts, etc with several large comfrey leaves on top. My mother came in to make sure I had packed undies and my toothbrush, saw the leaves and asked what they were for. I replied “for my boo-boos”. She often wondered what those camp counselors thought. It’s delightful!

Original article by Bertha Reppert
Postscripts by daughter Susanna Reppert, Mechanicsburg, PA
A fun place for Rosemary, Comfrey and all things herbal.

1 comment:

lemonverbenalady said...

It grows in shade as well! I remember sitting at Gardenfest at Rodale in the early 90's and listening to your dear Mother speak about herbs. I'm sitting here looking at Garden Companions and I remember her holding up the same poster that day at Rodale. She was an herbal inspiration to many of us, but her books will be here for forever.